Queenstown’s first accountant marks 50th year in business

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In 1964, Queenstown had one doctor, one solicitor, two policemen and a dentist who visited from Cromwell.

In February that year, the town’s first chartered accountant also arrived – a 23-year-old from Dunedin called Bruce Morris.

Fifty years on, Morris, 73, is still practising in the resort – though generally half-a-day at most – but is in no hurry to retire.

Morris vividly recalls how he got his start in Queenstown.

After studying accountancy at Otago University he joined the corporate world at Shell Oil, but didn’t enjoy it.

Morris visited Dunedin accountant George Morton, whom he’d worked for part-time while studying.

“He said, ‘how would you like to go to Queenstown, I’ve been thinking about opening an office there – I’ve got no clients there but I think this place is going to go and I’ll guarantee a salary for two years’,” Morris recalls.

The Queenstown branch – Morton, Baylis & Morris – set up in an old wooden building in Beach Street near where Vudu cafe is today. Morris’ equipment was a deck, adding machine, three wooden chairs and a phone.

“Next door in the same building, with a not very robust partition, was the local fish and chip shop, but fortunately he didn’t start his vats until 4.30pm.”

Morris says one of his first clients was Bob Robertson, who recently retired as Queenstown’s fire chief but back then was starting a building business.

Back then builders could apply for a simple building permit and get it on the spot, Morris adds. 

“About a year after I arrived, when I walked around town at lunchtime in winter – when there were very few visitors – I probably knew everyone I saw.”

Morris took Morton’s advice to get involved in the community – “by the end of the first year I was honorary secretary/treasurer of quite a number of organisations”.

These included the new area committee for the Order of St John which was set up to support brigade members.

Morris recalls the frustration of dealing with the then-Southland Hospital Board which refused to replace the brigade’s ambulance, an adapted VW Kombi, despite it being the oldest in its fleet and having to travel the biggest distance to the base hospital in Invercargill.

Morris was also active in local tennis – he still plays and is treasurer of the Queenstown club – plus has had roles with the cricket club and Anglican Church.

In 1969 he married Sheila, the first practice nurse at the medical centre. Three years later they moved into the first house in Dalefield.

“We built at Littles Road which was virtually a one-way gravel road – it had about three or four traffic movements a day.”

Morris says he feels privileged to have lived in Queenstown.

“I’ve some old friends who’ve gone away and said, ‘Queenstown’s not the same’. Life’s not the same, life changes all the time. I still think it’s a great place to live.

“It’s amazing the number who sold up, went away and about five years later they’re back – there’s just a buzz about this place.”

Sitting outside the flash downtown building housing Crowe Horwath, the new name for his corporate firm these days, Morris says he’s worked out of nine different offices.

“And I don’t know how many name changes – probably more, he says.”

Despite a heart attack two years ago, Morris says he’s happy carrying on for two reasons.

“I still enjoy my clients – I have quite a number of clients who have been with me for decades and you become quite close friends with a lot of them, especially in a small town,” Morris adds.

“And you’re working with young people – it’s a bit like being involved in the tennis club – and that keeps me young.”