Thought to be the second oldest local-born male living in the Wakatipu, Alan ‘Hammy’ Hamilton continues to chronicle his memories of the district, going back to the 1930s. Having just published his fifth book, he discusses his life and times with Philip Chandler
A colourful born-and-bred Queenstown farmer who’s just spun his yarns into a fifth book has a confession to make.
“I can’t write for shit, I hated school and in all my school days in Queenstown I never took a book home.”
Despite this, 85-year-old Alan ‘Hammy’ Hamilton - relying on an excellent memory and a lifetime of adventures - has become one of the resort’s most valued and prolific historians.
In 2008 he published his first book, Woolshed Yarns of the Wakatipu, based on 25 years’ experience as a shearer, after nagging from mates.
“We got photos of 40 sheds I worked in, around the Basin, and of course they’re all gone now, so it’s a good record.”
Then followed the equally-popular Hammy’s Gold - Prospecting Yarns of the Wakatipu and Western Australia and Hammy’s Hunting Yarns.
In 2012 he published The Adventures of the Milk Cart Kid.
His family’s dairy farm, Lismore, took in much of central Queenstown around Robins and Gorge Roads, and as soon as he could ride a bike he delivered billy cans of fresh milk and cream around the town every morning.
Now he’s published The History of Doonholme Farm: Hammy’s Yarns and Memories of Life
on the Farm, 1940s to 2016.
He says his father Jack paid 300 pounds in the 1930s for his second farm, at Arrow Junction.
After two years at Oamaru’s Waitaki Boys’, Hamilton joined his parents at Doonholme in 1946, then took it over when they moved back to Queenstown.
His latest book covers the evolution of farming at Arrow Junction from crops and dairy cows to deer and even tourism, along with his family life – he and his wife Dot, whom he married in 1953, brought up four daughters.
Hamilton was a pioneer deer farmer, buying his first deer at Sir Tim Wallis’ second deer sale in Wanaka in 1978.
“I bought 10 hinds and a stag for $1200 each, which set a record - all my mates reckoned I was out of my tree.”
Hamilton’s varied interests resulted in him rubbing shoulders with many visiting VIPs.
In 1966, he did a blade-shearing demonstration for the Queen Mother in Queenstown’s Earnslaw Park.
In 1970, he goldpanned in Queenstown’s Horne Creek, of all places, for the Queen and Prince Philip.
He also paraded many dignitaries around his farm including then-Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his wife, who were very impressed.
“He said, ‘I don’t know how I can repay you back but I can give you a piece of advice - the Chinese are going to become very, very rich and are going to be big spenders, and all I can suggest is you be ready for them’.”
Hamilton: “That’s happened, so if I’d been a gun I would have bought a few more farms and sold them to the Chinese.”
Hamilton reckons he and Ron Dagg are the only original farmers left in the Wakatipu.
“There’s a few farms still going but [the owners] are just filling in time till they put another 100 houses on them.”
Hamilton says he only sold some land a few years ago to fund his wife’s care in Cromwell after she contracted dementia - sadly, she passed away in January this year.
His farm’s pretty organised, he believes, “but the rabbits will be forever”.
“My farm’s not too bad ‘cos we’ve put a hell of a lot of work into killing them but my neighbours’ [farms] are crawling with the bloody things.”
At the end of the book, he expresses the wish that when he looks down on Doonholme from heaven it will still be a farm.
“I’d like to think all the rabbits have disappeared and gone to heaven too.
“I’d like to see the road up to the top of Morven Hill paved to service a revolving restaurant and a sightseeing platform, because it has the best view in the whole district.
“I’d like to see visitors to the Wakatipu taking a scenic tour through the farm, riding in a cable car or chairlift up to the top of the hill.”
Hamilton says his motivation to write his latest book is “to encourage other retired guys to write their life stories”.
But if you think Hamilton’s exhausted his supply of memories, think again.
Before leaving last week for his annual winter holiday in Broome, Western Australia, he was recalling how Arrowtown was dead in the 1950s till he and some mates put in an outdoor ice skating rink.
“It brought Arrowtown alive - I’ve got photos of buses bringing people from Invercargill to skate up there on a Sunday.”
You get the sense ‘Hammy’ will dig up enough material for yet another book.