Location: Wellington, New Zealand
Alf Cleverley NZRTA General Secretary 1959 - 63
The Gentle Fighter Boxes On
The handshake is firm and the step springy, the interest in day-to-day politics this is as keen as that of a young person embarking on a political career and concern for those in distress are all the hallmarks of idealistic and energetic youth. However, the man with these qualities, Alf Cleverley, is well into a 70s and long retired from Railways where he served his full 40 years stint.
The young Alf began his apprenticeship as a Fitter-Turner in the old Hutt Workshops near the Petone Railway Station just five years after the end of the first world war and has lived in the area for most of the time since. From 1959 to 1963 he served as General Secretary of the NZRTA and has retained a close interest in Railway and Union affairs since then.
Just Saying “Hello” Helps
It was a refreshing experience to speak to a Railwayman who has been through it all and has come out without being cynical. Alf’s philosophy is that “if you can’t do a bit of good for another person you aren't worth much”. He lives up to his principles and is an active hospital visitor. He says that just saying “hello” to a bedridden patient can help to make life more tolerable.
Knows from Experience
A couple of years after finishing his time Alf took a year’s leave from railways and served in the police force in Christchurch. His father had been a policeman and had been transferred to the North Island from Oamaru where Alf was born. He liked has police role but left when he married because his wife did not like the shift work involved, the particularly the nights when she was left on her own. She contracted the incurable disease, “Disseminated Sclerosis, shortly after their marriage and in succeeding years was unable to look after herself .
“War is a Waste of People”
It was that which kept Alf away from military service in the Second World War but he recalls with a great deal of sadness the memory of some of those who returned after both 1918 and 1945 maimed for life as well those who gave their lives for what he considers to be one of mankind’s major follies.
Amsterdam Olympics Participant
Not that Alf Cleverley was ever a namby-pamby. He represented New Zealand in the nation’s boxing team at the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928 although he didn't come back with a medal. He boxed and both Light Heavyweight and Middleweight classes and had a bout against World Champion Len Harvey in London where he did some training. He also boxed in several cities on the US West Coast and was New Zealand Champion in his class.
Sports People are Good People
Now Alf Cleverley’s performer-sports activities is limited to bowls but he did play senior cricket as a young man for the Midland Cricket Club in Wellington. He is convinced that sports activities are an essential part of a sound mind “because of the self-discipline that they teach”. He knows all about the dangers to health of boxing and says that the intelligent sports person knows when to stop any sport in which they are actively involved. “There are more deaths and serious injuries in Rugby than in Boxing” Alf says, but nobody suggested banning that sport.
Contracting Out is Out
On the subject of Railways Alf Cleverley has views that are just as firm as those on other matters. Conditioned perhaps by the fact that a Grandfather was a Railway Guard and his two brothers were Railway tradesmen, one a Carpenter and the other a Boilermaker, he believes that no railways work should go to outside contractors. “There is no excuse for giving Railways work to private enterprise so that they can skim off profits and leave the rest for Railways”, his says.
Alf does not single out anything of his career with Railways that he considers worthy of mention but he did start off the Railways boxing gym, that he had to give up because of his wife's illness, and had a long involvement in Union affairs. How Can Workers Vote Tory?
One of the things that saddens the former NZRTA Secretary about New Zealand working people is that they help to elect Tory Governments. “If working people didn't help to put them in they’d never get there”, he says. At least the workers gave their support to Labour this time Alf conceded “but the Unions should already be thinking about the 1987 election. It is no use having a Labour Government for just three years. it takes longer than that to get things sorted out”.
Work Experience Needed
Alf would like to see the Labour Party have more Members of Parliament who have experience in the workforce. He thinks that people who have been through the stress and strain of making a living don't get a proper chance to come up through the political system. He does not oppose having academics in the Labour Party Caucus as long as they “have got their hands dirty with honest work before they get there and they don't forget that they are there to serve the people who sent them and who strive to keep them in Parliament”.
Whoever the Labour MPs are and however they got into Parliament Alf Cleverley wishes them good health. “Health is the most important thing and if your health is good you can cope with anything” the gentle fighter said.