Real Life

New Zealand’s oldest immigrant

You could forgive Eric King-Turner if he hesitated before wading into the icy ootueka river with his fishing rod. After all, when he landed on a cruise ship in Wellington last January, he became, at 102, New Zealand’s oldest ever immigrant.

But retired dentist Eric, who has since reached 103, has no such qualms. After moving round the world with his Kiwi wife Doris, 87, it will take more than some treacherous, weed-covered rocks to stop him chasing his passion of trout-fishing in his new life in New Zealand.

And so, Eric plants himself purposefully in the swift current and casts his line time and again with a masterful wrist action honed over many decades. Doris watches proudly from the shore, delighted that he has at last found time for his beloved hobby.

“I don’t worry about him,” she says. “I know he won’t do anything stupid.”

The day’s expedition, sadly, proves fruitless. “I was trying, but the fish were not,” says Eric, clambering back to dry land. But he is unconcerned. Under a cloudless sky with the temperature comfortably above that of London and miles of pristine riverbank to himself, Eric knows he’s done the right thing to bring his wife back home.

“I left with an easy heart,” he says, drying off his feet on the bank. “I am British and I love Britain. My British ancestry goes back hundreds of years. But leaving for the last time didn’t cause me any pain. I don’t like the way England is going and I’m too old to do anything about it.

“At a time when I could enter politics in some way and try and alter England’s course I felt I would be leaving a sinking ship, like a rat. But I don’t feel that now. I can’t help the situation.”

After 13 years living in the south of England, Eric felt his wife was homesick and needed to be near her family. It took months of filling in forms to get his Kiwi residency until they finally set sail on a six-week sea voyage.

And over afternoon tea – a daily ritual, along with a gin and tonic – at their new home in oapua, near Nelson, Eric told their amazing love story.

Doris lived in oapua with her late husband Lewis King-Turner, a farmer, until his death in 1993. Eric and his second wife, Joan, had been family friends since the seventies, when Doris’ daughter contacted them while researching the family tree.

“Joan and I had always wanted to come to New Zealand and fish but we had never done it. She suffered from glaucoma and she didn’t like to go out of reach of her specialist. In 1991 she had been ill for a long time and I had been nursing her until she went into a home and almost as soon as she got there she died.

“So in the same spirit that I have come here now to live, I decided that I would visit New Zealand to fish. I arranged to call on Lewis, but by the time I got here he had suddenly died also. I got in touch with Doris to ask ‘Do I still come?’ and she said yes.

“Eventually she took me on tour of the South Island and to be guided by a farmer’s wife who knew the country the way she does was really quite good. And I really liked New Zealand. Everybody here is very easy going, extremely friendly and kind. All my neighbours in Britain were very nice, but here there are only four million people in the whole country.

“I realised it had become closer than a mere friendship with Doris but with her husband’s death so close I thought I must keep quiet. I didn’t think she would like it if I made an approach, but I wanted to do more fishing and so I went back at the end of 1994 and we went touring again in the South Island.

“Then on January 28, 1995, without telling any of the family, we got married. I was a little bit concerned but Doris said, ‘I don’t care what the family says, I’m going to get married’. We found a priest and two witnesses and they set up a very nice wedding breakfast and flowers for us. I had arranged for a fishing lodge with two bedrooms in a very beautiful place called Glenorchy and then I was able to ring up and say we shouldn’t need two rooms because we were married.

“People may have said I got married for the companionship but I did it because I’m very fond of her. We seem to agree about everything and Doris liked travelling on the continent. We both like to go and see things.”

In fact, after they married, Eric and Doris toured Europe time and again, and not just to sit on beaches or stare at swimming pools. They visited churches, music festivals and historical sites in Portugal, oalta, France, Spain and Italy. They still have many plans to travel in New Zealand, but since their arrival have been busy getting their old house ready to let and buying a new one nearby.

Eric takes on much of the work himself despite the pain of a sore neck. The only concession he makes to his age is to use his binoculars to tell if he has mail waiting in the letterbox by the road before descending the steep driveway.

“There’s been so much to keep me busy I haven” been able to fish until now,” says Eric, “”I still like to work on the house. Doris wanted tea towels rails in the cupboards, towel rails in the bathroom and coat hooks in the hall, so I put them all up with my drill…

“That sort of thing never dismays me. I just find a way.” What has dismayed Eric is the sudden fame that descended on him when his epic journey became known.

“It never occurred to me that it would cause all this interest,” he says. “I was just getting on with my life and was oblivious to it being unusual. Then there were TV crews camped outside our hotel before we left, reporters trying to get into a family lunch a pub and more on board the ship before we landed. We had a hell of a time of it and I want to stop being famous really.”

He and Doris have no plans to go back to Britain even for a visit, but do have hopes for their Kiwi future. “We just live one day at a time and he’s not allowed to talk about dying,” says Doris. “I’ve said he has to reach 105 at least, but he says he’s aiming for the 2012 olympics.”

“Yes,” chimes Eric, “as a competitor!”

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