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The Interview: This Week Mark Childs


In the space of an hour Mark Childs shared many experiences with Grant Harding – professional, sporting and personal; highs and lows. Throughout the conversation the Ray White Leaders real estate agent showed a respect for those he’s come in contact with – workplace mentors, coaches, outstanding sportspeople, his family. It would be easy to analyse him as a ‘work hard, play hard’ Kiwi male, but there is much more to the 44-year-old than the obvious.

At 17, straight out of Kuranui College, talented cricketer Mark Childs headed to Yorkshire in the UK to play for Golcar CC as its unpaid ‘professional’ in the Huddersfield League’s second division.

It was an “amazing experience” which has, if not shaped his life since, then informed it.

“It was a real shock to me because I’d come from Feathy and you’re not exposed to their way of life. They just take the piss out of you. And they don’t mind telling it to your face. If you did well, they praised you and if you didn’t do well you got shit.”

Well, wicketkeeper-batsman “Kiwi”, who was given airfares, a job and a few other perks for his services, started poorly.

“I got a highest score of 18 in my first six bats. I’d go into the clubrooms at lunchtime, having failed, and the barperson would say, ‘I see you didn’t get any runs today’. Then the ladies in the corner making scones would say, ‘Oh Kiwi I see you didn’t get any runs today’ and then you’d go outside, and the juniors would say, ‘Oh Kiwi you missed out again’ – you’d get it from all angles.

“What it did was toughen me up. You really have to develop a thick skin otherwise you’d be homesick and on the next plane home.”

Every team had an overseas player – first-class or up-and-coming players from Pakistan, India, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. He got to rub shoulders with Hansie Cronje, who was soon to be a successful captain of South Africa before his match-fixing troubles and ultimate death in a plane crash.

“I played a six-a-side tournament in an Antipodean side with him as captain.”

Mark stuck with it, and by the time the season was over he’d scored runs, set a club record for wicketkeeping dismissals and Golcar had earned promotion to first division. He’d also turned 18.

Facts relayed, Mark moves on to the lasting benefit of that trip.

“It wasn’t really about the cricket,” he says. “It was about going out of my comfort zone – I had to meet new people and have chats to them. That really developed my social skills – around the bar of course.”

He laughs when he remembers the Yorkshire way of doing things: “The gallon of beer and you’d be doing that three or four nights a week. Then you’d be walking home getting fish and chips and mushie peas.”

Mark chose not to return the following season, instead taking a bank job at Trust Bank Central in Carterton, close to where he grew up in Featherston.

It was a typical outdoors childhood for a sports-mad youngster of that time – the youngest of four siblings, he has three older sisters who helped take care of the homework.

“We used to play tennis on the street. The Rec had this massive row of oak trees and we used to climb from one end to the other – acorn fights, bush reserves. It was a cool town to grow up in. There was heaps of things to do.”

Sport was ever present – rugby in the winter, cricket, tennis and athletics in the summer. Encouraging all the way were his parents Merv and Margaret. His father had been a promising sportsperson who had “burned out” in his early 20s.

“He got hugely pushed by his father. Dad was a tennis and athletics champion, gun cricketer and rugby player,” Mark says. “His old man would put an army back pack and boots on him and have him run around Naenae Rec ten times.

“He never did that to me. He just supported me and was always positive. He coached me right through Featherston JAB.”

Mark’s sporting career took off in the 1990s, at the same time as his banking career was moving forward. Trust Bank was swallowed up by Westpac, and Mark, who had risen to the position of supervisor aged 20, was heavily involved in the local merger, alongside manager and good friend Darrin Hannah.

“Trust Bank had this young energy about it which was fun, and we had to merge that culture with Westpac which was stuck in the dinosaur age – it was a bloody nightmare. The cultures of the two staffs clashed. That made me grow up as well.

“Trust Bank was the best institution I’ve ever worked for. They really cared about their customers.”

Towards the end of the 1994 rugby season Mark, already a Wairarapa cricket representative, was plucked from the Greytown Under-21 side to play first-five for a Wairarapa-Bush side steering at relegation from the NPC Second Division.

The confidence gained from his stint in Yorkshire came into play.

“My dad said, ‘what have you got to lose?’, and I said, ‘yeah what have I got to lose? – there’s no pressure on me, I haven’t even had a game of senior rugby. I’ll be on a plane to Timaru to play South Canterbury and it’s all sponsored by Air New Zealand’.

“I’d been overseas and experienced pressure and expectation as a 17-year-old and come through that. I didn’t have any fear of failure.”

Mark laughs at the memory of the morning of his debut, when coach Ritchie Robertson expressed concern that he’d selected him.

“‘I’m packing mate’, he told me, and I said, ‘I’ll do all right’ and patted him on the back.”

It wasn’t a winning debut, but he held his place for the remaining three matches of the season, the final game, an 11-3 win over Horowhenua staving off relegation.

The following season under new coach Graeme ‘Bunter’ Anderson, a former representative halfback of note, was a better one, and Mark appeared in nine of the 10 matches.

The season provided three major highlights – an unexpected club final victory for Greytown over Pioneer, under the coaching of Paul Pottinger “one of the best coaches I’ve ever experienced in any sport”, an outstanding representative win over Hawke’s Bay, and the opportunity to play inside former All Black Marty Berry.

“We beat Hawke’s Bay 34-16 on the park. It was terrible weather. I remember after the game ‘Bunter’ was in the tunnel and he hugged every player who walked in. We were caked in mud and he was caked in mud. He was just so proud and happy.”

