Topic: Heather Yvonne McLean (nee Milne) (1937-2019)

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Genealogist and researcher Heather McLean was born in Tauranga and has lived in Tauranga for most of her life. This story was compiled during a series of interviews from 2016-2018 with Debbie McCauley, and was further updated in January 2019.

Early Years in Tauranga

Heather's parents were Tom and Essie Milne (nee Lloyd) who married in Tauranga on 21 July 1928. Tom worked on White Island for four years and three months and for three of those years he was foreman with 15 men working under him. He left the job in July 1930. Heather was born at Launceston's Nursing Home in Tauranga on 3 April 1937. The nursing home was run by nurse Vi Simons. An advertisement from the Bay of Plenty Times reads, 'LAUNCESTON The Leading Private Obstetric Hospital. Corner 8th Avenue and Cameron Road. Tauranga. NURSE R. V. CRABBE-SIMONS. Phone 73' (14 May 1930, p. 1).

As a child Heather remembers her Uncle Taffy Lloyd bringing around jars of whitebait that he had caught. He also brought cream from the cows on his farm at Gate Pā. Heather recalls walking down to Parnwell’s Bread shop next to the Regent Theatre on Spring Street in order to buy bread using the family’s ration book. On Sundays the family enjoyed roast meals cooked on the coal range. Her mother baked beautiful scones and apple pies made with half butter and half lard. Everything was cooked on the coal range until electricity was put on. Tauranga was one in the first places in New Zealand to get electricity to homes and power charges were low compared to elsewhere.

In those days the McLean family lived at 61 Cameron Road, located between Spring Street and Elizabeth Street. The home was a wooden three bedroomed single storey house with a sun-porch. It was removed in 1953 in order for the Tauranga Fire Station to be built on the site. It was a double section and ideal for the fire station as it had an entrance on both Cameron Road and Williams Street. Heather's grandparents, William Milne and his wife Mary (nee Munro), lived next door at 63 Cameron Road. William was an engineer.

Heather started school at Tauranga Primary School in 1942. One of her first teachers was Miss Taylor who lived in Spring Street. The primers were taught across the road from the main school in 5th Avenue, along from where Burger Fuel is located today. Heather was there up to Standard 6 (Form 2 / Year 8). Later Tauranga Intermediate was built in 18th Avenue. The Dental Clinic ('Murder House') was right next door to the primers and Heather remembers visiting there as a horrible experience.

As young children Heather and her siblings June Esme (1929), Beverley Dale [known as Dale] (1942), and Joy Derene (1946) attended Sunday School and Bible Class at St Peter's Church. The minister at the time was Reverend Wainwright, a big tall man who was later followed by Reverend Rodgers who was quite a short man. The church was later moved to Rotorua and a new church built in its place.

During the war years, Heather's dad kept a wonderful vegetable garden and several chickens. Tom liked to experiment with growing a wide range of vegetables and fruit trees. Peanuts were one of the crops he grew, fascinating Heather who had previously thought they grew on trees. The produce from the garden was enough to feed the family as well as neighbours. Any surplus was sold at the gate by the family.

Meat was hung in a wire cage to keep the flies off and, after a lot of beating by her mother, butter was put down a deep outdoor hole with a brick on top to keep it cool. The family had a washhouse with a copper and an outdoor longdrop. Later on an indoor toilet and bath were added to the washhouse.

Mrs Jarman lived across the road from the family. She was the art teacher at Tauranga Primary School. Later she taught at Tauranga College. Heather recalls that she was a stickler for the rules. At Tauranga College she spent much time ensuring that the boys and girls didn't get up to any funny business.


Monmouth Redoubt

During the 1940s Heather and her siblings used to play in the remains of the trenches at Monmouth Redoubt. This is next to the Tauranga Police Station. They also used to fish below the Elms Mission Station and Mission Cemetery and from the old wharf at Dive Crescent.


Local Identities

Heather remembers several local identities from the 1940s:

Spring Heel Jack Whose real name was Geoffrey Michael William Hodgkins (1902-1965), nephew to artist Frances Hodgkins. In his unwashed state and clad in ragged clothes he was followed around by his faithful Aberdeen terrier, Angus. Some of the local children were a bit fearful of him and like Heather, walked on the other side of the road. Other children teased him in order to rile him up and make him swear and then ran away when he became angry. When he died he was buried with his mother in the Tauranga Anglican Cemetery.

