John Patrick Horgan was born in London, England in 1932 and died in 2007.
John Horgan was born in London in 1932. His parents came from neighbouring farms in Ireland; his mother, Honoria, from Kathanane and his father, Jeremiah, from Knockataggle, in Kilcummin. When John was five, they emigrated to New Zealand on the Esperence Bay.
John’s life in Mt Victoria began in 1946, when his parents bought a large house at 52 Ellice Avenue (now Porritt Avenue) and he has lived in the same street ever since. “My mother let rooms. There were six double bedrooms and a bach and a lounge.” There were many boarding houses in Mt Victoria at the time, but his mother’s was a rooming house. “They were a different type of people – they were respectable people and they got on well with each other and obeyed the rules. And, of course, they had a landlady who was a worker and the place was clean. If you present a clean place, you get the right type of people. Especially if it’s cheap. It was cheap. It was £2.50, or something, and she’d worry her head off if she had to bump up the price 50p. Then, for some reason, she’d give back a week’s rent at Christmas time – and she needed it herself.” John met his wife, Pearl, in his mother’s rooming house: “We reckoned we advertised for her.”
St Joseph’s church and hall were just around the corner in Brougham Street and have always been important in John’s life. The Mt Victoria church was very different from what they had been used to. His mother noticed the social aspect. “St Joseph’s was formerly an old dance hall and of course it was facing the south and the wind just cut right through you so that dispersed the crowd. She was Irish, of course, and used to having a yap after church in Ireland, so she was comparing it to the churches in Ireland where they’d catch up with the local gossip.” John noticed other things, like the American soldiers who frequented the St Joseph’s dance hall. “I remember looking in when the yanks were here; I hear the noise going past, coming home from the pictures or something – and I looked in there and they were dancing their heads off.” Years later, when he was doing plumbing work for the church, the taxi numbers the Yankee soldiers scribbled on the ticket box by the phone were still there.
All his working life, John ran his plumbing business from Porritt Avenue – first from No. 52, then No. 49 – and has done many jobs in Mt Victoria. A memorable one was the work on St Gerard’s Monastery. The repairs to the bell tower were a particular challenge.
“There wasn’t anyone who would tackle it, I don’t think – especially the wages I was doing it for. I thought it was just a normal job, but I was informed it was voluntary.” Of course, I bought the sheet metal knowledge that I had to bear. We were taught it at school but hands on is a different thing altogether – but it’s just a matter of using your nana really. If you know which way the water falls; you lap it the right way – and no leaks since.”
Looking at his photograph in the Evening Post in 197?, and the frightening height, John’s comment is “No, the scaffolding didn’t worry me. And, of course, you had the right shoes on, too – you wouldn’t go up there in leather shoes, you know. But it’s all in the mind. And, of course, I posed. I carefully put my foot on the handrail. . . . Silly, but not that silly.”
Historic photograph courtesy of John Horgan, copyright Evening Post.
John mending the bell tower on St Gerard’s monastery, Evening Post, 1970s