Photo: Alan Dark, right, in a Times Newspapers t-shirt, and great mate Fred Woods, running on Archie Somerville’s former farm where the Mangemangeroa Reserve is now.
The Dark family played a big role in running organised athletics events in Howick
By Phil Dark
My Dad, Alan Dark, was always sporty, playing rugby as all young Kiwis did back in the day, also dabbling in amateur boxing and athletics.
When he and Mum – Elaine – moved to Howick, he was a well-established runner with the Technical Harrier Club based in central Auckland.
He continued running for Tech as they were known, when an advert in the local newspaper caught his eye here in Howick.
He and a few likeminded people gathered and out of that first meeting he and a man who would become one of his closest friends reformed the HAAHC – the Howick Amateur Athletic and Harrier Club.
His close friend, an Englishman with a love for running, was Fred Woods.
His wife at the time was Alma Woods, who a few years later would be instrumental in founding the first theatre group in the Howick area, which we now know as the Howick Little Theatre, that’s still going strong today.
Things were very different in those days. It was long before the running or jogging boom, and most people who ran, or heaven forbid trained semi-seriously, were thought of as strange.
My mother tells the story of pushing me or my sister Robyn up the main street in Howick only to have people cross the street so as not to talk to the woman who was married to the strange Dark bloke who ran.
This was back in the mid-1950s, long before the exploits of Bill Baillie, Barry Magee, John Davies and Sir Peter Snell. Their coach, Arthur Lydiard, was just a milkman in Mt Albert.
There was however an interest in running in Howick, firstly on the roads and then on the cross-country courses laid out on local farms.
To give you an idea of how obscure the sport was at the time, you needed a doctor’s certificate to enter road running events like marathons, and these were run in the heat of the day in the height of summer.
I’m very proud to say my Dad was a good runner and as membership started to grow the Howick club began to field teams in the regional relays, and with a bit of unofficial coaching from him, began featuring in the results.
The HAAHC also catered to the kids of the area and no doubt propelled by the New Zealand successes of the Kiwis at the Rome Olympics started regular athletics nights on Wednesdays at club headquarters, Howick Domain.
Through the late 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, these nights would see the domain completely packed with children and adults regularly competing in sprint races, long and high jump, shot-put, discus, and even javelin events.
By now, Dad was involved in the administration of the club, serving terms as club captain, secretary, and president.
He also became the club’s delegate to Auckland Athletics for both track and field and harriers or road and cross-country.
The club’s standout events were the inter-club competitions. I can well remember as a kid running on the East Tamaki Rugby Club grounds, as well as visits to the Mt Wellington club grounds, and my favourite, relay days at Sturges Park, Otahuhu.
A lot of these events are long gone, along with some of the Auckland clubs.
A standout on the clubs’ calendar was the Annual Howick 10-Mile Road Race, a brutal out and back course that started and finished at Howick Domain.
This event was open to anyone and had some of the best runners in NZ in it and winning. Jack Foster, the 1974 Commonwealth Games marathon silver medallist, at the age of 40, was just one that triumphed over the rolling hills in a course record that stood for a long time. It started the same year as the first Rotorua Marathon, for years known as the Fletcher Marathon.
The Howick 10-Mile would be celebrating its 58th year had we not had to cancel it due to the safety of the runners due to traffic build up.
Due to societal pressures, Saturday trading or the fact that anyone can go and buy a pair of shoes and run, and the proliferation of Fun Runs, the senior side of the club began to dwindle and the club eventually became a children’s-only club.
For his efforts, Dad was made a life member, but I always thought my Mum should have got the same honour as she was beside him all the way.
As well as for the Howick club, my father was firstly a very good veterans runner, now known as masters, and then a pioneer in the setting up what is now easily the biggest part of running in NZ, the masters movement.
Heavily involved in the administration of the sport, he worked as an official at the 1950 Empire Games in Auckland, and then alongside mum as the chief timekeeper at the 1990 Commonwealth Games here.
For years of solid effort as officials at Mt Smart Stadium at club, regional and international levels, they both were awarded merit badges for services to the sport they loved.
This is the sport’s equivalent of life membership.
My sister and I not only grew up with amazing parents, but also a love of sport that I’m lucky enough to say has turned into a career that continues to this day.
Who knows if this would have happened had it not been for the Howick Athletic Club.
Phil Dark is a lifelong Howick resident, professional broadcaster, and weekday morning breakfast host on East FM.
He attended schools Cockle Bay Primary, Howick Intermediate and Pakuranga College.
“I absolutely love Howick. When I went house hunting it was always going to be Howick,” he says.
“As you get older, you appreciate more things. When I was a kid there was nothing to do in Howick and my involvement in running through Mum and Dad probably saved me.
“Now the place buzzes, a café on every corner and just as many pubs; multiplex cinema, great sport facilities.
“It’s still kind of quiet, which I now like, and relatively safe. There’s fantastic beaches and plenty of open spaces if you want them.
“What’s not to love? Great people, good times.”