Eddie Christmas An unusual person who rode around on a three-wheeled bike and cleaned windows in the local area. Edwin Ernest Christmas died, aged 49, in 1952 and was buried in the Tauranga Anglican Cemetery with his mother on 5 November 1952.

Tingaling Who rode around on his bike constantly ringing the bell on the handlebar and driving the citizens of Tauranga crazy with the noise.


Tauranga College

In 1951 Heather moved on from primary school to Tauranga College. This is the site of Tauranga Boys' College today. Tauranga Girls' College was built in 1958.

While there Heather made two friends that she still has today, Patsy Nell and Helen Wells. Swimming was held at the old Tauranga Baths in salt water. Heather completed her Mile Certificate in those baths which was about 56 times back and forth. She suffered grazes all over her legs from the barnacles on the bars between the baths and the sea, but still finished and received her certificate. Heather was also a member of the school choir.

Movies were attended at the Regent Theatre which was where Red Square is today. Next door was the Nibble Nook. The Town Hall was still standing and Heather's mother told her she could remember watching Buck Rogers films at the hall in the 1930s. One year Heather played the piano on the Town Hall stage for the Tauranga Festival. She learnt the piano with Mrs Benham who lived on Cameron Road in the block between Hamilton and Harington Streets. Being made to practise scales before playing didn't go down well.

The back beach behind the Domain and by Peach Island was all overgrown and a fantastic place to play, making bivouacs, floundering, and collecting pinecones. The children were warned by their parents not to play on Peach Island as it was a Māori burial ground. Heather’s sister saw a plane landing on the beach one day. The rubbish dump was on Glasgow Street and was infested by rats. These rats would sometimes bother the family’s chickens and Heather and her sisters would delight in chasing them with a pitchfork.

During school holidays Heather worked at Hawkins Milk Bar on the corner of Wharf Street and The Strand. Apart from the usual milkshakes and ice-creams, customers could purchase a light lunch such as mince on toast and poached eggs. Heather and her friend Diane Bryers (De Manser) often worked together at the milkbar.

In other holidays she worked at McKenzie's Department Store in Red Square, which was situated near the Regent Theatre. Next to McKenzie's was Marriotte's Grocery Store where Jim Cassedy worked. The Star Hotel was on the corner of Spring Street and Devonport Road. The manager of McKenzie's was Fred Ward and the store sold haberdashery and bric-à-brac. There were very long counters that ran down the length of the store. With her first pay packet Heather purchased an eight-piece dinner set for her mother, which Heather still has much of today. During this time the owners operated the McKenzie Trust and used to send the children of solo parents off to Health Camps.


The New Zealand Post and Telegraph

Heather left school at the end of 1953. She got a job in the Tauranga branch of the New Zealand Post and Telephone Exchange which was situated at the top of the post office on the corner of Spring and Grey Streets. There she fielded telephone calls using the old exchange system. Her home phone number at the time was 1148K. There were several party lines in Tauranga so Heather had to learn the different rings for each line.

Working at the Post and Telephone Exchange was Ted Rosevear. He used to give driving lessons and taught Heather to drive in a black Morris Minor. Heather passed her test first time when she sat it in 1954. Heather found her first drive over the Kaimai Ranges, to pick up her father from Hamilton, hair-raising.

In 1954 the Wellington Toll Room was short staffed. The call went out for volunteers and Heather asked her parents if she could go and they agreed. She hopped onto a road service bus and then a train at Frankton before arriving in Wellington hours later. She stayed at Grosvenor House which was a Post Office hostel in Hobson Street, Wellington. There were many girls from all over New Zealand who had come to make up the staffing numbers required. They would work at the exchange for six months and then return home. Heather loved Wellington and after several six month stints she decided to move there permanently. Many a time the girls had to sneak back into Grosvenor House through the fire exit after a late night out.

Heather sat her First Division exams and passed. She was later promoted to supervisor which included a small pay rise, though still not equal pay with the men doing exactly the same job.

In around August of 1964 Heather underwent a gallbladder operation and returned to Tauranga to convalesce. While in Tauranga the Orange Festival was on. After the festival there was a dance at the Memorial Hall where a Scots gentleman asked Heather for a dance.



