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Relaxing at last: Eion Buckley's semi-retiring after 65 years in the workplace

He came to Queenstown to open the resort’s first ice rink and now, 55 years later, after other stints in the food business and transport industry, Eion Buckley’s retiring — or just about. He talks to PHILIP CHANDLER about his various exploits and explains why he even slept at the ice rink

In 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson became the first United States president to visit New Zealand — and pubs still closed at 6pm.

That same year, a bloke came down from Christchurch to manage Queenstown’s new Gardens ice rink.

Fifty-five years on, that bloke, Eion Buckley, who’s now 80, has just retired, or at least semi-retired.

Buckley thinks he was among 46 applicants for the Queenstown job back in ’66 — he’d latterly been floor man at the Christchurch rink, but the fact his new wife, Diane, was a good skater also helped his case.

Eion says running the rink wasn’t easy as it didn’t have a roof.

‘‘It meant you were really struggling to hold ice when you really needed it, like the [then] May and August school holidays.’’

Because the freezing plant had no automatic start-up, if the power went off it wouldn’t come on again when power was restored.

As the holidays were so important business-wise, Eion would sleep at the rink over those periods in case the power failed.

Though the seasons were limited, he still had maintenance jobs to do during the off-season.

After 10 years the rink closed — ‘‘we just ran out of money, basically’’.

Frustrated at waiting to see if the government, which co-owned the rink, would inject more money, Eion worked briefly as a gardener in the Gardens.

He and Diane then bought a Beach Street food business, Down To Earth, then one of only two such premises in town.

‘‘We sold things that weren’t that down to earth, either, like banana smoothies and banana
cake.’’

Pumpkin soup, in particular, was a locals’ favourite.

Though a lucrative business, Eion says ‘‘all food looks easy, but it’s the hours at the start of
the day and at the end that hurt you’’.

After 18 years they sold the business, and he became ‘‘a dog’s body’’ for then-local pharmacist Geoff Bradley.

Then, about 17 years ago, he and Diane set up Buckleys Transport, specialising in transporting visitors to and from the walking tracks.

Off-season they ran Around And About Limos.

Buckleys Transport ‘‘didn’t make a lot of money, but it was a living’’, he says.

‘‘The benefit is we were small and that means you can do things out of normal hours, and that’s what kept us going.’’

Eion says last year’s lockdown would have seen them go under if they hadn’t owned their vehicles outright.

‘‘Ms Ardern just saved our bacon with the wage subsidy.’’

Their business will now be run by their son, Martin.

After working for 65 years, originally in the printing industry, Eion’s still ‘‘coming to terms’’ with being retired or, more accurately, semi-retired — ‘‘I’m still doing the odd driving job’’.

As for hobbies, he says shooting deer in his early Queenstown days was quite lucrative.

‘‘You’d get 10 pounds for a deer, pre-decimal, that was a lot of money because tradesmen only got 15 pounds a week.’’

He played cricket for the local side and later golf, till his hip played up.

His big interest, originally inspired by his grandmother, was harness racing.

Two horses he owned won four races apiece.

‘‘I might have broken even,’’ he says.

He and Diane recently sold their Sunshine Bay home they’d lived in for about 40 years.

Having paid $70,000, ‘‘we got a wee bit more than that when I sold it’’, he quips.

Later this year they’ll relocate to a house they own at the top of Fernhill.

Commenting on the resort’s phenomenal growth, he says ‘‘I don’t think it’s as bad as people make out’’.

‘‘I honestly don’t think anyone could see what was going to happen when things took off.’’

Throughout most of his Queenstown working life, Eion’s wife has been equally involved, which he says was unheard of back in the day.

‘‘I couldn’t have done it without a good woman, and I’ve got one of the best.’’

scoop@scene.co.nz