For a man who fell off a ladder and fractured his spine, Peter Murton has achieved a lot. It’s about being organised, he told me.
In 1997, Peter was working on a roof of a client in Paremata. All day, he’d been up and down one of those step ladders that opens out to become a straight ladder. It was leaning against, four-meter-high guttering. On his last trip down, for the day, when he put his weight on to the second to top rung, one of the hinges failed where the ladder pivots. It buckled sideways, leaving Peter with 3.5 meters of clear air between him and the wooden deck below. He landed on his back side, shoulder and side of his head.
The twelfth vertebrae from the top of his thorax (T12) was 60% crushed.
There was no way, he was getting up. Attempting to do so could have damaged his spinal cord and left him paralysed. His wife, Angela came when the client arrived at their home. The ambulance arrived. Their lives would never be the same.
Three years earlier, Peter and Angela, had bought a one-hectare (2.5 acre) property and launched ‘Murton’s Timbercraft’. They had little capital, but their business took-off straight away.
Thirty-two-year-old Peter, was a qualified carpenter, joiner and boat builder, and his skills were in demand. One letterbox drop was all the promotion they ever did. From that time, Peter always had work ahead of him, doing alterations and repairs. Angela did all the administration, leaving Peter unimpeded to just get on with the work.
At the time of Peter’s accident, they had sheds, but not a finished house. It was ‘business first’, ‘house second’. Life was rigorous, particularly with a one-year-old son, but the future was bright.
Peter’s attitude to life has been shaped by his involvement in scouting, in particular sea scouts. As a boy and young man, he benefited from everything the scout movement had to offer. He went on to establish a Rover unit (Rovers is for ages 18 to 26) on the Porirua harbour, and at the time of his accident, was leader for the local Venturer scouts (ages 14 to 17).
He had to wear a back brace for some time after his accident. Physical work was out of the question, and the family was still living in a shed.
Amongst his friends in scouting, were all the tradesmen (Gib stopping, electrical, painting etc.) needed to finish off the house that Peter had almost completed. This they did without hesitation, and not a cent changed hands.
The need for a warm dry house was addressed, but, with Pete out of action, and only ACC to live on, the Murton’s needed to arrest a slide towards poverty.
There would be no going back to Peter’s pre-accident physicality. He and Angela had to come up with an idea for a livelihood.
They had both noticed that lots of caravans and camper vans travelled past their gate, and reasoned that there-in, there may be an opportunity. Backing their hunch, and with plenty of help, particularly from Angela’s parents, they established a twenty-site motor camp on their hectare. Almost from day one, it was fully booked.
The Murton’s seemed to have the Mydas touch.
They were fortunate in business, but not health. When Angela was a teenager, her kidneys started failing. To save her, her mother had donated one of her kidneys.
Angela’s kidney problems returned. Her mother’s donated kidney was failing. and Angela had to go on dialysis in 2007.
The chance of a parent having a kidney sufficiently compatible for it to be donated to their offspring is 50%. That Angela’s mother was able to be a donor was unremarkable.
That Angela should marry a man with compatible kidneys was an improbable stroke of luck. Peter was able, ready and waiting. And waiting….
In 2007, Wellington Hospital was undergoing a rebuild, and in order to perform a kidney transplant, they needed two operating theatres working in tandem. At the time of the hospital rebuild, it was not possible to schedule the concurrent use of two operating theaters.
Peter and Angela waited a year for the transplant, and it was not simple. Her body tried to reject Peter’s kidney, and she ended up being in hospital for 4 weeks plus an ongoing course of drugs to quell her uncooperative body.
For seven years, Peter and Angela reaped the benefit of their camp ground’s success and the boat restoration and carpentry business. During that time, they also had a second son.
Seven years of being ‘on call’ all the time, was long enough. Also, Porirua was sprawling, and the roads were becoming hectic. Transmission Gully was yet to be signed off.
Both boys were of school age, when they started considering a move.
Peter and Angela had heard good reports about the schools in Nelson. That, along with the prospect of a more rural lifestyle, less crime, and far better weather, made them decide, in 2008, to pack up and move to Redwoods Valley.
Four years later, they relocated to their current home on the Appleby Highway.
Peter loves all things wood, but particularly, boats. He has no fear of challenging builds and rebuilds of traditional wooden boats. His workshop is a sheer delight, graced by vessels he’s building or resurrected from the dead.
Pride of place is occupied by ‘Blue Duck’, a graceful sixteen-footer, that Peter spotted in an Alexandra Garden. She had resided there for ten years. Before that, she spent fifteen years in a garden in Cromwell. She was built in 1895 and was a tender for gold dredges on the Shotover River.
Peter trailered her home through a blizzard on the Lindis Pass and was the last vehicle through to Waimate, before the road was closed due to flooding. Blue Duck has led an eventful life under Peter’s care. The first thing he did was remove her non-original cabin and decking.
Then over the space of decades she has had four different motors: Initially a steam engine (too heavy), a petrol (difficult starting), an electric (not powerful enough) and finally another petrol (1930s vintage. 5 hp). Her current power plant will move her along at over 6 knots. A day’s running uses just 4 litres of petrol.
Blue Duck in Alexandra 2001
Blue Duck Restored
Peter’s core business is making beautiful boats, but he also makes furniture which combines many different wood types. You can see, and buy, his platters and chopping boards at Eyebright.
Peter’s darkest hour came Twenty-six years ago when he fell from a ladder. At the time he could have set course for a compromised life. Instead, he pulled himself together, and set himself challenge after challenge.
The impression Peter Murton leaves is of a man who delights in creating beauty, and punches above his weight.