A KIWI FOLK HERO

Alfred Reed died in Dunedin on January 15th 1975. He was 99 years old. He is noted for saying, “I believe in the gospel of work, of laughter, of goodwill to men.” He was widely known for being notably fit, happy and active and was a Kiwi folk hero.

A.H.Reed as he was generally known was an eccentric in every sense of the word. Growing up in Dunedin, I remember my mother commenting that A.H.Reed was seen ambling along the main highway into the city after having walked 205km from Invercargill. The matter-of-fact way she made the comment indicated it was nothing out of the ordinary for this elderly man. In fact, he was on his way to Auckland, walking of course!!

The Reed family shifted from Britain to New Zealand when Alfred was a young boy. His father got a job in the kauri gumfields and for a while his son worked there too. Alfred had limited schooling but he was ambitious so taught himself shorthand and typing. This enabled him to get a job with the New Zealand Typewriter Company in Auckland. The company was so impressed with his intelligence and work ethic that they soon sent him to manage their office in Dunedin. In 1902, Alfred purchased the company and closed the Auckland office, choosing to run the business from Dunedin which was at that time the country’s most dynamic city. After settling into his new home, A.H. Reed began his long career as a publisher and writer.

EARLY ATTEMPTS AT PUBLISHING

Alfred was a religious man and started his publishing enterprise by importing material for use in Sunday schools. This became the foundation for a successful mail order business. In 1907, he created Sunday School Supply Stores.

In 1925, Alfred’s nephew, Alexander Wyclif Reed joined the company and from then it became A.H. and A.W Reed. The company’s logo of a native reed became possibly the best known publishing company logo in New Zealand. Their first major publishing venture was The Letters and Journals of Samuel Marsden which hit bookstores in 1932. The following year the pair wrote and published First New Zealand Christmases which was a pleasing success for them. The company continued to release religious titles but they also expanded into travel, sport and history. Many of their books featured Maori content from place names to legends, myths and short stories.

POST RETIREMENT

A.H.Reed retired in 1940 but remained on the company board. He went onto write 44 books mostly about his adventures wandering around the country.

His last book The Happy Wanderer was published on his 99th birthday.

In his senior years, Alfred became famous around New Zealand for his long walks. Some of them lasted months. As he ambled through country towns and even the cities, people would clap him and toot from cars. He was frequently offered cups of tea to keep him going. In fact, he was a New Zealand folk hero. School classes were occasionally taken to the countryside to see him stride by and to walk a short distance with him picking his brains about New Zealand as they kept up with him.

At the age of 85 he walked the full length of New Zealand from Cape Reinga to Bluff (2,080km/1296miles). At 86 he walked from East Cape to Cape Egmont (619km/385miles) At 88 he walked the length of the South Island 920km/572miles). To keep his fitness level in peak condition in his 80s he also climbed the country’s three tallest volcanoes Mt Ngauruhoe, Mt Egmont and Mt Ruapehu. For a change of scenery, at the age of 89 he walked from Sydney to Melbourne (878km/545miles).

Apart from the physical activity, Alfred was also a popular lecturer and broadcaster. He never missed an opportunity to spread his gospel on protecting the environment at a period when there was little focus placed on the impact logging and farming were having on the countryside (a little ahead of his time)

BOOK COLLECTION

During his life, Alfred Reed collected a huge number of books and historic manuscripts. He was particularly interested in the works of Charles Dickens and Samuel Johnson. In 1948, he donated his valuable book collection to the Dunedin Public Library. These can now be accessed at the Reed Room in the library.

In 1974, at the age of 98, A.H.Reed was knighted for his services to publishing in New Zealand. The A H Reed Memorial Kauri Park in Northland is a legacy of his deep interest in the environment and in kauri trees in particular.

Park Information Board (Wikipedia)

Ceidrik Heward