In March 2003, Peter Fulton joined some select cricketing company when he scored 301 not out against for Canterbury against Auckland. He surpassed the previous highest maiden century in New Zealand cricket – and along the boundary ropes a proud grandfather was willing him on all the way.
Jack was brought up on cricket, rugby and betting, so it’s not surprising his family have taken on all three with a passion.
Jimmy Rossiter and I used to spend our time out shooting deer or possums and trying to get our money together to go the races. In 1938, I went along to the Amberley races with my Australian grandmother, Granny Austin, who was on her only trip to New Zealand.
Father was the club president and had a horse called Gilly in the first race, but it came stone-cold motherless last. I remember trotting along behind father and his trainer Hughie Nurse after the race – and between the two of them, there was this stream of swearing about this horse and what it was doing. They really were a pair of characters. Hughie had been a back country musterer in his early days but trained on land that father must have owned, where Abberly Park is now, along Yaldhurst Rd.
Anyway, when we went got over to the stables to see this horse, you could blow a bloody candle out with Hughie’s language. He and father then decided to start Gillie in the big race of the day, even though the horse was not expected to come close to winning. He was the eighth favourite in an eight-horse field. But it got out and led from end to end. Well, the reaction of the crowd was unbelievable. Here was his horse, last in the first race – then led from end to end – and the club president was the owner. I was walking through the crowd after the race hearing all this abuse of my father, Hughie Nurse and the horse. Oh, the comments – my ears were flapping and the punters were going absolutely berserk.They had every right to feel aggrieved but I was embarrassed and ashamed – it was a dreadful day, and a dreadful feeling as a small kid.
But he felt the same sort of embarrassment many years later, again at the Amberley races.
I was the timekeeper there, and in this particular race I put a 10-shilling ticket on each of the eight starters for a double. This horse I’d picked in the first leg paid 80 pounds… and I’m sitting on a ticket with two starters in the second leg. As the timekeeper I spoke to the judge, Harry Spicer, who was a pretty good, knowledgeable judge of horses, and asked him what would win the second leg. He said Mark 7, the screaming hot favourite, had been got at – it was a mass of foam and sweat and didn’t look well at all.
So I thought I’d put a five-pound ticket on the second favourite, along with a horse, Hunt the Slipper, who had just won on the West Coast and was paying 30 quid. Hunt the Slipper hit the front right from the start and was never caught; won in a canter. I had this ticket on him so there was a huge dividend. I looked at my watch and I’d stopped it halfway round… so I looked round at the Best Bets racing book and took a second off the previous year’s time, said that was the time and went off to the tote. It paid £1725 for the pound so I was up for £423 from my five shillings. had a great afternoon – four hundred pounds was worth a new car, not a big one, but a reasonable one. I got back to Midlothian and was in full form that night. In today’s conditions I should not have been allowed near the wheel of anything, a bicycle or tricycle or anything, but somehow I managed to get home without any problems.
Like many farming families, racing was in Jack and Norna’s blood. His father had been a good judge of show horses and by 1910 owned a winning mare, Comely. Another horse, Art, later won the Grand National Hurdles at Riccarton.
Art won nine races there in about four years- every hurdle race on the Canterbury Jockey Club programme, but sadly it went berserk later on when we were at Broomfield; jumped over the huge six-bar gate in the yard, and through and over just about every garden and fence in Amberley. He cut himself to pieces and had to be destroyed. Another horse, Battlescene, won the Great Easter Handicap, a mare Knockfin won the Steward’s Handicap at Riccarton, and from about 1935-1938 he also had several others – Scratchmare Star, Swordstick, Tantivy and Gillie.
When Gordon was president of the Canterbury A&P Association in 1934, The Press noted he was a “first class judge of practically all classes of stock”, including the light horse section at several metropolitan shows.
“His relaxation is racing, and is one of the stalwarts of the sport in Canterbury. He has owned a number of successful turf performers, and at the present time has the gratification of having bred all the horses that are carrying his colours”.
Another clipping, from The Press in November 1936, notes that Gordon was keenly involved with the show’s hunters’ classes.
“Associated with D.W Westenra, Mr Fulton has given yeoman service in encouraging juvenile horsemanship, and it is because of the unrelenting standard of horsemanship at metropolitan shows has been maintained at such as a consistently high level”.
