Our Wellington

News | 13 July 2021

20 Twenty One: Dave Jackson

He’s sports mad – so what better job to have than looking after the city’s sportsfields?

Dave Jackson, Wellington City Council's long-time lawn mower and sportsground caretaker, pictured waist up in a green jersey and orange high-vis vest, smiling, shaved head, with blurred green sportsground behind.

Dave Jackson – known to all as Jacko – is a proud son of the Eastern Suburbs, a proud City Council worker and a proud member of the 20-Plus Club – having joined the Council, aged 17, as a mower operator, in 1987.

He was born in Lower Hutt but shifted to Miramar when he was in nappies – been there ever since – went to Miramar Kindy – across the road from the Polo Ground, Miramar Central Primary, then the Coutts Street Academy (Jacko’s ‘upmarket’ nickname for Rongotai College).

He played softball for Miramar, played football in the First Eleven at Rongotai then for Miramar Rangers and has played rugby for Pōneke and then Ories (Oriental-Rongotai).

His first job at the Council, straight out of college, was in the mowing team – he was based at the old depot at Hataitai Park. Jacko mowed everything from the verges on Cobham Drive and the lawns around Council flats to the grass slopes at the northern end of the airport.

Jacko’s father, Arnold, helped him get the job. Arnold was clearly also sports-mad. A Salford lad, he was naturally a big Manchester City fan. Jacko says one of his cousins even played a couple of games for the first team.

Dave Jackson uses a line marker to paint white lines on the field at Miramar's Polo Ground.

Arnold was well-connected – he was one of the last Mayoral chauffeurs – he worked for 23 years, driving for Frank Kitts, Michael Fowler, Ian Lawrence, Jim Belich and Fran Wilde – in a range of classics including Daimler, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Ford LTD.

“There were two chauffeurs – one did the day shift, one on nights. Probably the best Mayor was Sir Michael – he was great, really switched on. One time the FIFA President, Sir Stanley Rous, paid a visit to Wellington. We’re talking about the most powerful man in global sport. Sir Michael had no hesitation about calling us in – we got to meet Sir Stanley in the old Town Hall. We were chuffed.

“We’ve still got some of Sir Michael’s old sketches at home – of places like the Freyberg Pool – that he gave to dad.”

Not long after Jacko started the Hataitai Depot was closed down and he was offered a job at the Basin Reserve – his first foray into sportsfields. In those days there were about 30 sportsfields staff – doing everything from ground prep to building maintenance and cleaning toilets.

He spent three or four years at the Basin and enjoyed learning the ropes – except for the time he found a man deceased in the toilets early one morning.

“Poor old guy – it was natural causes but I still needed a cigarette break after that. It was a hell of a shock.”

The Basin gave him a good grounding in wicket prep for cricket tests and one-dayers. Among the famous players he met, a favourite was Aussie’s Merv Hughes: “A character - we had a few beers with him after a one-dayer.” Perhaps controversially, he says all the Aussie players were “quite good – quite entertaining.”

He left the Basin when it got transferred to the Basin Trust.

“We were told that if we stayed we’d lose our superannuation – so we went to Kilbirnie Park.”

In those days there used to be a groundsman’s house at the big parks – the groundsmen would have a day off during the week but they’d work on a Saturday – setting up the fields and taking the posts down – that kind of thing.

The downside of prepping wickets is sitting on a roller – “it’s boring. You can go to sleep.”

When they were looking after Cobham Park (now the site of the ASB Sports Centre) an old guy would roll the wicket – and have a snooze.

“When he hit the fence at one end of the ground, he’d throw the roller in reverse and then wake up again when he hit the fence at the other end. He’d keep going like that all day.”

Despite his involvement with rugby, football and cricket, softball is Jacko’s one true love – and he’s in charge of looking after the diamonds around the city – the lime diamonds at his beloved Polo Ground and at Hataitai, Redwood and Alex Moore parks. There’s a bunch of grass diamonds, too.

Looking after lime diamonds is a fulltime job in summer – they need levelling, screening and marking every week due to the hammering they get. Some of the diamonds get five games in a weekend – all that sliding leaves holes and other damage.

Dave Jackson uses a tractor to pick up grass clippings at Miramar's Polo Ground.

In the winter Jacko is one of 12 Parks, Sport and Rec staff looking after the grass pitches around the city – all the way north to Linden Park. He and his colleague Andrew Taylor focus on the east – from Miramar to MacAlister Park in Berhampore.

The work’s hard, especially when they’re toiling into a southerly – but things have changed for the better in three decades. The advent of floodlit artificial pitches has taken a lot of pressure off the grass fields – there are far fewer cancellations. The technology’s also improved – when he started, line marking was often done with an old converted pram.

“The wheels were steel and thin so if it was muddy, you couldn’t mark.

“I remember, donkey’s years ago, we marked out the whole of Kilbirnie Park with a brush on a stick because it was that wet. The lines weren’t straight and we were painting mud.

“Nowadays we have battery-powered markers – you just push the switch and off you go. We still have to steer, though.”

Jacko started playing softball when he was eight. He got as high as the Miramar Premier Reserves as early as the age of 13 – “Miramar was a big club back in the day – it was stacked with talent.”

Now he’s semi-retired from softball. “I had a game at the end of last season and I couldn’t walk – I do a lot of umpiring now.”

But he’s especially proud of his son, Dylan, who’s just pitched for the New Zealand under-18s at the world champs – and made the World team. Jacko was also deservedly made a life member of the Miramar club two years ago.

Dave Jackson uses a line marker to paint white lines on the field at Miramar's Polo Ground.

In winter Jacko and his colleagues have a set routine but it’s also guided by the weather. On Mondays it’s usually clearing up the rubbish spectators leave at the weekend. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are usually marking fields. Then there’s fertilising and other tasks.

Jacko gets around in a truck with a big tank of water-based dye on the back, for marking. It’s an improvement from the old days when marking was done with white paint thickened with hydrated lime. “It’s definitely more environmentally-friendly,” he says. Marking still has to be done every week to cope with the wear and tear.

He describes the Polo Ground as his “spiritual home” and is proud it’s always in top nick – both for softball and for the Ories in winter. “I live only a few doors down so I keep a close eye on it – and I watch the Premiers from the corporate box when they’re at home.”

So what keeps him coming to work each day? “Enjoyment – if you didn’t enjoy it you wouldn’t turn up, would you?” He says his workmates are long-time friends. “Just among four of us sportsfields guys we’ve got 100 years’ experience.

“It’s also about doing a community service – people are playing sport and they’re healthy and fit – if it wasn’t for us they wouldn’t be playing anything.”

It’s 2021, so we’re sharing stories about 21 of our people who have worked at Council for 20 years or more. Find out more about the series in this story.