Home' Advocate Communications : Fiordland Advocate 26 June 2014 Contents LOCAL NEWS
26 June, 2014 | Page 21
Val and Helen McKay, of Tuatapere, have
highland music and dancing in their blood.
Both with equal shares of Irish and Scottish
heritage, they have been actively involved in
bagpiping and highland dancing their whole
Val hails from Happy Valley near Tuatapere.
He began piping in the 1950’s and
competed solo throughout the region with
success for 12 years, until a nasty chainsaw
accident put an end to it in 1969.
Helen grew up in Timaru. Her mother was
from Ireland and her father was born in
New Zealand from the Scottish stock. With
heritage like this, Helen could highland
dance before she could read and write.
She started competition dancing at the age
of seven and finished when she was 24,
winning two New Zealand Championships
along the way.
When she was 15 her family moved to
Bluff where Helen began to teach dancing.
Later she also taught at Riverton, Orepuki,
Tuatapere, Myross Bush and Invercargill.
Helen met Val when the president of the
Federated Farmers invited her to teach
dancing at Tuatapere. At the age of nearly
16 she needed her mother’s consent for
In those days of gravel roads and few cars,
a trip from Bluff to Tuatapere was a real
mission. She taught at the Tuatapere Pipe
Band Hall on Saturday and Sunday, staying
with local families for the weekend.
When 15-year-old Val was asked to
accompany the dancers on bagpipes,
he hardly noticed their young teacher. It
took a few years before the “professional”
relationship between the two youngsters
developed into an emotional bond.
In 1960 the couple were among the first
New Zealanders to go to Scotland in search
of their roots and to further their education.
However, they soon realised that the best
teachers were in London, so that’s where
Val was a student of Roy Campbell, pipe
major of the Tuatapere Highland Pipe Band
and of the pipe major of the Mardi Pipe
Band in Egypt. He also went to the pipe
major of the Scots Guards Pipe Band who
was so impressed with the young man’s
musical skills that he tried to talk him into
joining the Scots Guards, but also described
Val’s style as “100 years out of date”.
Undeterred, Val showed up the locals,
winning many competitions and awards. He
said that in Scotland he could make more
money from prizes than earning wages.
Meanwhile, Helen studied under Peter
Quinn from Edinburgh, who was also a pipe
major. She claims he was the best highland
dancing teacher in London at that time.
Often during lessons he would give dancers
detailed instructions verbally, whilst playing
accompaniment on his bellow pipes.
Helen and Val returned to New Zealand
before Christmas1961 and the next year
the couple got married. Soon they both
threw themselves back into teaching,
competing and community work.
In 2013 Helen McKay’s contribution to
the Tuatapere community has earned her
a Queen’s Service Medal for her 60 years
of teaching highland dancing, organising
dancing displays for community events
and holding annual highland dancing
competitions in the town.
She is involved with the Waimatuku Pipe
Band’s annual fundraising concert in
Invercargill and was chairwoman of the
Tuatapere Resource Centre committee.
She is also a member of the Western
Southland Integrated Rural Development
Committee and assisted in establishing
a Tuatapere Information Centre and the
She is well known for her cooking and set
up Yesteryear Café in Tuatapere, which is
an extraordinary combination of a museum
and a café where all of her food is home
Helen still has about 20 highland dancing
pupils, but said she’s working on her exit
“I’m waiting for one of my dancers to marry
a young Southland farmer,” she laughs.
Val has been involved in community music
for more than 50 years as a tutor and piper.
For the past 20 years his day job has been
operating commercial transport to the
Dusky Track and tours on Lake Hauroko.
He has tramped, jetboated and flown
over most of Southwest Fiordland.
Although his business and his
passion for music have kept
him busy, he still finds time for
In the 70’s and 80’s he drove the
ambulance and has been in Search
and Rescue since the 1960’s,
which he continues to this day in an
advisory role. He was also involved in
building the Hump Ridge Track.
Val and Helen McKay have six
children and 11 grandchildren.
The McKays are continuing to pass
the highland traditions onto their
descendants. Three of their sons play
bagpipes and one plays drums, and
both of their daughters dance. Of
their grandchildren, a boy and a girl
dance and two boys play bagpipes.
Christmas marches up and down the
main street in Tuatapere. Now kids
go all over the world,” Val says.
Val still plays for the Waimatuku Pipe
Band and has joined the Pipes and
Drums of Christchurch City Band
as the pipe sergeant on several
overseas trips to perform at various
tattoos and festivals. Last year he
took his grandson Vaughan (18)
to Nova Scotia with this band. In
September this year they are going to
Beijing, and this time Val is taking his
younger grandson, Lewis (13) with
During Queen’s Birthday weekend
the McKays attended the 102nd
prestigious Dunedin Highland Piping
and Dancing Festival where two
of their grandchildren won cups in
piping and dancing.
This was music to the grandparents’
ears and Helen admitted she was
happy that “the McKay name carries
on keeping up the family tradition”.
Passing on passion for music and dance
Val and Helen McKay pictured in the Tuatapere PIpe Band hall where they have both spent
countless hours passing on piping and dancing tuition.
“Community Advocate” celebrates people in our
community who go the extra mile, without fanfare, to
make our communities better.
This is an occasional series but we’re keen to
acknowledge as many of our community advocates
around the entire region as possible.
If you know of someone who deserves a public
pat on the back, please let us know by calling
Kirsty or Brendan on (03) 249-9070 or emailing
In this issue Alina Suchanski profiles Helen and Val
McKay, of Tuatapere.
For enrolments and enquiries please phone
Tracey or Lynley at Southern REAP
0800 111 117 or 03 236 6008
CARD MAKING & Make Your Own PIZZA*
* for students aged 7 - 13 years
During this school holidays come along to Ohai Hall
with your friends for a card making workshop.
All materials are supplied and at lunchtime you
even get to make your own pizzas for lunch!
DATE Thursday 17 JULY
TIME 10:30am - 2pm
COST Gold coin donation
VENUE Ohai Hall - OHAI
Come along on the day... there is no need to
register for the Card Making Workshop
COOKING 4 KIDS... for 10 - 13 year olds
with Angela Richardson
Come along and have a fun day learning various
cooking and baking methods. Practice safety in the
kitchen with utensils and good hygiene practices.
Yummy recipes this term include: Spaghetti
Carbonara, Sushi, Sweet Apple Quesadillas and
Monday 14 JULY - $40
Thursday 17 JULY - $40
9am - 4pm
Central Southland College
Wednesday 16 JULY - $40
9am - 4pm
Otautau Bowling Club
Friday 18 JULY - $40
9am - 4pm
Northern Southland College
Please enrol before attending the
Cooking 4 Kids on
0800 111 117 or 03 236 6008
Spaces are limited.
SCHOOL HOLIDAY PROGRAMMES
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