Page 1: Work and relationships
Farmhand, bush worker, deer culler, writer, character
This biography, written by Brigid Magner, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2011, and updated in November, 2012.
Barry Crump was one of New Zealand’s most popular writers. In total, his novels sold more than a million copies domestically, equating to one book sold for every four New Zealanders. He was also a high-profile media personality who worked in radio and television, and appeared in memorable advertisements.
Born on 16 May 1935 in Papatoetoe, Auckland, John Barrie Crump was the second of six children of a share-milking couple, Walter William Crump and his wife, Lily Valley Hendery. By his own account, he had a tough rural upbringing, marred by his father’s recurrent violence towards all members of the family.
Barry, as he was known, went to several schools in South Auckland. He later claimed that he was not interested in school, preferring to let his imagination run free. As a child, Crump especially enjoyed listening to radio serials such as Talking drums and Moon over Africa. He read adventure classics such as Jack London’s Call of the wild (1903), Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) and R. M. Ballantyne’s Coral Island (1857).
At the age of 15, Barry Crump left Otahuhu College to begin his working life. In the 1950s, he worked as an itinerant farm hand and bushworker in areas as diverse as the Kaimanawa forest and South Westland. From 1952 he served as a government deer culler in the Urewera region.
On 28 June 1957, at the age of 22, Crump married Martina (Tina) Beatrice Anso in Auckland. The couple had two sons but the marriage was dissolved in December 1960. Before the end of his marriage to Tina, Crump began a liaison with student Jean Watson (who later became known as a writer).
Then at a party he attended with fellow writer Jack Lasenby, Crump met poet Fleur Adcock. They married in Dunedin on 9 February 1962. Adcock had a son from her marriage to poet Alistair Campbell. Adcock and Crump’s marriage was short-lived and violent; they divorced after five months. Adcock later wrote of her ‘year of confusion and melodrama’1 living with Crump. As a result of his violence, she suffered black eyes, bruises and chipped teeth.
Australia with Jean
Crump was restless and travelled widely, especially in Australia where, from late 1962, he spent two years in the north with Jean Watson, crocodile hunting in the Gulf of Carpentaria and sailing off the North Queensland coast. After returning to New Zealand, Crump left Jean, now pregnant with Crump’s third son, in Wellington. There was to be another son of the relationship.
Crump had liaisons with a number of women before he met his third wife, Vanda Hill, in Auckland in 1968. Vanda became pregnant to another man, but she and Crump left Auckland for Lake Rotomā. They eventually married in Whakatāne on 6 February 1969.
Bush camps for boys
With a fellow hunter, George Johnston, Crump had started running bush camps for boys. At one of these, in August 1969, five teenagers drowned in Lake Matahina after a vehicle accident. Both Crump and Johnston were charged with manslaughter, and although the charges were eventually dropped, Crump, especially, became the focus of public disapproval.
After a trip to England and Europe in 1973, during which Crump rode a motorcycle to India via Turkey and Afghanistan, he and Vanda separated. They had one son together. They eventually divorced in June 1979.
On 21 July 1979 Crump married Robin Lesley Hughes in Invercargill after meeting her at a Baha’i gathering for her 21st birthday. After 12 years with Crump, Hughes left him, eventually writing a book, In salting the gravy, about her experiences of domestic abuse while living with him.
Crump met his last wife, Margaret (Maggie) Louise Nicholson, in Auckland in 1993. After dating for a short time, they married in Alexandra on 9 July 1993. In addition to his marriages, Crump had other relationships. He had a son with photographer Ans Westra, and may have fathered other children.
Crump asserted that he never stayed anywhere for longer than three months. Whether or not this is literally true, he certainly had a tendency to ‘shoot through’. When there was trouble, particularly of a romantic kind, Crump was inclined to leave rather than try to resolve it.