Ron Bichan was nominated for a Tawa Community Civic Award this year. The wording of the nomination read: "Ron Bichan retired as a minister of religion after more than 40 years but still works voluntarily in the community. He played a major part in the former Tawa Resource Centre, and is now an active volunteer at the Tawa Community Centre. He is an enthusiastic DIY practitioner and is frequently found repairing equipment to help people in need. At the Union Church Ron assists in many areas, including visiting people in their homes. He still occasionally takes church services where he is very popular."
That describes him pretty well. He also admits to being quite talkative. If all the information he gave for this interview had been included in the all-too-brief profile below, it probably would have been three times as long. Perhaps a pity it isn't, because he had a lot of interesting things to say. At 82, Ron Bichan can be summed up in five words: "He's a jolly nice guy." (And Tawa is privileged to have him living here).
Where were you born, Ron?
Where did you grow up?
First ten years at Kaka Point, south of the Clutha River mouth. Teenage years on farm at Lovells Point between Milton and Clutha.
What about secondary and tertiary education?
I went to South Otago High School in Balclutha, about 200 odd children in those days, 700-800 now. I wanted to become a teacher but my father said I needed to have a job - something with pay attached to it rather than training. Spent five years with the BNZ. Transferred from Balclutha to Wyndham. "My landlady carted me off to church. I got taken with religion."
From there to Otago University with the ministry in mind. Started with a three year B.A. degree, then three years at Knox [Theological College]. Had to do the degree first - couldn't get through [all the training for the ministry] in less than six years. "Pretty demanding. And I had to learn Greek!"
What is your line of work?
I completed training as a Presbyterian minister in 1958 and was then offered a scholarship for two years to do a diploma in social science at Victoria University. My first job for the church was doing a social survey - "the church in industry" - over two years at Mangakino (the hydro dam building village of 6,000 on the Waikato river). When dam construction was stopped I stayed on as parish minister for about five years, then came down to Porirua East. "They couldn't get anyone to go there. It had a bad name in those days. That was a bit unfair because it was a great parish to be in." We were there from 1967 to 1979, but had a year off in the middle while my wife did specialist training (in psychiatry) in Dunedin. "I was househusband for a year." Then I was at Stokes Valley [church] for 10 years until I retired in 1989.
What about family?
Married to Helen. We met at SCM (Student Christian Movement, sometimes referred to as the Society for Christian Marriage) at Otago University. "We got engaged, then were apart for a year." She had to go to Auckland hospital for her sixth year medicine. "We were both hard-up students, so I only got to see her in the August holidays!"
We have five adult children and nine grandchildren, some of whom are starting to get married.
What are your interests/hobbies?
Fixing things. "I'm the official fixer at our church." And woodwork, of course. "I'm busy making a standard lamp at the moment. I've acquired quite a stock of tools over the years." Astronomy and cosmology [study of the universe and how it works - Ed.] And reading. "We've never had a TV, so we're great readers in our house."
How long have you lived in Tawa?
Came here at the beginning of 1990. Had eighteen months in Tawa, then Helen got a job in London in the Health Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat. We were there 5½ years. "I became Mr Fixit at our church there." Back to Tawa after that.
What do you think is great about Tawa?
It's a great community. "It has a good shopping centre. Keeping the little shops like the butcher and greengrocer in business is vital. We support them." Good schooling here, the way the schools co-operate. "That concert thing they have is amazing." Good transport - the buses and trains ("when they work.")
What, if anything, would improve Tawa?
Reorganise the railway crossing at Linden so it has separate platforms like Redwood Station has.
What is your favourite dessert?
"Dinner's not dinner in our house unless we have dessert." [After a bit of thought ...] Bread and butter pudding. "It's the only one I know how to make."
Favourite sports team or sportsperson?
"I've given up on sport. It's all become so professional." But I like to see any New Zealand team win.
Favourite style of music?
Country and western. Also Kiri Te Kanawa. "Her voice production is amazing." I learned singing at one stage.
Favourite holiday destination in New Zealand?
The bush. "We always went camping and tramping in the bush." We enjoy the Catlins.
Favourite quote or saying?
A saying from my early family days when we used to have gunpowder lying around the shed: "If your brains were made of gunpowder they wouldn't blow your hat off."
If you could meet any two or three people (alive or dead), who would they be?
[Without any hesitation ...] Nelson Mandela.
Te Whiti o Rongomai - "he's gone down in history as the Gandhi of New Zealand, and a Christian."
Te Puea Herangi (Princess Te Puea) from Ngaruawahia. "She was a character!"
"Three protestors!" [Ron's comment when the realisation hit home – Ed.]
What three things would you take with you if you were stuck on a desert island?
Magnifying glass so I could have a fire. An axe. Wouldn’t need a spade ("I could make one"), and a knife. "Then I’d be self-sufficient."
What is one talent you would like that you do not have?
I'd like to be able to read faster. "I'm a terribly slow reader. I read at half the speed of Helen."
What is one talent you have that you could not do without?
Talking. My family told me I could talk the legs off an iron pot.
What accomplishment/achievement in your life gives you much satisfaction/pride?
My handyman ability. I enjoy making things. "I built an internal vacuum system in our house years ago."
Any awkward moments come to mind?
When I locked myself out on the roof of my church in London. It was busy Finchley Road and not worth yelling for help because of the traffic noise. I managed to use the hacksaw blade on the Swiss knife I had with me to cut open the lock on the door that had slammed shut behind me.
What are two or three things you would like to do before you die?
"I'm winding down now." I've given up tramping.
I'd like to build a solar water heater but might not get it finished before my heart packs up. "I've just got to get out and do it."
I'd like to visit the Cook Islands.
Get the hang of quantum physics.
Compiled October 2010.