Q’town’s Whitcoulls link ends

It was the end of a very long era when Roland Coull left Queenstown recently after selling a property that had been in his family’s hands for 87 years. The 99-year-old talks to PHILIP CHANDLER about his involvement with local skiing and croquet and explains why he’s already regretting leaving town

A unique Queenstown link to major book retailer Whitcoulls has just been broken.

Long-time Queenstowner, 99-year-old Roland Coull, who shifted to Christchurch about a month ago, was the last Coull to be involved in Whitcoulls.

After moving from England to Dunedin, his great-grandfather Thomas Coull, and two siblings, started printing company Coull Bros in 1872.

After several mergers it became Coull Somerville Wilkie, which Roland was GM of when it merged with Whitcomb & Tombs and became Whitcoulls in 1971.

Roland says his family association with Queenstown began about 1896 when his grandparents honeymooned at Paradise, near Glenorchy.

He recalls his father and his two siblings leaning on his grandfather to put up the cash to buy a central Queenstown property in Hobart St.

That was in about 1937, with a Dunedin builder then constructing the house in 1938 that’s still there today.

Roland grew up in Dunedin, near St Clair beach — he ended up in the St Clair Surf Lifesaving Club ‘‘as most of the youngsters in the district that were good swimmers did’’ — but Hobart St was their holiday home.

He was an early skier on Queenstown’s Coronet Peak after Harry (later Sir Henry) put in the first rope tow in 1947.

‘‘We weren’t there for the opening, but I think probably the weekend afterwards some of us came up.’’

Roland skied with, and was at one stage club captain of, the Otago Ski Club which had a hut, originally at Skippers Saddle then further up the peak.

He says you couldn’t buy skis or boots so he and his friends made skis from hickory sticks and bent steel to make bindings — ‘‘so much for safety bindings’’.

He skied till he was about 64 when, following his daughter Kate down the slopes, he ‘‘took off into outer space and ripped my right arm back and tore the tendon in the shoulder’’.

Meantime, Roland says he was also a keen tramper and recalls a 12-day tramp with five others in Fiordland.

Their supplies were replenished by pioneer airman Popeye Lucas flying his Tiger Moth into the valley they were in and his mechanic tossing out sugar sacks from the back cockpit.

Eventually, in about ’72, he bought the Hobart St house from his father.

Long history: The Hobart St house Roland Coull recently sold

Roland says about the same time he bought four hectares of rural land in Queenstown’s Littles Rd, building a small house where he and his late wife Catherine first lived after retiring in the 1980s.

However, he then sold it — ‘‘I should have hung on to it’’ — and they moved back to Hobart St.

He’d been a director of the merged Whitcoulls till the time corporate raider Sir Ron Brierley’s Brierley’s Investments started buying shares and demanding board seats.

‘‘That’s about the time I got out — I didn’t want a bar of it.’’

In his retirement, Roland became an early member of the reconstituted Wakatipu Croquet Club, which initially used a croquet green in the
Gardens, near his Hobart St home.

However, a Kelvin Heights paddock was transformed into croquet greens, and Roland — who became life member — was active in the sport into his 90s.

He took up another hobby, oil painting, after the late Da’Vella Gore, a well-known Lake Hayes artist, advertised art classes in Mountain Scene.

‘‘I didn’t ever sell many, I gave them away.’’

Roland says in recent times he realised he couldn’t carry on in Hobart St so earlier this year sold the property.

‘‘I was silly enough to say to my daughter, ‘look, I think it’s time for me to go into some sort of care and I’ll come up to Christchurch’.’’

He’s now living in a rest-home there, close to his younger son John, while Kate’s also nearby in Governors Bay, near Lyttelton — Alan, his
other son, is in Bannockburn — but is already regretting the move.

‘‘I now say to people I talk to in Queenstown I’ve swapped the sound of tuis and bellbirds for the roar of traffic in the city.

“I should have probably gone into care in Queenstown.’’

Meanwhile, Roland’s just four months off turning 100, with his mental faculties still intact.

He notes his grandfather died in his 92nd year and his father in his 91st year, ‘‘so I guess it’s probably in the genes’’.

‘‘There’s no rhyme or reason for it.’’

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