To those who knew her in Ōtaki, she was always Sandra Dorne, and remembered for her prodigious talents as a gymnast.
Travelling back to Ōtaki for the first time in 31 years for the college reunion, she’s now Sandy Smith, gymnastics days behind her but still diminutive and living a happy life as a truckie in Brisbane. It’s a lifestyle that suits her.
“I lost my job in supermarkets a few years ago and a neighbour in Brisbane had a concrete trucking business,” Sandy says. “He suggested I get my heavy licence and work for him, which I did for a while.
“I loved it. I went on to drive general freight, and then traffic control trucks – the ones with the lights. That’s what I do now on the roads around Brisbane.”
The hustle and bustle of a big city are a far cry from the country living Sandy enjoyed growing up in Ōtaki in the 60s and 70s.
Sandy was born in Whanganui, and adopted by George (Dodge) and Beryl Dorne in Ōtaki soon after.
They lived originally near the Lutz farm in Rāhui Road, then to the house they were to keep for the next 50 years, on the highway just south of Waitohu Valley Road.
Dodge, a Gallipoli veteran, had a commercial cleaning business and Beryl was a seamstress.
Sandy went to Ōtaki School for a year, then to Waitohu School when it opened in 1963. They were to be some of the best days of her life.
“The teachers would take us out of class and play games and there was always swimming after school,” she says. “I loved all the sports we played.”
She was to prove herself particularly good at gymnastics, just when the Horowhenua-Kāpiti Gymnastics Association was gathering momentum.
By secondary school she was a standout among many young gymnasts being coached by Mari Housiaux at the new Ōtaki Gymnastics Club. As Mari’s proteges, Sandy and Levin girl Keri-Lyn Edwards were to rise to the top of New Zealand junior gymnastics.
It didn’t end after college days for Sandy. She continued her gymnastics with Wellington coaches and clubs and had a tour to the United States with the New Zealand team.
In her career, she took five national titles, including two years in a row as New Zealand women’s champion.
Meanwhile, earning a living was required. Sandy got a job at BNZ Ōtaki, working as an
input clerk and teller with people such as Daphne Meyer and manager Brent Bythell.
She later married local man David Russell and had two daughters, but the marriage was not to last.
Sandy left for Australia and soon found work with Woolworths in Brisbane. She managed the fish department in a local store and brought its takings from $7000 a week when she started, to $47,000. She later managed a Woolworths liquor store, BWS, for a time.
Sandy had another daughter, but was in unhappy and abusive relationships for several years.
It’s been only in the last six years that she’s felt free to truly enjoy life.
The trucking work has taken her to interesting places where she meets interesting people.
“When I was carting concrete I would take it to some of the big roading projects around Brisbane, like the Clem Jones Tunnel on the M7,” she says. “I go through that tunnel now and say, ‘I helped to build that’.”
Sandy was excited about coming back for the college reunion.
“I caught up with so many people. Ōtaki has certainly changed – I can’t believe the bumper-to-bumper traffic. The expressway has to be good for Ōtaki.”
Life enjoyment now comes with her family, a job she loves, and the ability to reconnect with old friends she’s not seen for years.