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PICTURE: Laura Mills
Stewart Robertson at home on the Coast Road.
Scotsman, Stewart Robertson, a “working class boy from Glasgow ”, arrived in New Zealand with his young family in
1976. They quickly settled in with the help of West Coast MP the late Paddy Blanchfield. Today, the outgoing chairman
of the West Coast Conservation Board, Art in the Park committee member, keen mountaineer and talented musician
is happily settling in to retirement. Scot LAURA MILLS learns a little about a fellow countryman who also made the
West Coast his home.
tewart Robertson has wrestled
his little bit of paradise at
Barrytown back into shape after
the Easter windstorm. The gale
roared down the adjacent Bakers
Creek, blew over a truck nearby
and left him with a fair bit of gardening to
But this is what makes him happy. Not
the suburbia that partly drove him to New
Zealand in the first place.
Born in Govanhill, a roughish part of
Glasgow, he was strongly influenced by his
mother. Boys Brigade, church, the Scottish
Junior Singers. She even enrolled him in
primary school early, meaning he headed to
university at the tender age of 16.
Not only that, Stewart was the only one in
his circle of friends to go to university. From
the tenements to the 600-year-old hallowed
halls of Glasgow University, he was rather
overawed, but eventually he left with an
honours degree in chemistry.
Fast for ward a few years to 1962. A skilled
guitarist, it was about this time that British
singer Lulu’s group, Luvvers, were looking
for a rhythm guitarist. Stewart said ‘no’,
and they went on to great success touring
Europe and Russia. Lulu then dumped them
and became even more famous.
Stewart gave up rock ‘n’ roll gigs after a
year of teaching — “too many pupils were
The family’s life in Scotland started to
come to an end during a hurricane. Their
rented country cottage ceiling cracked and
the farmer landlord would not repair it, so
the Robertsons moved to a new subdivision.
It was, he says unhappily, suburbia.
“A couple of friends had emigrated,
and we were thinking of going to New
change in international travel; shortly before,
their friends had emigrated by boat.
At the time, Reefton was looking for a
GP, and Stewart ’s wife, Christine, was a
qualified doctor. Paddy Blanchfield pulled a
few strings, and Stewart got a job teaching
at Inangahua College.
Their Reefton home had a coal fire and
holes in the floor — but it just did not
matter. From the friendly welcome tour with
town clerk Bill Blair (“go to that butcher,
Stewart ”) to a school six times smaller
than the school he taught at in Scotland
Stewart and Christine were smitten. When
the senior mistress left the college, in a
new age of equal opportunities and no
discrimination, he got the job — and title. A
subsequent principal was less than amused
and Mr Robertson became senior master
instead of ‘senior mistress’.
The Robertsons became New Zealand
citizens as soon as they could, and Stewart
took to the mountains when time allowed.
In 1978, he joined the Cliff Rescue Team.
He was called out to the Cave Creek
disaster 19 years ago. As he walked to the
disaster scene, he saw paper strewn all over
the gully. It was the students’ notes, blown
about by the helicopter.
When Pike River Mine exploded,
although he was not involved at all, he says
the failure to recover the 29 bodies did not
sit well with him. So at the bottom of his
lawn he has created a ‘29’ memorial shaped
out of the grass, visible from Google Earth.
He will not cut it until the men come
In 1986, the Robertsons moved to
Greymouth, partly to reduce his wife’s
commuting time. It was back to the ‘burbs,
but the section was large, surrounded by
bush, and they loved it. Stewart got a
job at Greymouth High School teaching
“I loved it, great colleagues.”
He was in charge of the curriculum when
‘ Tomorrows Schools’ was brought in, and
Greymouth High also became the first in
New Zealand to be NZQA accredited. He
applied for the principal’s job, and when
unsuccessful there he tried for principal
at the Catholic high school, John Paul II.
Apparently the school wanted him, but
the bishop had to give the nod to this
Presbyterian teacher. When the bishop
said ‘no’, they went over his head all the
way to the Pope, and the final answer was
still ‘no’. Stewart ’s dad, a real Orangeman,
would have turned in his grave even at the
Stewart retired from teaching at 55 when
he could still climb hills. He played in bands
locally, culminating in Eve 3, which played
at the Hokitika Wildfoods Festival. He
climbed Aoraki-Mount Cook on his 46th
birthday, and his retirement project is to
climb all the named peaks in Arthur’s Pass
National Park; he has only two of 65 left. In
1998, he reached quite a milestone — one
million feet of ascent — and is now nearer
the two million mark.
Never one to sit idle, he became a Justice
of the Peace (later West Coast president
of the JPs association) and had his own
croquet green scraped out at home. He got
into the world rankings, about 300, took his
mallet to England and played all over the
“I had the rare distinction of being
thrown out of the Wells Bishop’s Palace for
misbehaviour,” he laughs. He managed to
get in without paying to watch a croquet
game on the lawns and was given a specific
spot to watch from, but when he went over
to chat to some players he got thrown out.
When he took on the croquet world
champion, who was visiting New Zealand
at the time, Stewart freely admits he was
His stint on the West Coast Conser vation
Board began in 2007, and more recently
saw him hold the post of chairman
during a substantial restructure of the
Department of Conser vation. This month
he was overlooked for reappointment.
Ever the optimist, he is now eyeing new
opportunities. He was also on the Youth and
Music Development Trust, and now on the
Coast Heritage and Community Trust, was
on Coast Care Trust and now in Art in the
With an artist daughter living in Austria, a
lawyer son in Australia, and one grandchild,
for now he has more than enough to keep
“ You can tell I’m enjoying retirement,” he
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