SOUTHLAND VESPA CLUB
by Richard Hemmingsen
Wright Stephenson’s had a Motor Garage in Dee Street next to E Hayes & Sons. Fred Jones was the manager and began to stock Vespa Motor Scooters around 1963/64.
I was working for New Zealand Insurance and Wright Stephenson’s were a major agent and client that I was allocated to look after, so I got to know him and was keen to buy a Vespa 150 Sportique.
A number of Vespa owners had seen or heard about the Otago Vespa Club and so a few of us got together to form the Southland Vespa Club. We would meet on a Friday night in a Coffee Bar then have a run down Dee and Tay Streets.
We added all the accessories we could and had a prize for the best turned out whenever we had a run. One Vespa was always kept in the garage and only taken out when fine so it did not get dirty. We found we could fill plastic bottles with petrol and place them behind the spare wheel which was at the front by our feet. This enabled us to go further without refuelling, especially at night or in remote places.
Our Annual run was to Alexandra where we joined the Otago Club to ride along side the floats on crowd control at the Blossom Festival. We would then continue on to Queenstown and travel home the next day. The Otago Club had a Display Team and some of our members joined in. Once we became known, a number of opportunities came our way.
Teretonga Motor Racing: The scooters were very good to stand on to conduct traffic. We were also used as runners for messages. On one occasion an accelerator jammed on a racing car and it ran into the spectators taking with it the cables for the communications. I was asked to go over and see what was needed and was told they needed cement to cover the blood.
Civil Defence: We were asked to become involved with Civil Defence and St John’s Ambulance. We attended training and rescues. Our most important engagement was to travel to Bluff and be on duty when the “GOTHIC” brought the Queen Mother to Bluff. Not sure what we were to do but I guess communications was the main reason.
Personnel: The first Officers appointed were Alan Meredith – President and Mr Corson – Club Captain, Richard Hemmingsen – Secretary
On a trip back from Dunedin to visit our President who was in the Dunedin Hospital following an accident, our first Vespa ran into a car turning in front of him in Balclutha. We had practiced many time what to do if such an accident should happen. It was wet and dark. We all wore reflective belts and carried reflective triangles. Thanks to quick action, the next two Vespas were just able to stop in time and set up the triangles otherwise we could have had a pileup.
Alan went to Dunedin to study at the University and I took over as Club President.
My wife to be was our only female member as I remember and on our Wedding Day 23 August 1965, the club members formed a Guard of Honour for us then escorted our taxi on their Vespas.
We were transferred to Nelson in 1971, and I have no knowledge of what happened to the club after that.