Over my lifetime I have met and enjoyed the meeting many characters who were larger than life, and they made living more interesting through contact with them. Striding through life, out of step with the rest of the world, making waves as they headed towards their chosen goal. One was Gerry Henderson an American who arrived in Queenstown one day. He stood out immediately. Very wealthy, eccentric. He stood out by his actions. For example, when he arrived and wandered through town wearing three hats, saying ‘This is so I won’t crush them in my luggage’. He took a liking to the town, struck up a friendship with Popeye and Laurie Lucas who at the time owned Cecil Peak Sheep Station, also characters in their own right. Gerry was accompanied by hi wife Mary who was prone to wearing a Mink Coat and a pair of farm Gum Boots. Back then Sheep and Cattle farming was very buoyant. The Government of the time was adamant it could only get better and there was a bright future for it.


Popeye must have been a handful while he was in the Air Force, but he came through the war, unscathed and with high rank and he was still a handful in civilian life. Gerry was anxious to be part of Popeye’s farming operation, and to cement the friendship he gave Popeye loans of Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars. Something no Bank wouldn’t do to such a degree. Popeye didn’t spend it wisely, he didn’t take kindly to any of my advice not to overreach himself. However and when cattle farming took a nose dive, which things do, he was unable to service the now massive debt. I can remember that at one stage he couldn’t even make $15 a head for his yearlings at a stock sale. The freight to Cromwell was more than that. However Gerry was forever causing mischief in town. With his unlimited funds could afford to. He had made his Squillions in the Avon cosmetic industry. The American dollar at the time was only 80 Cents to the New Zealand Dollar, and he kept demanding parity, which certainly caused ructions. He ended up as the owner of Cecil Peak Station a situation that upset many politicians. However without Popeye the fun was gone, and Gerry sold up and moved on.


Another character who arrived about the same time was George Wilde an Englishman. He bought the adjoining sheep station Walter Peak. He also made waves in the town as he tipped very lavishly for every small favour. People were falling over one another to please him, and hung on every word he uttered. He even offered the Queen a 10 acre block at Walter Peak, but she declined. He also called on me to discuss ‘flood lighting’ the peak. He had no conception of the amount of electricity required and costs that would be involved, even with all his reputed money it wouldn’t be enough. But unfortunately about this time the supply of funds ran out before he even tried with several of his other madcap schemes. The last I heard about him he was running a pig farm in Vanuatu.


Another I met was John Saunders. He gave me a number to call if his account needed money which he never did. He was remarkable for the low profile he kept. He rang one day and invited me in for a drink on my return home. On arrival I was surprised to see Neville Wran the Premier of New South Wales sitting in the lounge. He was just as surprised, that I knew who he was. John turned out to be one of the most wealthy people in Australia. I found out later he was one of the two partners who started, and ran the Westfield Group of Malls. They are worth today several Billion. He flew in and out of new Zealand in his private jet, and invited Laura and I to fly back to Australia with him on one of his trips, I turned him down, but did take advantage of his executive Jet to play a prank on another German visitor who was staying in the home next door. I had taken him to the Local Airport when he was returning to Australia. However on arrival in Christchurch discovered he had left his wallet under the pillow in the bedroom. He called me and I told him to ring back in ten minutes, that would give me time to get up to the house and look for his wallet. I was able to confirm this just as he was boarding the last Sydney flight. I told him I would courier it straight away over to him. I then rang John who I knew was also departing, explained what I was up to. He took it one step further and on arrival in Sydney despatched his chauffeur with the packet containing the wallet to my German friend’s Office. Hans went straight back to his office and was explaining to his staff how annoyed he was over the missing wallet. They said we know, ‘It’s now on your desk’, ‘It arrived here some time ago.’ He rang me demanding to know how I did it, as he knew he was on the last plane to leave NZ. I replied it was all part of New Zealand’s good service.


Another Character was Lady Wright who retired to Queenstown after the death of her husband Len Wright who ran a very successful business in Dunedin, where he was also the Mayor for many years. Lady Wright called one day with a heap of Share Scrip about 10 inches high and requested I put each item into individual ‘safe keeping’ for her. To service this, I knew I would require an extra staff member, we would be forever clipping coupons, changing scrip in and out. So I said the only service I could offer her was a locked box. She responded, ‘If you won’t do it the ANZ Bank next door will’. She marched out only to return in thirty minutes, and she said, ‘That mug Banker next door will keep my script’. ‘But you will retain my account’. One day as I was seeing her to the door I remarked ,’You have a new car?’. ‘No I haven’t’, she replied, but then relented and said, coming up through the gorge when we used to share part of this road with Rail. She had a close encounter with a train. Driving up the gorge she was surprised by a row of lights alongside, horrors of horrors, this turned out to be the Cromwell train. She emerged unscathed from the encounter, but demolished her car. She immediately went back to Ford Motors, bought the same model, colour, to conceal her shame. I was sworn to silence on the spot. Another story to show she was a woman not to be trifled with.


We had a light plane service to Dunedin and she on one flight she was eager to claim the Co Pilots seat. She did manage this, but was tipped out by the pilot who replaced her with Dolly Bird. A Stop on this flight was made on the way at Alexandra. However this pilot was unfamiliar with the area landed at Cromwell by mistake and after some 30 minutes, Lady Wright said, ‘Why are we waiting here?’ ‘For the coach to come up from town. ’replied the pilot. She replied, ‘You will have a long wait then’. ‘Don’t you know you are in Cromwell’. She got her complete revenge when they arrived at Taieri, bumping into Sir Harry Wigley Chairman of Mount Cook, who operated the Air Line as she left the Aircraft. ‘Did you have a good enjoyable flight Cecilia’? ‘No’ she replied, ‘But I’m just going into the terminal to buy your pilot a road map’. ‘He seems to have a lot of difficulty in finding his way around’.


I have only scratched the surface on my character stories, I suppose too by now, someone is already writing stories about me.


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