Farmer, family man, gold fossicker, hunter, historian, shearer, bugler and, above all, a character. On the eve of his 90th birthday, lifelong Queenstowner Alan ‘Hammy’ Hamilton talks to PHILIP CHANDLER about his
life and times
One of Queenstown’s longest-lived locals and best-loved characters turns 90
Alan ‘Hammy’ Hamilton spent his first 15 years in Queenstown, went away to boarding school for two years, then settled on his family farm in 1946, where he’s lived ever since.
That might sond a bit unadventurous, but Hamilton’s life has been anything but.
Growing up on a dairy farm encompassing much of central Queenstown, like Gorge and Robins Roads, he delivered billies of milk before going to school.
‘‘In those days I could tell you what every bugger had for breakfast,’’ he told Mountain Scene in ‘94.
He recounts those days in his 2012 book, The Adventures of the Milk Cart Kid.
He talks about CBD businesspeople of the time, including Rees Street sweetshop owner, Tucker Haynes.
Hamilton says during the ‘30s Haynes climbed up Bob’s Peak carrying a bag of young Douglas fir trees.
Two patches he planted ‘‘were the foundation stock of the thousands of Douglas firs that grow on the hills around Queenstown today’’.
When he left Queenstown Primary, there were eight kids in Standard 6 (now known as Year 8), he says — six boys and two girls.
At Oamaru’s Waitaki Boys’, where he was caned a lot, there were 150 boarders.
One of his tasks was waking up the boys every morning on his bugle.
His parents bought a second arm, Doonholme, on Morven Ferry Rd, where he joined them after his school days before taking over the place when they
returned to Queenstown.
His older brother by nine years, Ian, also known as ‘Hammy’, famously put the road up Bob’s Peak that was a precursor to the Skyline gondola in the ‘60s.
‘‘He used to go at me, ‘oh, you stupid bastard, bloody farming, get into the bloody tourists and you’ll get all the f…ing money you want’.’’
A keen hunter — another book topic — Hamilton turned into a pioneer deer farmer in ‘78, buying his first animals at Sir Tim Wallis’ second deer sale in Wanaka.
‘‘I bought 10 hinds and a stag for $1200 each, which set a record — all my mates reckoned I was out of my tree.’’
He and his wife Dot subsequently hosted a lot of big-time dignitaries, including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his wife, who tipped him big-spending Chinese would visit one day.
Talking of VIPs, he says two life highlights were hosting Royals.
In ‘66, he and mentor Albie Morris put on a sheep-shearing demonstration for the Queen Mother, on Earnslaw Park, then in ‘70 he gave a goldpanning
demo to the Queen and Prince Philip in Horne Creek.
‘‘Not the most likely spot to find gold, so I made sure I brought my own,’’ he’s written.
Afterwards, he says the prince said he wished he could go prospecting with him.
As for other highlights, writing his six books — the last, in 2017, covered the history of the Arrowtown ice rink he helped develop — was ‘‘the best medicine I had’’.
‘‘Very often I get bailed up by someone saying, ‘oh, I’ve just read your book, it was great’, and it makes my day.’’
Dot sadly died four years ago, but having four daughters, Susan, Janice, Lyn and Ann, who all fortunately live nearby, is ‘‘the best thing that ever happened’’.
Apart from the odd wobble, he’s enjoyed good health.
‘‘I haven’t had to battle to get to 90.’’
One wobble came when he was hunting ‘‘up in some frozen neck of the woods near Arrowtown’’.
His horse fell over on some ice and bolted, with one of Hamilton’s feet still in the stirrup.
‘‘As I was being dragged under the horse,’’ he told Scene in ‘94, ‘‘I really knew I was going to die.
‘‘My horse didn’t care a bugger about me, it was all over, but then I thought, ‘well, I’ve had a good life anyway’.’’