Brian who was a great servant of the Church of Melanesia, died peacefully in Auckland in July.
Brian joined the mission in 1950 to take charge of the church’s ship building yard at Taroaniara on the Island of Gela. In those days it was an important mission station, with St. Clare’s hospital and the printing press on site, Bungana School nearby and Siota theological college at the other end of the Boli passage. During the war, Gela was literally on the front line, with the government HQ across the bay at Tulagi and with Bishop Baddeley in residence.
After Brian’s arrival, romance flourished and he married Margaret, the daughter of the Isoms who ran the printing press.
Under Brian’s leadership, the shipyard became an important centre for training young Melanesians as shipwrights, seafarers, engineers and carpenters. The next twenty years was a golden age for Taroaniara, with the formidable Charles Fox in residence and Christine Woods as matron of the hospital. Brian maintained the mission ships and many private trading ships. He kept the mission ships, including the Southern Cross going long after their retirement date and worked in close partnership with the government shipyard at Tulagi.
‘DK calling Pawa’ …Brian ran the twice daily radio sked which maintained contact with all the outstations and his familiar voice was always a great comfort in any crisis. I well remember following a severe cyclone which hit Pawa Secondary School in December 1969, Brian was our only contact with the outside world and he quickly marshalled emergency rations and building materials to help us recover.
Brian was a man of strong faith. I remember him telling me he wanted to introduce Monday morning prayers in the workshop, but was met initially with strong resistance, his workers saying that religion belonged in the chapel on a Sunday, not in the workshop during the week. He won his workers round by charm and persistence.
In the late 60s with replacement vessels necessary, Brian was convinced they could be built at Taroaniara. They built the MV Charles Fox, a lovely 30-foot launch that ran between the shipyard and Honiara and plans were well advanced for building a larger vessel. However, whilst he was on leave in 1970 the bishop cancelled the plans and Brian decided to remain in New Zealand. However, he was persuaded to return many years later, to supervise a major refit of the Southern Cross. The fact that the Southern Cross is still going strong after fifty years is a tribute to his skills.
When I arrived at St Peter’s College, Siota, on Gela in 1964, Brian and Margaret Ayers were based at Taroaniara at the other end of the Boli Passage, which separates Big and Small Gela, the two main islands of the Florida group in the central Solomon Islands. Gela therefore had two key Church institutions, the Marine Workshops at Taroaniara and the theological college at Siota. They relied on each other. At the college we had no radio and no shipping, just a canoe and a small aluminium dinghy with an outboard motor. Messages had to be sent down to Taroaniara for onward transmission by radio, or for mail to be dispatched from there. The station at Taroaniara also had St Clare’s Hospital, on which we depended for medical assistance and delivery of students’ babies. Dr Fox was also based there, preparing the Melanesian Prayer Book in Modern English and being chaplain, and so was the Diocese of Melanesia Press. Brian had to hold together a very diverse community and always did so with good humour and no panic, as well as using his practical engineering skill and wisdom to good effect. At the college, we were always grateful for his help and co-operation and the welcome which we were given by him and his wife when we visited Taroaniara for any reason.
The theological college moved in 1969 to Kohimarama on Guadalcanal, but the work at Taroaniara, servicing the ships of the Anglican Church and of others, continues in the fine tradition built up over the years by Brian Ayers, and for which he will be remembered with admiration and gratitude, especially by those Melanesians whom he trained and inspired.