Christ­mas tree vol­un­teer bows out

Hamilton News - - NEWS - Tom Row­land

A decade of lead­ing the team that puts up New Zealand’s largest Christ­mas tree has pro­vided many fond mem­o­ries for Shirley Mur­phy.

But now in her 11th build, she is step­ping down and re­tir­ing.

In 2008, the man­ager of the Hamil­ton Christ­mas Char­i­ta­ble Trust Karen Watkins ap­proached Shirley and her team of elec­tri­cians with the task of in­stalling the lights, and the elec­tri­cal work on the tree.

Each year has been some­thing dif­fer­ent for Shirley, with new lights to in­stall, and train­ing new vol­un­teers in some of the tasks she has had to man­age over the years.

“I’ve got 11 builds in my head, and it is hard to hand this over to some­one else.

“There are just lit­tle things that only ex­pe­ri­ence can teach you,” Ms Mur­phy said.

“There are the three ‘S’s on this site — safety is the first one, speed is the sec­ond one and Shirley is the third one. When Shirley shouts, they know when to lis­ten.”

The task of putting up the tree has both pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives ac­cord­ing to Shirley, but worth it for the end re­sult— tree light­ing.

The tree is 27m tall to the tip of the star — more than six storeys high — and takes a team of 15 peo­ple to in­stall the frame and the light­ing, fluff the branches and hang the baubles.

In the past cou­ple of years, Hamil­ton has been hit by rain and thun­der­storms which has proved a chal­lenge in putting the tree up ready for Sat­ur­day’s light­ing.

“It took us off site about four times this week with the weather ...

“That’s why I al­ways al­low the last two weeks of Novem­ber to build the tree be­cause of the weather el­e­ments. You just never know.”

One of the pos­i­tives for Shirley is when the tree lights up to the pub­lic for the first time, although she al­ways pre­pares for some­thing to go wrong on the night.

“Mur­phy’s law re­mem­ber, any­thing that can go wrong, will go wrong. I’m al­ways on site when we flick the lights on for the first time.

“It’s one of the best feel­ings when I stand back and see all these lights, es­pe­cially the new lights, come alive and watch the crowd en­joy the show.”

The tree re­cently had new lights brought in, and last year with the help of fa­ther and son team Larry and Eric Couf­mann, they are able to be pro­grammed to match with the mu­sic that is played.

Shirley said the vol­un­teers who help lay out the lights is also a pos­i­tive.

“The helpers are adorable, the rig­gers — we just love hav­ing them on site.

“It’s just a great en­vi­ron­ment.” With Shirley step­ping down, this year she has been shad­owed by Stephanie Carey who will take over the role of lead­ing the team to set up the tree.

“She’s learnt a lot and still has a bit to go, but ex­pe­ri­ence will teach her that.”

Sat­ur­day’s tree light­ing will be Shirley’s last in Hamil­ton. She and her hus­band are mov­ing down south to Pic­ton to re­tire, some­thing she is look­ing for­ward to.

“It’s just such a lovely town, and just a bit of peace and quiet now.

“I will miss this. If I wasn’t mov­ing I would have stayed on.”

Photo / Tom Row­land

Shirley Mur­phy has led the team that has put up Hamil­ton’s largest Christ­mas tree for the past decade.

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