Norna’s mother, Gladys, also had several racing horses while her grandfather, H.A. Knight, won 28 races with Limerick.
Limerick was still alive when I was courting Norna and there is a stone at Racecourse Hill where they buried him in the front paddock, just after the war. He was a wonderful, big black horse but unfortunately he raced during the Depression, and stakes were pretty limited. Even so, he won something like £36,000, which, if you consider the average wage in those days was about 30 pounds, it was a huge amount of money. He would have won about $6m if he’d raced in today’s conditions.
But it wasn’t all about winning, of course. Misfortune was also part of the family folklore.
My father had owned and sold a horse, Palfrey, which raced in the New Zealand Cup at Riccarton in the mid-1940s. The judges’ tower at that stage was right along the outside rail, not way back as it is today. Anyway, there were three horses fighting it out down the inside, and Palfrey came down with a massive run down the outside, and I think won by half a length – might have been a bit more – and the judge never saw him. He looked up and saw he was there, so he eventually placed him 4th. Again my father’s language was terrible. We still owned Palfrey’s dam, but a fourth in the New Zealand Cup was meaningless…Years later I saw a photograph of the horses at the winning post in the Crown Hotel in Temuka, and clearly the horse was winning by at least half a length, if not more.
Another luckless character was Okuku Pass’s stockman, Bill Davis, a musterer who couldn’t resist a bet.
He was a funny little chap, Bill, not much more than about five foot one and his whole life was mustering and betting. He couldn’t wield a pair of shears; couldn’t do anything other than stand at the back and keep the sheep up. He was an extraordinarily good musterer, though. One time he arrived out the back of our place for a Christmas muster with only a bitch and six pups. He had no socks, was in gumboots and had no horse, but walked the whole of that week non-stop in bare feet and gumboots with a bitch and pups in tow. The dog wouldn’t run because she had all these pups, so Bill had to walk up and down each ridge to make sure he got the stock. I couldn’t have done it if you’d have paid me to. When he hadn’t had any work for a week or two, he’d arrive at the hut and start to stuff himself with food like a snake. Then on the next two or three days he’d hardly eat a thing. He was tough, alright. During World War One, he was in the the Army Service Corps on the Western Front, and the troops had to contend with about a mile of duckboarding across swampy, holed terrain with water filling the shellholes. There was only room for one wagon to cross at a time, so Bill used to get on the leading horse and drive the wagons across. One time he met some English chap who set off from the other side and had met him in the middle. Bill reckoned there was only one person going back – the first chap who ended up in the mud. The last Bill saw of this fellow was his wagon disappearing into the slime. I can just imagine Bill sitting on his horse, perched up there like a little wee jockey…
When pressed, Bill’s first reaction was normally total defiance.
He called in at the Belfast pub one time while he was biking home from the Riccarton races. It was dark when he headed off again, and a cop waiting nearby confiscated his bike because he didn’t have a light. The cop ran the bike up to the Kaiapoi police station, so Bill walked there and said to one of the other officers: “Somebody’s pinched my bike from the Belfast pub. I was just wondering whether you’d found it.” The other officers didn’t know what had happened, so Bill was able to prove this bike was his and set across the back way home through Ohoka. But the original cop was heading to a dance at the Ohoka Hall, saw Bill and nabbed him again for the same offence.
Bill blew a lifetime’s wages in the name of a good tip, forcing his wife and eight children to get by however they could.
His poor family – his wife had a dreadful time and never had any money. Bill once sold one of her towels so he could go to the Rangiora races. His wife relied on the butter and a few eggs to keep her supplies up for the kids.When he was on leave in WWI, he arrived at the Riccarton races on the first Saturday of Show Week, with a week of betting ahead of him. When he came off the course on the first day he had eight hundred sovereigns in his pocket, enough to buy about three houses. But he reckoned when he boarded the ship a week later he had blown the lot. He was living over the other side of the Okuku River at one stage when he decided he wanted to go the Ashburton trots on Boxing Day.
