The antique cabinet and its surrounds house treasures gathered over the years (and hides an unwanted fireplace.) Widget and Mimi sit on superbly crafted chairs found on Trade Me and solicitously restored. Photo: Florence Charvin

Sixteen years ago, Katherine Halliday flew across the Tasman on an open-ended break from her birthplace, Australia. And fell in love with Aotearoa. Hawke’s Bay is now her home.

If you happen to be passing Greenwood Road on a therapy run to the Peak, you may come across a familiar figure outside a beautifully renovated Arts and Crafts house – sometimes with saw in hand over a slab of wood on a trestle table. Or maybe digging out what to the less particular eye looks like a perfectly planted border of hydrangeas. Always industrious. And definitely a perfectionist. 

This is Katherine Halliday – better known to her friends as KA. 

The restoration is hers alone. Maybe a few helpers along the way, but pretty well single handedly she has refurbished what would have been classed by most as a ‘challenge’ and turned her somewhat tired home into a haven. Done with an acute eye – each detail in accordance with the laws of Arts and Crafts. It is imaginative, original. And hers alone.

KA readily admits she loves a project. Never happier than faced with what may deter those of less stalwart character. In fact, the bigger the better. Which is probably why for those on committees and boards in search of support and talent she is their first port of call. Examples? The Hawke’s Bay Foundation, The Arts Society, and most recently the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival. And that’s not mentioning the multiple start-ups and other ventures to which she has contributed her well-earned knowledge and her skills.

The fact that KA is an Australian who has made Hawke’s Bay her home has to be noted. Her contribution to the Bay particularly in the world of arts has been and continues to be all-embracing. And reaps results. A force to be reckoned with. A force executed with intelligence and warmth. 

Her hefty contribution comes from her corporate background which could be viewed as a blueprint on how to finally sit in the Chair. It certainly has equipped her to deal with high powered boards where skilled counselling is so necessary to be an effective member. Conversely, her upbringing has provided a prodigious practical ability particularly in the world of DIY– building, painting, maintenance, a seamstress par excellence, and a dab hand in the kitchen. A true renaissance woman. 

In Sydney, like many, after finishing school she went to university – “But I had no idea really. We had nothing like the career guidance of now when schools provide a much better framework for understanding your skills. I am a shocking procrastinator but give me a list and I get such satisfaction from ticking it off.” Which led her to depart Uni quickly for a stint in stockbroking before joining the renowned firm of Fay Richwhite in Oz, as a fledgling stockbroker. “I was their fourth employee; when I left five years later there were 140 staff.” 

It also introduced her to corporate sponsorship – namely the Sydney Theatre Company – in which she found her milieu. Managing sponsorship, fundraising and education she mingled happily with the likes of Geoffrey Rush and “the hot young NIDA graduate Cate Blanchett. Economically I halved my salary, but I loved it – the annual cycle of performances and the importance of subscriptions. That was for about five or six years, after which I freelanced with a focus on fundraising for worthy causes. 

“Then I got a call from the AOC (Australian Olympic Committee), which duly led me to Ernst & Young who were sponsoring the 2000 Olympics. They had a sponsorship programme for about 1000 Australian Olympians – past, present and potential – which helped them secure jobs so they could continue with their sport and earn an income – or in the case of past – make a living; taught them values, skills, interests and also provided assessment through other Olympians.

“I realised what a difference such opportunities made to these athletes – something I would have loved to have done myself. But I also recognized that it had given me the skill to matchmake – establishing good sponsorship relationships. I became proficient at the ‘grip and grin’ technique – learned to work a room – it was the heyday of the ‘bovver barons’ and I swiftly became adept at just walking into a group cold.” With sterling results.

After the Sydney Olympics she joined Ernst & Young. And for six years oversaw their sponsorships including the awards for Entrepreneur of the Year. “We had a $2 million budget which included national to international. It was the largest revenue plan for the company – two million to run but multiples of that in reward. It is select; you need to be invited and not everyone gets through.”

It also took her to some far away exotic places – Colorado Springs, Rio, Monte Carlo. And it was demanding work. “I have always been a good worker but for two years I was constantly on a plane – and I could not paper over the cracks it was causing.” 

