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Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - 5
PICTURE: Paul McBride
Gary Murdoch back in Blackball 50 years on.
Fifty years ago, 18-year-old Gary Murdoch posed for a photo on the front lawn of the family home in Blackball on
the eve of his departure to explore the world, via Wellington. Recently retired from a lifetime of business and property
investment in the capital, he returned to retrace his footsteps — literally — older and wiser, a little less hair but a lot
richer. He spoke to PAUL McBRIDE on his return ‘home’.
n 1966 Gary Murdoch hopped
aboard an NZR Road Ser vices bus
to take him across the old Blackball
Bridge to the Stillwater Railway
Station for the start of his big
adventure. He was 18.
“Fifty years ago I was standing in my
mother’s garden, so my sister Joan could
take my photo. Prior to catching the Road
Ser vices bus I went and stood waiting
outside Leishman’s shop, which was
formerly Bernie Connors’ shop, across from
the Hilton. The bus let me off at Stillwater, I
caught the railcar and had a taxi chit to the
airport and then flew out on the Viscount
plane to Wellington.”
Recently he followed the same route,
in reverse, riding the Trans Alpine to
Greymouth. He’s now 68.
“This time I can’t go across the Blackball
Bridge or catch the railcar.
“Retracing my footsteps is just one of those
things I wanted to do. I thought it would be
good to reminisce and thought after 50 years
I should do it — purely and simply self-
Gary Murdoch was raised in Blackball
and grew up in the family home in Hart
Street with his parents Eric and Gertrude
Murdoch, brother Keith and sisters Joan and
“I went to the Blackball Primary School
before going on to the Greymouth
Technical High School. The principal at
Blackball was Alick McIntyre and he loved
his music. He was a really accomplished
When Gary left school he worked as
an apprentice cabinetmaker for Fred
Hayes in Cobden before taking up work
tree planting for the NZ Forest Ser vice
at Totara Flat. A job came up in the
Blackball Post Office and with a successful
application he took up the position of
postie and counter clerk.
“O wen Sutherland was the postmaster
and when they downsized I was offered a
job in either Greymouth or Wellington, so I
transferred to Wellington and worked in the
savings bank there for five years, but realised
it wasn’t for me.
“Milk runs were quite rewarding at the
time so I ended up getting my own milk
run. The Wellington City Council was the
milk producer and they owned the milk
treatment station in Tory Street. You got a
contract for an area and I was doing Hataitai
— started at midnight and ran all night
doing six and a half hours flat out rain, shine
and wind, with no days off for sickness. We
had the crates on wheels running down
the streets and up the steep hills, but it was
probably the best job I ever had.
“I used to have four Weetbix and a bottle
of cream every morning, plus a couple
of eggs as well. When I look at it, it was
probably a recipe for disaster but I worked
at the job for 13 years, but milk runs aren’t
conducive to good backs!”
Gary met his wife Sally while working in
the savings bank in Wellington and they
raised their two children there.
“Sally was a Ferguson, originally from
Hokitika, her mum was a Mason from
From pushing milk his career took on
a whole new direction when he saw an
opportunity to enter the food market.
“The BNZ Centre building in Willis
Street had an underground shopping area
so Sally and I bought a cafe called the
Gourmet Cafe. We were probably one of
the first to make sandwiches on demand,
which became really popular. We employed
12 staff, started early and had shifts on
what was an underground foodcourt, and
we worked our cafe for five years from
From the Gourmet Cafe, the Murdochs
headed to Queens Gate and leased a icensed
“ We started off with macaroni cheese,
lasagne and brought in the nachos, which
were new at the time. The most popular food
we were selling was Sally’s dish of lambs
fry and bacon. People came from all over
Wellington, it was really popular.”
The business grew and soon the couple
were expanding through Queens Gate,
taking over a fish and chip operation.
Gary then began to look further afield
and when a kiosk came up for sale at the
Wellington Railway Station he saw it as a
great business opportunity.
“I had a look and couldn’t believe the
people going through the railway station —
it was a captive market. We bought the kiosk
and used to open up at 5.30am and close at
8 o’clock at night.
“In a smaller area you are limited but at
the station we became one of the biggest
cigarette sellers in the country, except for
Big Save markets. There were a lot of people
smoking back then and the beauty about
the kiosk was we didn’t have to prepare our
“ When they built the stadium next door
there was an increase in customers. We
were selling the five staples — a lot of pies,
magazines, newspapers, confectionery and
cigarettes — a massive turnover of those
products. There were 30,000 people going
through the station every day and we’d catch
as many as we could. Always a customer
was ser ved within 20 seconds, that was our
“ People going home with trains to catch
. . . m ost of our customers were train
commuters and we were like the ‘Big Rock’
on the Grey River with a whitebait season
that went all year round,” Gary chuckled.
He next moved into the property market
and over time built up his investments with
a focus on Auckland and Wellington.
“ I bought a lot of properties and had
properties in Auckland, but I would
probably be one of the few who lost money
in Auckland — through leaky homes.
“ I’ve basically retired now and my
properties have become my focus.”
A lot of water has passed under where the
Blackball Bridge once spanned the Grey
River but he still pays a visit to his old
hometown of Blackball whenever he can.
Gary Murdoch, set for his great adventure in 1966.
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