So he set off by bicycle at lunchtime on Christmas Day and took off, biking to Oxford and across to Darfield. He decided to get on the train in Rakaia, but first he slept the night under a haystack somewhere near Darfield. He got to the Rakaia station, finally got his bike on board the guard’s van, got a ticket to Ashburton, arrived at the race and went back home that night. All for the sake of a bet. Another time, he got to across to Wellington somehow and won 1800 pounds on one of the first doubles. So he lined up at the Trentham yearling sales in front of the auctioneer Dave Clarkson. Dave knew Bill from his days in Rangiora, and nearly had a seizure when he saw this little fellow in front of him. He stopped the sale and sent all his agents round to see what on earth was going on with Bill buying racehorses.
Bill waved this huge wad of notes in an agent’s face, who went back to Clarkson and said; ‘look, it’s genuine, he’s got the money’. He finished up buying three horses, and put one of them into training. The height of Bill’s ambition was buying a horse and sitting in the owners’ stand at Riccarton. Finally one of his horses raced there, but it ran last by about 500 metres. It wasn’t long before Bill’s money had gone and the trainer ended up with the horses, but his great day had still been sitting in that stand.
Family life wasn’t all about horse racing, even if it tended to dominate. One day in the early 1940s, Jack and other farm workers from Whiterock challenged the local club side, Loburn, to a game of rugby.
It wasn’t easy with so many men being away at war but we had enough people from farms around North Loburn to get a bare 15 together – with one or two outsiders – and give them a match. One of our fellows, Harry Roulston, had never played rugby in his life but he was strong, so we decided we would use him in the front to fall on the ball. There were no rules about lying on the ball in those days, so he would just lie there and Loburn couldn’t shift him. This went on for about 20 minutes, scrumming and getting nowhere, with Harry simply falling on the ball when a ruck developed and not letting the ball come free. Another one of our boys, Robin McKergow, was as blind as a bat without his glasses and couldn’t see the ball. You had to tell him the ball was coming his way…but somehow we ended up winning. Loburn couldn’t believe it.
After the war, Jack started playing rugby for Oxford, in the shadow of the Canterbury foothills.
One Saturday morning after a storm we drove to Oxford for a game and noticed the nor-west had knocked over trees around Birch Hill. When we got into town it was as if a tornado had been through the place.
Fittingly, the Maori name for the Oxford area is “Tawera”, or “hot blow”.
Sheets of iron were everywhere, power lines were down, and we found the western side of the town hall roof had lifted off. It turned out they’d had a dance during the night. The police had stepped in when it became too dangerous and told them nobody was going home. They locked the doors and held everybody there until about 6 o’clock, when the wind died down enough to let them out. Jimmy and I got to the football field and we were the only two there. Finally, three or four others turned up but it took until half time to get a full team together. It was a pretty vital match, but we were totally outplayed by the finish, with a team of mixtures – some regular players and fill-ins. Most of them had got out of the hall earlier. But of course, some of them had been up all night and had another 3 or 4 hours of work before they got home and off to the game – so they were pretty reluctant players by the time the afternoon came around.
After the war, Oxford was playing Kowai-Sefton when a big man, Ewan Pulley, started trampling Jack on the bottom of a ruck.
I let out an oath, and the whistle went, so I looked up and I thought, ‘hello, we’ll get a penalty for maltreatment’. But suddenly I realised the penalty had gone against Oxford, and I had been accused of swearing. There was no question I’d sworn, but it turned out the referee was a Roman Catholic priest, Mr Stone – a referee under an assumed name. I’ll always remember thinking, ‘my goodness I’ll get something for the club out of this one …’ but somehow it didn’t work out like that. But I think the worst referee I struck was Bill Chambers. One year it was reported he’d given 48 penalties to the Rangiora junior side and one to Glenmark, and the Glenmark team virtually refused to play at the finish. I saw him in the Oxford-Loburn final of the junior competition, after snow had covered the paddock the night before. At one stage, there was a scrum on the Loburn line and a ruck formed. The referee actually went right round it three times and finally dived in the middle and awarded a try. In the meantime, the Loburn fullback was standing near the dead ball line. He had already forced the ball there.Well, there was a contretemps … riots all round. Oxford refused to take the kick at goal, thinking that was the best thing to do. So Loburn kicked off, and the Oxford boy took the ball about the 22. Bill blew his whistle again and ruled, offside. It couldn’t have been offside if he’d tried. But Loburn had another shot at goal. The ball dropped under the bar and, blow me down, if Bill didn’t blow the whistle and call offside again. Dreadful. Loburn eventually refused to take the kick at goal. At one game Bill got his jaw broken at a game by a Mrs Barrett, from Tuahiwi. She was warned off for life, I think, but she was so incensed with Bill she couldn’t help herself.