It was a crossroads. Her great friends Tim and Jules Nowell-Usticke had recently moved to New Zealand. “They were the clincher.” She visited them regularly until in 2006 she took an open-ended break – “which after 16 years has been quite a prolonged one,” she comments dryly. “I got a tiny puppy and ended up six months later moving to Hawke’s Bay. I had had a career with the big benefit of well-paid jobs, the property market was always up – and I probably worked too much, but it did give me the luxury of knowing that now I do not have to and I do things for love, not money. But I am very conscious of how fortunate I am.” A generosity of spirit and kind is KA’s hallmark. 

And this is when her fondness for projects came to the fore. Her first was helping Louise Stobart – of Birdwoods fame – establish the Sweetshop (a lucrative operation if ever there was one). “That is how we became friends,” and also how she became chair of the Birdwoods Board. 

She did projects for WineWorks (Tim’s highly successful business) and met Aaron Hosford who was doing graphics for the wine company and Fe his wife, who introduced her to Bruno Chambers the former chair of Te Mata Park who in turn suggested she could help proofread a glossy they were producing for the park. “Well that was like pulling the thread of a hem. I had five years involvement.” 

She also joined the Arts Society Committee and the Hawke’s Bay Foundation – “which is the most amazing vehicle for giving back to Hawke’s Bay and I love that my donations to the Foundation will go on giving forever.” 

She was also a supporter of the HB Arts Festival from the beginning and is now heavily involved in the Patron programme with a goal to raise $100,000 this year.

Which brings us to the creative side of KA. “We had a pretty frugal childhood – my parents were of that generation – and my mother was not only practical but also a fantastic enabler of interests. She would get you started on gardening, sewing, cooking, whatever took your attention at the time. I have also always had an affection for objects which have a story – a piece of lace, an old table, a toy” – which results in much reworking of precious pieces into even more precious pieces. 

Her architectural treasure in Greenwood, designed by William Rush in 1927, is testament to this skill.

But it was not what she originally had in mind. “When I first arrived, I bought land on the Tukituki.” It took two years to produce the grand plan. “Give me a spreadsheet any day and I am happy,” she adds as an aside. “Then the GFC (Great Financial Crisis) happened. And that lost a bucketful. So, I bought in St Hill Lane around 2008.” And did it up. 

Then she bought Greenwood. 

“I had no idea what I was going to do with it then.” To say it was rundown is an understatement. 

“But I have lived with recycling, repossessed, and a paste it on mantra for much of my life, having dealt with our parents (she has siblings both still living in Sydney) where they lived for 60 years in the same house. I do not consider myself an artist but rather a creative collator. And I grew up in an era when things were fixed– Dad (a medical specialist by profession) also had a big workshop and we had ongoing discussions about screws, vices, nails. Clothes were mended. There were craft afternoons with my mother. That’s how I learnt to sew. And sand. And paint.” 

Her homes have seen two Hospice Holly Trails and she also did the decoration for Whare Ra in the most recent one. But she admits that her precious Arts and Crafts home has been a “rather monumental overall project. Which I have done bit by bit” – including creating a breathtakingly beautiful garden both front and back. She confesses to a tendency to “buy these beaten-up old objects and then spend 40 hours of sanding and painting, all the while thinking ‘What was I thinking!’ For instance, there is not a single piece of particle board in the kitchen.” 

This year the final stage of this labour of love has been redoing the garage. Originally a very well-hidden building shrouded by ivy out front – it is now her workshop with car parking potential. Sympathetically reflecting the real Arts and Craft style.

Confessing to a inclination for “black hole moments”, KA has found such projects as her now almost finished home are “what get me up in the morning. Finding something every day that is worthwhile makes me happy. This physically beautiful environment and the community – particularly the one that is here at Greenwood – sustain me.” 

As do the quality of her friendships – “which were an unknown entity when I started over in NZ. I doubt I would have developed such rewarding relationships if I had not put my shoulder to the wheel – giving time whether writing, designing, strategizing, even tidying sock drawers – I feel more seen and known by the friends I have made here. I don’t have to edit myself.” 

Spoken by an Australian who has found her place to call home in Havelock North. In so doing KA has made Hawke’s Bay the richer for it. 

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