The name of the Scotsman was Bill McLean. This was the start of a big romance. Bill was working for the Merchant Navy and their ship, the Maranui, happened to be in port at Whakatāne at the same time as the Orange Festival. Heather returned to Wellington and the pair kept in contact through telephone calls and letters. Bill became so sick of the phone calls and letters that he left the Maranui and joined the Māori, a passenger ship that worked between Wellington and Lyttleton.

Heather left the Post and Telegraph Exchange three days before the couple married on 13 March 1965 at Khandallah Church in Wellington. Her bridesmaid was her friend Dorothy. The church had carillon bells, which Heather was very fond of. The honeymoon was spent travelling around New Zealand in an old van. The couple went to Tauranga, Turangi and then all the way back to Christchurch, all with a budgie in tow.

Bill owned a house at 61 Winters Road, Papanui in Christchurch. In February 1966 Heather's first son, Thomas, was born at Christchurch Hospital.

By the time of the sinking of the Lyttelton-Wellington ferry Wahine on 10 April 1968, Heather and Bill with their young son were living back in Tauranga. Heather's second son, Alan, was born in Tauranga Annex on 16 May 1968. On 13 June 1968 the Maranui sank off the Coromandel Peninsula when her cargo shifted in a storm. Sadly nine of the crew drowned, including some old shipmates of Bill’s.

The couple rented a house in Ngatai Road, Tauranga. During this time Heather became very interested in genealogy. She joined the Tauranga Branch of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists in 1972 and the New Zealand Society of Genealogists in 1973. After many years of working as the convenor and committee member, Heather was sad to see the Tauranga Branch of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists close in September 2016.

Not long after joining the Society, Heather became fascinated with the local cemeteries and started transcribing the headstones in the six council cemeteries in Tauranga. These would later be compiled into books which were lodged with the Tauranga City Library and at Pyes Pā Cemetery.

Heather's father Thomas died on 10 August 1975. Heather and Bill bought a house in Mansels Road, which they sold in 1990 and moved to Cornwall Street in Greerton.

In 1991 Heather started collecting death notices and obituaries from the Bay of Plenty Times and the New Zealand Herald for the use of fellow genealogists. This collection has proved very valuable to researchers over the years. She finished collecting the Bay of Plenty Times in 2017 and the New Zealand Herald in December 2018.

Also in the 1990s Heather joined the Ten Pin Bowling Club in 13th Avenue opposite the Tauranga Boys' College. She played for 14 years in the league until it folded.


Tauranga Family History Centre (Mormon Church, Tauranga)

Heather joined the Tauranga Family History Centre on the day it opened, which was 11 October 1993. She volunteered as a community librarian, looking after the collection and helping people research their family history.

Heather's mother Esme died on Mother's Day, 12 May 1996. Before Esme died she gifted her children $2,000 each. With this money Heather purchased a Datamax computer with First Choice software. This would allow her to type up all the transcripts of the headstones. She would also add burial and cremation records which could be organised and sorted alphabetically - much easier than the hand transcriptions!

Bill died on 23 April 1997 at Tauranga Hospital.


Other Volunteer Roles

Heather's friend, Christine Meredith, delivered Meals on Wheels for the Red Cross and needed a helper so asked Heather if she was interested. Heather was, and joined the service in 2005. Between them they supplied between 10 and 17 houses with meals. She finished with the service in 2017.

Heather remembers visiting the Tauranga Library in the days when Miss Morgan was head librarian and the library was housed in Willow Street next to the Tauranga Town Hall. An avid library user, Heather has continued visiting the library and helping out in the genealogy section with customer queries on the third Friday of each month. She also received many enquiries in her own time, with people visiting her at home. In 1986 she even worked for archivist Jinty Rorke for six weeks while she holidayed in the Virgin Islands. Looking back this was a real highlight for her.

In 2007 Heather started collecting can tabs for the Kidney Kids Foundation which runs the fundraiser Kan Tabs. She still collects ring top tabs off soft drink, tuna and even cat food cans. The tabs are sold to a recycler and the funds raised are passed on to the Kidney Kids Support Group.

In around 2009 Heather started the 'Heather Club' in Tauranga. 86 people, all called Heather, turned up for the first luncheon at the restaurant at Bureta Park Motor Inn. She started her speech by saying, 'In case you don't know me, my name is Heather' to much laughter. The club carried on for a number of years but is now in recess.

In July 2012 Heather began voluntary work at the Pyes Pā Cemetery office one or two days a week. In recognition of all her efforts, the staff arranged for a granite seat to be installed at the cemetery and dedicated to Heather in 2018.

