I did make a big herb garden and started the largest geranium and mint collections in the whole wide world probably, so I was very busy doing that and knitting to keep the kids warm. I’d go to the park with my pram and pick up all the pine cones. I gathered a lot of wild teasels and autumn leaves and went to a garment shop and asked if I could have all their old, flat cardboard boxes and put together wild flower arrangements in them to sell. Then I started going to the flower shows and I won the herb collection, of course. I probably would have got first, second and third because there would have been nobody else in it! Then I saw an ad saying it was the season to pick the wild thyme on the hills so I did that with my two boys. Through that I discovered the herb factory in Clyde, which dated back to 1880, and then I discovered Clyde. That’s when I found my old hotel [The Dunstan], and found the people of Clyde who were old enough to know what it used to be like when the men from Earnscleugh Station galloped the road, round the corner and into the pub. I got a book called Early Days in Central Otago written by Robert Gilkison. I read two books, and The Whole World of Gold Mining and The Early Days in Central Otago and Clyde. I was away in another world …
So when you went to Clyde you saw the hotel and just knew you had to have it?
One day I found the door open, crept inside and here was this cathedral, as far as I was concerned. I called out and discovered two lovely old people living in it. After I’d met them a couple of times I asked them if they’d ever like to sell it and they said they would be quite keen. I asked them how much and then went away to try to find the money. The funniest thing of all was, they’d been trying to sell it for 20 years! I found that out afterwards, and here I was begging them to sell it to me.
Spot the new girl in town. Did you want it as a business or just as somewhere to live?
To live in.
Were you still with your husband?
Yes. I wanted to be able to do something other than have a clean house and clean children every day. When I bought Dunstan House I was in heaven living there, doing it up, learning to wallpaper … John Lines, who’s still alive and well in Clyde – and incidentally sent me a bunch of dried lavender the other day – came and showed me how to use a plumb-bob and away I went.
It was a great project. I ran a bed and breakfast to get the money to buy things for the rooms, and then I started doing dinner, bed and breakfast, and then I started an antique shop, and an art gallery, and I had eight boarders, and did cheese on toast things for the garage guys who used to get their morning tea off me, then at one stage I did a tearooms and did the plumbing myself …
You just grabbed opportunities as you saw them?
Yes, and in that little town, when the fire alarm sounded and the volunteer firemen went, I served petrol and sold meat at the butcher’s shop. I became impossible to live with and my husband left me.
But you were happy?
Yes. He was setting up a refrigeration business in Invercargill, had been gone for quite some time and just came back on the odd weekend by then. I was completely self-sufficient. That’s another whole story of absolute … It was just dumb role, power-play stuff with a bloke who needed to be the ‘man’ and all that.
Particularly back then.
Yes, it was terrible. He took a mortgage on Dunstan House to finance his business, but said it was to build a new kitchen. Anyway, I sold it after seven years, and went down to Invercargill. We gave it another try, but it only lasted about ten minutes! It was the wrongest thing so I left with my three kids, a ’56 Chev and $60 and went to Queenstown. I worked there for four years and then came back to Clyde. I asked Ron and June Jackson if I could rent the old ‘general store’ off them, and that became ‘Olivers’. In the lease I asked for the first right to purchase the property, which I did and was there for 20 years. I restored it and people even ticked the New Zealand Tourism box nominating it as one of their reasons for coming to New Zealand.