Jack gave away playing in the late 1940s, and discovered the difficulty of refereeing for himself.
I was refereeing a game when Kowai-Sefton was playing the Maoris at the Tuahiwi Pa. At one stage the ball was kicked way out in the thistles in a paddock, and it took them a couple of minutes to find the ball. So I’m waiting at the back of the lineout and the match was sort of in limbo. Earlier, I’d had a bit of a confrontation with the two front rows and then I made a decision against the Maoris. They really went to market. I was standing at the back of the back of the lineout, when finally one of the Maori backs said to the other, ‘Where does this bloody bastard come from?’ And the other chap said’ ‘Right off the main street of Sefton, I reckon.’ I was powerless, helpless with laughter really- but I daren’t even look round. They let it be known in no uncertain terms what they thought of me.
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Jack was on the executive of the North Canterbury Rugby Union and the referees association. That five-year stint coincided with an argument about whether you should have to play for the club nearest to your local post office.
It was a stupid arrangement. The amount of time taken with players going round and measuring whether 101 High Street or 208 High Street was closer to Southbrook Post Office than it was to Rangiora – it was just incredible. But there was a frightful row over it, because the country clubs were trying to stop their players going to play for Rangiora or Oxford or somewhere else such as Kaiapoi. Ohoka wanted to keep the restriction on more than most. The Petrie boys, Dick and Graeme, refused to play for Ohoka, and of course under the rules they weren’t allowed to play for anybody else. They had a whole season away from rugby, and it really was stupid. Eventually, after a lot of arguing the union got rid of the rule, but until they did, it created more fuss than any other rule in rugby that I’ve known.
Jack was also a cricketer, captaining the Christ’s College 1st 11 and later in the 1940s playing for Old Collegians. The Press recorded a couple of fleeting moments along the way:
“Stumpings off fast bowlers are rare, but J.A.G Fulton, the Old Collegians wicket-keeper, gained a wicket for A.R MacGibbon in this way last week. I.A Baxter,
Old Boys opening batsman, played forward to a ball which went straight through to Fulton. Perhaps distracted by a half-hearted appeal from several fieldsmen for a catch behind, Baxter did not move back, and Fulton from at least five yards behind the stumps, threw the ball at them and dislodged the bail. Baxter’s foot was apparently on the line or over it, for the square leg umpire gave him out.”
Another incident which the paper called “The Spirit of Cricket” is just as unusual.
“A gesture in the best spirit of the game was made by R.F Cook, in the senior cricket match at Linwood Park last Saturday. J.C Sanders, the Old Collegians batsman, hopped out to a ball from Cook and the full-blooded drive struck his partner, J.A.G Fulton, on the ankle. While Fulton, who was well out of his crease, was hopping about in pain, the ball was fielded by Cook close to Fulton’s wicket. Cook could easily have broken Fulton’s wicket and appealed for a run out, but instead he allowed the injured batsman to regain his crease. It was fitting that Fulton’s wicket fell to Cook, although not before Sanders had added a few to the partnership.”
The best player Jack played with was George Croft.
He was farming at Okuku, leasing a block from the Hamiltons. A left-armer, medium pacer – he’d bowl all day, on or about leg stump – turning it away outside off stump to the right-handers. On the concrete … he got too much bounce and was over the top of the stumps
more often than not, but he was a brilliant bowler. He was nearly 40 when I met him, and would still rank in my mind as the best bowler I’ve kept wickets to.
Apparently, the only time he played on grass, North Canterbury were playing Ellesmere – and he took all 10 wickets. On grass wickets, playing in town, he would have played for New Zealand. As he would come in to bowl, out came his tongue. I can see him yet; this lovely easy action, ball after ball, with very little variation in length or line. Ted Alexander was Dalgety’s agent at Oxford and also a wonderful cricketer. He played for Christ’s College first eleven for three or four years as a leg spinner. But the problem was the concrete pitch was too narrow, and he turned the ball so much that when it did hit the strip, it was wide out on the off-side. He was literally powerless; he had such impressive turning ability, the concrete was no good to him.
