by MICHAEL OTTO
AUCKLAND — Roye Hammond is 93 years of age and still swings a pick and shovel with a vigour that would put men decades younger to shame.
For the past 15 years, Mr Hammond has been beavering away at the Tyburn Monastery near Bombay, cutting tracks and making walkways through bush and scrub, on terrain that varies from easy to very steep.
The bush walks, one of which has a Stations of the Cross feature, have become something of a pilgrimage destination.
A former guide track hand on the world-renowned Milford Track in Fiordland, Mr Hammond has a tale or two to tell about his work with the Tyburn nuns.
“Occasionally I’ve had a good helping nun, but the trouble is they work well for about an hour and then say they have to go to devotions or something.
“I keep telling them if they didn’t spend so much time praying, they’d get a lot more work done. It doesn’t cut any ice.”
But devotion to prayer isn’t the only reason many of the nuns can’t keep up with Mr Hammond.
“One character of a nun who worked with me here, she was helping me get a log down a cliff and she was stumbling around, nearly fell down the cliff. I said ‘I don’t know what’s the matter with you young people today — you expect an old geezer like me to run up and down here like nothing and here you are making hard work of it’. She said, ‘You try it with a skirt on’.”
When asked about his own faith, a wry smile flashes across his face.
“Mother General referred to me as a Christian there one time I was talking to her . . . I said, ‘Oh no, I’m only a bush Baptist’,” Mr Hammond laughed.
n Close calls
He’s had the occasional close call in the bush at the monastery.
Cutting up a huge pine tree that had been felled and which came to rest across a river, Mr Hammond attached the pieces of timber to a rope, and a nun would pull them up the hill to the track.
“We were going quite well and coming near the end. It was one of the biggest pieces I cut through and I didn’t have very secure footing. I cut it through and, when she took the weight, the rope was starting to slip. I switched the chainsaw off and tried to adjust the rope.
“With that, my footing gave way and I went over backwards, chainsaw and all. I finished up like a cast sheep in among the branches almost in the river. I think Mother Seraphim — the nun on the rope — was saying a few words until I sat up.”
But for all his work up hill and down dale, Mr Hammond has only suffered one significant injury at the monastery, when he broke a leg some 10 years ago.
“I was put out of commission for a while. The silly woman doctor after I got it in plaster said I wasn’t allowed to drive. I drove home [to Pukekohe] from here when I broke it, without any trouble,” Mr Hammond declared.
Some of the tracks Mr Hammond has cut have been through rock faces — and it has all been done by hand, with pick and shovel.
A Honda barrow has been the only piece of mechanised equipment regularly used.
A life member of the Pukekoke Tramping Club, Mr Hammond’s first contact with the Tyburn nuns came in 1996, after the nuns wrote to the Franklin District Council about having a walkway on the property. The council put Mr Hammond in touch with them.
“I came out to do that job and I’ve been coming ever since. [But] I’ve just about come to the end of my tether now.”
Mr Hammond, who used to run a general carrying business at
Patumahoe, said he doesn’t work for very long stretches these days.
But if there is a good patch of weather, he might work the monastery three or four times a week.
The nuns certainly appreciate Mr Hammond’s hard work and dedication.
He features in a newly released documentary — Tyburn Convent Gloria Dei — about life in the nine convents of the Tyburn nuns throughout the world. The DVD was made by a former London fashion and beauty photographer, Michael Luke Davies.
But Mr Hammond is happy with life’s simple pleasures.
“When I first started coming out, the sisters used to ask me to have lunch and all that. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I’m often all over mud and so I’m not really fit to come inside’.
“‘Anyway,’ I said, ‘a highlight of the job is to have my lunch down in the bush.’”
• To request copies of Tyburn Convent Gloria Deo, please email the nuns at email@example.com, or write to them at Tyburn Convent, 8 Hyde Park Place, London W2 2LJ, United Kingdom.
Copies of the DVD will soon also be available for purchase through Catholic bookshops.