At the same time, Mark became a huge fan of Berry – “my greatest role model from those I played with”.

“I just knew Marty from watching television and thought he was crash-bash, all arms and legs when he ran, and a great defender.

“Then I played with him and saw what a great passer of the ball he was, how much vision he had. That’s when I knew that to be an All Black that was the level you had to be at.

“He was the player who provided the confidence for young players like me.”

Early in 1996 Mark was forced to choose between codes. Having played in a national tournament winning Central Districts Under-20 team he was offered the CD ‘A’ captaincy. But it clashed with the offer of a Hurricanes trial in the first year of professional rugby. He chose rugby.

The trial proved an eye-opener for the slightly built second division player.

“People say I should have stuck to cricket because while rugby was going great, physically I was 78 kilograms. During the trial we ran a drift defence which put me on [All Black second-five] Alama Ieremia…”

It’s easy to understand what he means. He wasn’t offered a contract.

Unfortunately, the season went downhill from there. He injured his shoulder in club rugby, played on through a winless representative season, then had surgery. It didn’t get any better when he returned – he snapped his Achilles tendon, and his representative career was over after 22 games.

In an attempt to resurrect his sporting career, he moved over the hill in 1999 to play rugby for the famed blue and white of Petone, and cricket. After a year his then partner Salina produced twins Ethan and Quinn, to add to Jesse, who Mark has brought up since he was two years old – “I’m not his biological father but I’m his Dad – he’s an awesome guy” – and they decided to move back to Carterton for family support.

Having returned to banking with ASB in Lambton Quay, Mark commuted for 18 months – “that was tough, because with twins it’s all hands on for both of you the whole time”.

So, he brought his working life back to Wairarapa joining Mortgage Link as a broker, before buying into the business as a director and shareholder. Using the service model, he’d learned at Trust Bank he began to build a successful career which culminated in him being named New Zealand Mortgage Broker of the Year in 2009.

Mark is quick to credit his two-support staff (Sharon and Beth), and a creative outlook for his success.

“We developed lender relationships and a system that meant if a client came to see us at midday we’d have their mortgage approved by three o’clock. We never promised it, we just did it, and they were like, ‘you’re joking’”

On the surface it was the best of times, but right at the peak of his business career Mark’s personal life fell apart. He parted ways with Salina.

“That was a life-changing experience. One minute you’ve got your life, and the next minute it’s all different. One minute you’ve got three kids and the next minute they’re staying at someone else’s house for a week. And you just think f***.

“It’s not about how successful you are – sometimes you just miss the boat with your own relationship.”

Mark walked out of his business – sold his share to his partner Stephen Oldfield – took time off, had “a lot of counselling”.

“I just took a bit of time out and thought: what’s life all about? Is it about working your arse off and being successful and having all those material things? Or is there more to it? Which there is of course.”

Mark has never walked away from his sons.

While he is more interested in them being “good guys”, he relates a story of a club cricket final playing alongside Jesse and Ethan, and when asked for his favourite cricket match nominates Wairarapa’s win over Nelson at this year’s Chapple Cup playing alongside Ethan and Quinn.

“[Ethan and Quinn] got a few wickets and bowled well. I opened with Jack Forrester and we put on 140 – he got a hundred and I got 80. It was just one of those days.”

Quinn played for a CD XI this past season and has represented through the age-grades, and is jetting off to Darwin next week for the dry season and winter cricket.

Ethan was Wairarapa representative cricketer of the year for 2018-19, played for CD ‘A’, and is now at Otago University.

At the National Club tournament in Auckland, he played for Dunedin’s champion team, Green Island, with his mother and father in attendance. “We all still get on like a house on fire,” Mark says.

Since 2010 Mark has worked as a real estate agent for Ray White Leaders in Masterton under the management of good friend Brad Chittick. He’s ridden the wave provided by an influx of out-of-town buyers, and Kiwisaver first home buyers. Although his “2500” person database gathered from his business career provides added resilience.

He’s seen people get burned out by the industry – “going too hard”. Sport has helped him avoid such a fate.

Not just cricket. There’s been four Carterton Golf Club titles [he once had a two handicap] out of six final appearances, yet the one he recounts was his first against New Zealand representative Reon Sayer which he lost.

“I was eight down after 17 holes of a 36-hole match. On the 18th I played the best three-iron I’ve ever played out of an impossible lie behind trees, chipped on in regulation and sunk a 15-metre putt. Reon then sank an 8-metre putt for a half!”

There’s also been an unlikely decade-long career in football with the Douglas Villa Skulls – “10 ex-rugby players and one footballer, Hayden Spierling, who played 100 games for Wairarapa United”. A few years ago, the competition’s “annoyance” won the local premier league.

“We never trained. But when we crossed the line we wanted to win. It’s just been classic.”

Mark accepts that his sporting career is winding down. He’s more of a “match reporter” than a football player these days, and he’s retired from rep cricket.

He intends to coach and mentor on the cricket scene.

“I’m happy to do that, give back a bit of time. If you give, you’re going to receive.”

Does he have regrets?

“I don’t have any regrets because I’ve had a bloody good time.”

Wouldn’t you have liked to walk out in front of a big 20/20 crowd with your theme song playing? What would that be?

“Welcome to the Jungle. Guns and Roses. I was at the concert in Wellington in the rain, right up the front.”

That’s Mark Childs – the boy who went to Yorkshire and came home full of confidence and resilience.

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