In October 2018 Heather received the Tauranga Historical Society’s Heritage Award in recognition of her exceptional contribution in the discovery and transmission of genealogical and historical information for Tauranga and the wider Bay of Plenty region. She was presented with an Illuminated scroll by Mayor Greg Brownless during a ceremony hosted by Tauranga City Library.

In the 2019 New Year Honours, Heather received a Queen’s Service Medal for her services to genealogy and historical research. Interviewed by the Bay of Plenty Times, Heather said that the QSM came as a “wonderful” surprise and that “Genealogy is a bit like a rash … It’s like an allergy. You start, and that’s it, you keep going.” Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy pinned the Queen's Service Medal to Heather’s chest during a special investiture ceremony at Waipuna Hospice on 28 January 2019. Usually, recipients of royal honours travel to Government House in Auckland or Wellington for group investiture ceremonies. When it became apparent that 81-year-old Heather, suffering from terminal cancer, could not travel and might not have much time, her longtime friend Helen O'Connor arranged the special ceremony. Her commendation was read aloud, noting her many years of work with, among others, the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, the Mormon Church's Family History Centre, the Pyes Pā Cemetery office and the Tauranga City Library. Dame Reddy said McLean and her work had been a source of inspiration, encouragement and motivation for many others.

Heather feels very grateful to all those who have helped her and for the wonderful friends she has had. She also feels very lucky to have been born in Tauranga at the time she was. She has enjoyed being a researcher and genealogist, using those skills to help others. Heather's husband, being a Scot, could not understand people doing work for no wages. Heather hates to think of what he would say about the volunteer work that she has carried out over the 21 years since his passing.


Postscript: Heather McLean died at Waipuna Hospital at around 1pm on Thursday 31 January 2019. 

Death Notice: McLEAN, Heather Yvonne QSM (nee Milne) (Genealogist) 03.04.1937 - 31.01.2019. A wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and sister in law. A passionate and recognised genealogist and researcher. Heather would like to thank Alan and Kirsten, Tom and Lynda, and her wonderful friends for their love, care, and help during her recent illness. Fond memories of Marguerite. Loved sister of Joy. A memorial service to celebrate Heather’s life will be held at the Pyes Pā Memorial Park Chapel, 403 Pyes Pa Road, Tauranga on Tuesday, 5 February at 2pm. Followed by ashes burial (Sunlive, 1 February 2019).

Death Notice: MCLEAN, Heather Yvonne QSM (nee Milne) (Genealogist) 3 April 1937 - 31 January 2019. A wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and sister in law. A passionate and recognised genealogist and researcher. Heather would like to thank Alan and Kirsten, Tom and Lynda, and her wonderful friends for their love, care, and help during her recent illness. Fond memories of Marguerite. Loved sister of Joy. A memorial service to celebrate Heather's life will be held at the Pyes Pā Memorial Park Chapel, 403 Pyes Pā Road, Tauranga on Tuesday, 5 February at 2pm. Followed by ashes burial (Bay of Plenty Times, 2 February 2019).


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Heather Yvonne McLean (nee Milne) (1937-2019)

First Names:Heather Yvonne
Last Name:Milne
Date of Birth:3 April 1937
Place of Birth:Tauranga
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:31 January 2019
Place of death:Waipuna Hospice, Tauranga
Place of burial:Pyes Pa Cemetery, Tauranga
Occupation:genealogist and researcher
Spouses name:William McLean
Spouses date of birth:29 April 1924
Spouses place of birth:Glasgow, Scotland
Spouses date of death:23 April 1997
Spouses place of death:Tauranga, New Zealand
Spouses place of burial:Pyes Pa Cemetery
Date of marriage:13 March 1965
Place of marriage:Khandallah, Wellington, New Zealand
Fathers name:Thomas Milne
Fathers date of birth:20 January 1903
Fathers place of birth:Glasgow, Scotland
Fathers date of death:10 August 1975
Fathers place of death:Tauranga, New Zealand
Mothers name:Esme Florence Lloyd
Mothers date of birth:12 January 1904
Mothers place of birth:Thames, New Zealand
Mothers date of death:12 May 1996
Mothers place of death:Tauranga, New Zealand
Name of sibilings:June Esme Milne, Beverley Dale Milne, and Joy Derene Milne
Name of the children:Marguerite Suter, Thomas William McLean, and Alan Lloyd McLean