Town crier flies the flag for Tuatapere

Southland Town Crier Lynley McKerrow is enjoying life in Tuatapere. Photo: File

LYNLEY McKerrow is no shrinking violet — as Southland’s official town crier, she can’t
afford to be.

She’s always ready with a beaming smile and bucket-loads of infectious enthusiasm to share with people.

‘‘I wouldn’t call myself flamboyant. I would like to think of myself as a purveyor of positivity and joy,’’ she said grinning widely.

‘‘I am grateful for that gift of joy.’’

Despite her ready smile, life has not always been easy for her.

‘If I look back on my life at all the experiences I’ve had, my childhood was not one of the good ones… Coming out of that lifestyle you have to remake your life.

And remaking your life is not always easy. You either failed or succeeded and for a time she succeeded at failure, she said.

‘‘That was the one thing I was good at — failure.’’

Despite the hardships, Ms McKerrow never gave up on the hope things would work out.

Even though the town crying skills are public, they are only one among many.

‘‘A lovely friend once said to me ‘Lynley, you’re a moving target’.’’

She agrees. A stint at Toastmasters refined her public speaking skills and bolstered her
battered confidence.

Her marriage and funeral celebrant licence has allowed her to officiate hundreds of weddings and funerals.

Born and raised in the Featherston region she lived for many years in the North Island. But after 23 years, she now considers Southland home.

There have been short periods away from the region as she looked for a place to put down roots or as different opportunities arose. But inevitably she kept returning.

‘‘Southland is my home. My roots run deep in the soil.’’

Time here and great friendships have made her ‘‘rich’’.

She fondly remembers one stint living in the city as a single person, securing a job in the newly opened Kelvin Hotel as one of its original staff members.

‘‘It was a lot of fun and we had some amazing times there.’’

But life called her out of the city for a season again.

Eventually she returned after being promised a management position with a social care organisation which was later reneged on.

‘‘I came in my car, with enough bedding, my son, two cats and a dog and the following year I lost it all.

‘‘I was in abject poverty. It wasn’t just a little bit of poverty, it was abject poverty.

‘‘I remember in 1999, standing in the Winz office, in tears, pleading, absolutely pleading with them, to give me something. I had nothing.’’

Despite ending up destitute and bankrupt, a gracious couple took her and her son into their home while she re-established herself.

She laughs about the Datsun 120Y bought for $150.

‘‘For all those people out there who think I’m some posh old lady… No, they couldn’t be more wrong.’’

A stint at New Zealand Bible College under the tutelage of James McKinlay started her on a new pathway.
‘‘Of all the times in my life, it was the most enlightening, enriching and educational. It was the learning and [with] people who I have the highest respect for. Sometimes when I think
about it, I almost want to weep.’’

Bible College provided opportunities: including ordination and multiple industrial chaplaincy roles with well established Southland employers and schools.

‘‘I loved it. I met the most extraordinary people.’’

Eventually the doors to celebrant work opened and then town crying.

She had been recommended for a one-off Town Crying gig because, ‘‘Lynley McKerrow’s got the loudest, poshest voice in Invercargill.’’

She agreed, but on the condition it became a regular gig. Applications to city, regional and district councils were approved and she became the officially recognised town crier for the Southland region.

‘‘People think I get paid for it, but I don’t. It’s all at my own expense.’’

One of her greatest delights was celebrating a 100th birthday with a Peacehaven resident who was more afraid of missing his lunch than being entertained by her.

‘‘It’s people like him who keep my feet on the ground.’’ she laughed.

June 2021 started an unexpected new chapter when she married ‘the love of her life’.

Ms McKerrow affectionately publicly refers to her very private husband as Mr Mr, who she had met many years before and who was living in Perth at the time they reunited.

The newly fanned romance blossomed over internet calls for months as pandemic lockdowns thwarted any face-to-face reunions.

Living in Perth was not an option for her, but Mr Mr was willing to relocate to New Zealand.

Waikato was unsuccessfully attempted by the couple who called it ‘‘a major mistake’’.

‘‘I live by the expression: ‘You can take the girl out of Southland, but you can’t take Southland out of the girl’.’’

Mr Mr asked her if she would like to go home.

‘‘He’s never lived here in his life and he absolutely loves it.

‘‘He’s opened my eyes to the splendour of Southland.’’

Then the chance to move to Tuatapere seemed like divine providence for the couple. So they packed up everything to see how the west was won. But it was the province that won their hearts.

The Tuatapere locals were incredibly accepting of them as newcomers — they have never felt more connected to a community.

Providence wasn’t finished yet.

Yet another door opened to transfer Hump Ridge Track walkers to and from Invercargill and Queenstown airports; and she just happened to have a P-licence [passenger service] already in her tool kit.

In true McKerrow style, the trip could never be simply about functionality or practicality — she has added her own flair providing quirky commentaries about each of the tiny townships visitors were passing through.

Like a native Tuataperian, she proudly sings the praises of the genius establishment of the Hump Ridge Track that has managed to inject life back into the formerly dying woodmill town.

It would be a fair expectation to believe Tuatapere’s new and biggest fan would don her Town Crier regalia and head to the top of the Longwoods when the announcement  eventually comes the Hump Ridge Track is officially recognised as one of the World’s Great Walks.