From TV producer to luxury hotel boss, Crawford’s done it all

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Arrowtown is home to a trailblazing Australian TV drama producer who set actors like Nicole Kidman on the road to stardom. 

Henry Crawford says when he picked up a 17-year-old Kidman for the US Disney Channel drama, Five Mile Creek, “she looked like a sheep with long, long hair and freckles”. 

“We wrote a role as a sheep shepherd for her, she did a season of the series. 

“She was a great girl and very different to the Nicole we see now. 

“I told the Disney people to give her a bit of promotion, I said, ‘This girl’s got a great future’. 

“But they didn’t.” 

Australian outback-raised Crawford caught the showbiz bug in the late 1960s while working for a drama company owned by a relative. 

He set up its casting office and produced and story-edited 800 hours of TV – including the first two seasons of hit World War II drama The Sullivans. 

After 10 years working for family, Crawford set up his own production firm. 

One of his first solo efforts Against The Wind was “an all-time rating success” – the ground-breaking TV mini-series starred rock singer Jon English and Aussie heart-throb Bryan Brown. 

In the early 1980s Crawford then cast Brown in the Emmy award-winning mini-series A Town Like Alice. 

Pre-selling the series abroad, which Crawford first heard on radio, was hard work: “The head of the BBC said, ‘Mr Crawford, I’ll rue the day that we ever see Australian television on British screens’. 

“Well, of course, Neighbours is on these days, and everything else, so he must be ruing the day.” 

Crawford eventually turned his back on the TV world and moved into tourism. 

He built Fiji’s luxury Vatulele Island Resort, which from 1987 he ran for two decades. It was voted the world’s best small luxury hotel in 2000. 

He visited the Wakatipu while on the board of Small Luxury Hotels of the World and he added Glenorchy’s Blanket Bay lodge and Queenstown’s Eichardt’s Private Hotel to the exclusive stable. 

Crawford, 63, brought his young family to live here in 2007. 

He bought Arrowtown’s historic Old Nick lodge from Sam and Dave Gent in 2009, refurbishing it and reopening it early last year as Crawfords. 

“In Fiji I had 110 staff and my average rate was over $US1000 a night – here it’s a staff of one, which is me, and our rate is around $160 a night.” 

An Arrowtown Business and Promotion Association board member, he wants the town to become more of a high-end destination. 

“You see a lot of people getting off the buses and hardly see even a cup of coffee in their hands so they’re not spending anything in the town.” 

But it’s perfect to raise a family in, Crawford says – he and wife Nina have six and nine-year-old daughters. 

“It’s very reminiscent of when we were all young when we could leave money in milk bottles and no one would steal it.” 

Renowned for his resort architecture in Fiji, Crawford also sits on Queenstown Lakes District Council’s urban design panel. 

Not surprisingly, he harbours ideas for TV mini-series based here. 

“I have often thought, you could do this series about blonde air hostesses that marry rich developers,” Crawford jokes. 

“But seriously, there are the most fantastic locations here and it’s ideal for film-making. 

“You could film Afghanistan on the Skippers Canyon road.”