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Stanley Bay siblings still enjoying their local playground

Flagstaff Team

Brother and sister Jim Palmer and Jean Parley are Stanley Bay stalwarts. They tell Helen Vause about growing up in and around the bay, and these days enjoying the fun and camaraderie the 100-year-old Stanley Bowling & Petanque Club has to offer.

Still in the neighbourhood… Jim Palmer (81) and Jean Parley (79) at Stanley Bowling & Petanque Club

Stanley Bay was a paradise for the Palmers back in the 1940s and 50s. They knew all the other kids in the neighbourhood and they whiled away hours on the open parkland or splashing about in the bay.

Seventy-plus years later, their playground is the Stanley Bowling & Petanque Club.

Brother and sister Jim Palmer and Jean Parley shared their stories of life in the neighbourhood, as the bowls club approaches its centenary.

Jim (81) and Jean (79) were born in Pentlands Maternity Hospital in Buchanan St, like many other locals around their age. They grew up in the house their grandfather James built at 4 Stanley Point Rd.

These days, Jim lives just up and road and right next door to the bowling club, and Jean and her husband Charles are relishing their last months in the old family house before moving to the Ryman complex later this year.

James Palmer and his family came to Auckland from Fiji. He built the Stanley Bay house in 1925. His son Clyo married Janet Anderson, whose family had come from Norfolk Island, and their first child, Jim, was born in 1939, followed by baby Jean in 1942.

Their earliest shared memory is going to a preschool group at St Augustine’s Church where Jim recalls getting sick on green jelly.

At Stanley Bay School, when she arrived, Jean soon became known as “Jimmy Palmer’s little sister,” she recalls with a grin. “But I wasn’t in his shadow – we always did our own thing and knocked about with our own friends.”

Over the road from their place was the wharf going way out into the harbour from the middle of the bay.

It was big by anyone’s standards. Jim says it was half a mile long, and it certainly played a large part in the lives of local kids, including the Palmers.

“You did your distance swimming against it,” says Jim. “To do your 220 yards, say, you’d go out to a certain point and back for each distance. As we got better we could go further and further.” After glancing at each other for a quick check, Jean and Jim agree they can’t remember not being able to swim, even as very young kids.

They were sporty kids, but Jean does remember being disappointed she was never encouraged to seriously pursue swimming.

“I think it’s just what our family did,” says Jim. “Dad was a surfer at Piha back then and he must have made sure we were okay in the water. I remember him making home-made life jackets for us out of all sorts of stuff.”

The two of them were, of course, early wharf-jumpers in a now long-running tradition: not only did they jump, but they laugh at memories of daring to plunge right into the wake of departing ferries.

That long-gone wharf was always a busy place and they recall streams of dock workers disembarking after coming across from the city.

There were other distractions too. Just out the back door was the big local park and rough ground beyond, along with a dump area where kids weren’t really meant to venture and where a fire seemed always to be smouldering.

“Stay away from that fire” was what we were told, says Jean. “But I guess I gave away where I had been playing when I got home one day with very blistered hands.”

There was a tunnel, too, for pumping mud to the ground being reclaimed at the time. When the tunnel wasn’t in use, kids could easily run right through it, giving their parents another few grey hairs.

“But it was pretty safe for kids around here really, and we just got out and did our own thing, playing with other kids,” says Jean.

They spread their wings from Stanley Bay as one after the other they went to Takapuna Grammar School (TGS), although much of their after-school life still revolved around the big local park behind their house.

“After school, it was a question of what will we play when we get down to the park,” says Jim. “There were tennis courts too, and I can remember getting off that school bus and running like hell so we could be first there to grab a court.” And by his own recall, young Jim could run as fast as the best of them.

But Hockey was to be Jim’s thing – and ultimately he won a place in New Zealand’s 1968 Olympic team.

It all started, he says, because the grounds-maintenance man down at the park was keen on hockey and wanted to teach all the kids to play. So hockey became their game, says Jim.

By the fourth form at TGS, Jim was one of the kids keen enough to pull together a school team: “Two thirds of the team were from Stanley Bay,” he laughs.

Jim went on to play more than 100 games for Auckland, and travelled overseas with the national team before making it to the summer Olympics in Mexico.

Drawing him on his sporting prowess prompts a bashful mutter and calls for many nudges from his sister. But he does agree, he could run pretty fast.

“This little club has given so much more to our community than a bunch of townhouses ever could have if we’d lost this land.”

Decades later, at the bowling club, running doesn’t much come into it, but the commitment to his sport does. He bought the house next to the club in 1989 and sometimes ventured over to give a hand with the painting and maintenance, though he wasn’t a bowler at the time.

But a few years later, when he heard the place was faced with collapse due to dwindling member numbers and money, Jim joined up and became involved in the neighbourhood campaign to get people along.

Jean joined too, but not to play bowls like her brother, who was enthusiastically embracing his new sport with a handful of other bowlers. “I couldn’t come any further back in the field than sixth, he laughs.

Jean was drawn to petanque – as well as the club camaraderie – and luckily someone else turned up who knew all about that game. But first the ground, or the terrain, as it’s known in petanque, had to be readied before serious play could begin. And that called for bucketloads of enthusiasm.

With husband Charles and other members, she was in the crew who put hours of hard labour into wheelbarrowing limestone and the other materials that make for a good terrain. Ever since those days, the Parleys between them have taken responsibility for maintaining their terrain, keeping it in good shape for play.

Jean turned out to be pretty good at petanque and the game has taken her – and Charles and teammates – way beyond Stanley Bay on many occasions, to win or finish very well in senior competition around the Pacific.

“Being over 60, at that age we felt very lucky to find a goal and a competition that would add so much to our lives. It’s a unisex game, so it’s something we can do together and the petanque world is a very vibrant community. Not only have we done well, but the game has really widened our world. We’ve met so many people playing petanque and been to so many places.”

Celebrating the club and its history is natural for the Palmers. It’s been a happy place for them and their friends and fellow members. It’s the small club with a big heart, they say.

“Its been just wonderful,” says Jim. “The bowls, the people, the Friday-night gatherings, the quiz nights and everything else that happens here.

“This little club has given so much more to our community than a bunch of townhouses ever could have if we’d lost this land.”

This article originally appeared in the 23 October 2020 edition of the Flagstaff. Read online here.

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