A Legend Lost at Hideaway

If you have traveled to Port Vila Vanuatu to dive the warm tropical waters off Hideaway Island, then it is likely you will know the fantastic chef that has called the island home for more than 16 years. Bruce Turner with his infectious smile and quick wit, has made us all feel very much at home during our stays. Sadly Bruce passed away on Sunday the 6th of June this year. I first met Bruce 10 years ago, during a weeks diving holiday to Hideaway. I immediately fell in love with both the place and the people, and have journeyed back so frequently that I am proud to be considered a part of Bruce’s extended family.

Bruce was a great local character it seemed he was always there, and many wonder if he ever left the Island. Well not very often, always on hand to make sure that (the punters) as he referred to the guests, were happy and taken care of, he was as quick to share his jokes with you as he was his fabulous food. Always on hand to help if you were not feeling well, fix anything that was broken, including keeping the island generator running smoothly. He worked tirelessly both up front and behind the scenes, and anyone that knew him knows the selfless contribution that he made.

Bruce was born in Auckland New Zealand on the 17th June 1959 and grew up in Te Atatu North. Bruce was the eldest child and only son of Richard and Alison Turner and was often left in charge of his 2 sisters and 2 cousins all girls. After Bruce left school he decided to go into cooking and his father helped him secure a position where he started his apprenticeship.

Bruce was extremely happy with his career as a chef and once his apprenticeship had finished he decided to take his career and travel, first stop, England, he gained a position with Whitbread with the help of his dad. One of his notable achievements while there was cooking a meal for the Queen Mother. After a year Bruce returned to New Zealand and later spent 7 years working in Papua New Guinea, part of that time working as a chef in Parliament House. After this he went home to New Zealand once more, and didn’t know what to do with himself for a while, until a mate of his told him about a job vacancy in Vanuatu. So Bruce left for Port Vila. He fell in love with the place, this was to be his home and the people were to become his second family for the next 22 years.

When Bruce arrived in Vanuatu he was a newcomer, this didn’t last long he quickly made new friends, his staff at Iririki Island Resort showed him the local style of life, and most nights you would find him rubbing shoulders with the local’s at the nukamal drinking kava. As Bruce became mates with the locals he also met their families, and so his Vanuatu connection began. This was when Bruce knew that he had two homes, two families NZ and Vanuatu. Bruce became the white local, talking to all the nationals in the local language Bislam. He threw himself into Island life; he befriended the locals and looked for every opportunity to help them. He helped the villagers get their own drinking water by putting spouting up to catch the rainwater. He helped with laying a floor for the local school, and ensured that many of the children of his new family attended. He touched the lives of so many of the locals and through encouragement and mentoring he made a difference to so many lives. In fact during the time that I have known Bruce he has always been helping to support others in need, in one way or another, a real giver and never a taker.

After working on Iririki Island resort for 6 years, Bruce took up a position on Hideaway Island. This was to be his home for the rest of his life. I remember him telling me the story of how he started the restaurant on the beach with little more that a barbeque and an umbrella, plastic table and chairs; it grew from there and went from strength to strength. Bruce built his humble little shack behind the restaurant, from left over materials as the resort began taking shape, and made a home for himself. Family and friends made regular trips to Vanuatu, but never without the extra suitcase full of the goodies Bruce had requested for is new family and friends. Bruce was known for his hospitality, not only with friends and family, but strangers as well. If you arrived in Vanuatu with a kiwi passport, Bruce would make himself known in a very short space of time.

Bruce still went home regularly to New Zealand to catch up with family and friends, these trips always turned into shopping sprees. His trips home were always fun and busy, and it meant that the family would get at least one of his famous cooked dinners during his trip. Bruce would shop getting the bits and pieces he needed for his friends and family back in Vanuatu. He always went back with all sorts of goods, a case of apples, tea bags, umbrellas; you name it he took it back and not just one, usually 10 or 20 of them.

Bruce never married, however in 1998 he received the gift of a daughter, whom he named Alison after his mum. They had a special relationship and bond; Bruce took her everywhere with him, and she holds a special place in the hearts of all of us that have made the journey to Hideaway.

Bruce had a deep love for his mother; they were very in tune with each other even though they lived in different countries for many years. In 1999 Bruce’s mother Alison, was to visit Vanuatu for Christmas as a surprise for Bruce, who didn’t know she was coming. Alison decided to dress up as Santa even though it was 30 degrees or more. On the way from the airport to Mele beach and the short boat trip to the island, she made the taxi stop if she saw children and threw lollies to them. Bruce seeing Santa on the beach made some colorful comments about the idiot on the beach dressed up as Santa, that only he could get away with, imagine his surprise when Santa boarded the boat and arrived on the island, and he finally realised that it was his own mother.

Bruce’s family in Vanuatu conducted a service for him in Mele Village on Thursday 10th June. The two chiefs from Mele took the service in the local church, this was a great honor for his family as no expatriate had ever received this tribute, his friends then took him to his beloved section and spoke of all their times with Bruce and the memories he had made in Vanuatu. Bruce was then put on the boat and circled around the inlet passing his restaurant on Hideaway for the last time. Bruce’s mum said, “I am so incredibly proud of him and the life and family he’d made in Vanuatu, he was truly loved, and Port Vila and the people will miss him for many years to come”.

The island and the restaurant have had some changes over the years, but from the beginning one constant has always been Chef Bruce. We will remember Bruce for his infectious laughter, his quick wit and colorful language, his now infamous curries and for his thinning look through the top and his plaited pigtail at the back.

“Some people come into our lives and leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.” Bruce Turner was one of those people.

A Legend Lost at Hideaway

Maree Toogood

Blackburn, Melbourne, Australia

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Artist's Description

A very dear friend of mine passed away recently, this is a tribute to him, and to let you know what sort of man he was.
This story was published in the August edition of divelog magazine.

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