By the late 1950s, Jack’s sons Gordon and Rod were playing sport themselves. One Saturday afternoon waiting for dad outside the pub, the Indians got restless while the Chief had his back turned.
The boys came to the Sefton pub with me one time after cricket. Gordon and Rod were outside waiting for me in the car with Mick Lester, who was at college in a cricket team with Gordon and lived in Ashley. An eight or nine-year-old boy arrived out beside them and started abusing them, giving them cheek from the footpath.
Mick and Gordon, who were older, said to Rod; ‘go up and hit him, go and hit him, go on, get in and hit him.’ Rod got out of the car and plonked this poor kid in the guts. It was an awful scene – this kid went off howling and yelling and his father came out ranting and raving about his boy. The boy’s mother came up to me…I was still oblivious to what going on out there, and by the time I came out it had all settled down. But I suppose I was a bit proud really, that he’d thumped this kid. He deserved it apparently.
Rod later showed some of that fighting spirit as a first-class cricketer, a batsmen whose career spanned 1973 to 1985, but was interrupted for five years in between by the demands of his farm at Scargill Hills. In his final season he captained Canterbury.
Eldest son Gordon played rugby for Canterbury Country as a loose forward in the mid 1970s, representing the Ohoka club, and has played for the Swannanoa cricket club for more than 50 years – and still counting.
A profile of the 1943 Christ’s College 1st XV says Jack was “a solid front row forward always in the thick of the fray giving his last ounce; resolute and reliable”.
Henry Dyer, who coached Christchurch Boys’ High School First XVs for many years, considered his 1943 side the finest he had ever coached; a number of the players achieved provincial or All Black honours, both Pat Vincent and Bob Duff captaining the All Blacks. Yet, in the annual Christ’s College versus Boys’ High match on July 14 of that year, the underdog College team somehow won. The College team has gathered in its entirety, except for 2003, every 10 years since.
The 1943 Christ’s College Register reported the upset as follows:
“College kicked off with a light wind following and attacked. Right from the start of the game, the brilliant kicking and handling of Richards, the College full-back, was apparent and time after time, he took the short kicks of Andrew, the School second five-eighths, and found touch surely.
After about a quarter of an hour’s play, the College forwards found that they were dominating the play. However. School were awarded a free kick in the College territory, and Rowland succeeded in putting it over; 3-0. After this, the College forwards took charge, and Thomas hooked with delightful regularity. Hammond, Shaw and Johnston were prominent in the loose.
After brilliant work by Purdie, who was always to the fore, Hammond broke away in a solo dribbling rush up into School twenty-five, where, from loose rucking, Johnston went over to score a try – converted by Gardner: 5-3.
School were then on attack and Dawson, the left wing made a determined run, but was forced out. Again and again the school backs attacked, but hard scrumming on the College line, and a good kick by Richards cleared. Purdie’s tackling was outstanding. Rowland failed in another free kick and the whistle blew for half time: 5-3.
In the second half, College were again on the attack and advanced right up to School’s line. Undoubtedly the best back on the field was Rowland, the big and powerful School winger, who had impressive speed.He was a source of danger whenever he had the ball, and was only held in check by the solid tackling of Jolly, who seldom failed to do what was required of him.
The relentless attacking of the School backs soon begain to wear down the College team, and it was only the College forwards, who by maintaining possession, won the game. Rowland broke through the defence once and scored well out: 6-5.
At this stage, excitement was at fever pitch, and the play was hard but even. Purdie prevented an attack by the School backs, and kicked up field. Hammond followed up closely, took the ball and passed out to Reid on the College wing, who after a tremendous run down the sideline, scored an outstanding try in the corner, once again putting College in the lead: 8-6.
School then started to open up the play by throwing the ball about, and at times they looked very dangerous. With a very few minutes to go, the whole College team were striving to hold School.
According to the players, near the end of the second half the School winger Murray Dawson scored a runaway try down the sideline. A hush came over the ground. However, School’s touch judge, Ray Collins, standing near halfway, had raised his flag for some time to indictate that Dawson had put his foot into touch. College breathed again and the final score was Christ’s College; Christchurch Boys’ High School 6.