Salad days: Caterer Margaret McHugh on the Earnslaw with Mt Nicholas Station's Linda Butson

If there’s anyone you couldn’t accuse of being ‘PC’, it’s Margaret McHugh. Even if it might
offend some sensitive souls, the one-time local deputy mayor and Earnslaw caterer’s
account of her Queenstown days, in her new book, makes delicious reading — along with
her recipes. PHILIP CHANDLER taps into the flavour of it

A colourful account of Queenstown in the ’80s and ’90s is included in a former deputy mayor and caterer’s newly-released autobiography cum cookbook.

Picton-based Margaret McHugh’s no-nonsense style, which was a hit with local voters but less so with council staff and fellow councillors, permeates her self-published 394-page
tome, entitled The real McHugh.

As she writes: ‘‘I have a few rough edges and I’m more than happy with that, being true to

A dairy farmer’s daughter from Winton, she moved to Queenstown about 1980 after, she says, the Invercargill Licensing Trust wouldn’t give her a job in case she got married or

After two brief cheffing jobs, she embarked on 10 enjoyable years as tourist steamer TSS
Earnslaw’s contract caterer, where she did bar service to get out of doing the dishes.

She once sacked a waitress after finding her ‘‘naked as a jaybird’’ in the boat’s shower with a stoker.

It mightn’t happen today, but McHugh says boaties would come astern of the Earnslaw and
with one, two or three fingers indicate how many Steinlager slabs they’d like.

‘‘The boaties would expertly toss the money, $12 per dozen, in a plastic bag weighted with a small stone and I’d hurtle the cans overboard.’’

Keeping days’ worth of cash takings in Gladstone bags could be problematical, especially when she and a friend left behind a bag containing $8000 when going for a pee in a park
on the way home.

When she found a group of disabled Aussie lads on the boat bemoaning they couldn’t use the council-owned campground when the manager left for the pub at 6pm, she complained to then-mayor John Davies, who recommended she stand for council.

With her slogan, ‘‘I may be one voice, but I will be heard’’, she squeezed in by 11 votes in
’86 — ‘‘I nudged four good old boys aside’’.

She says the county chairman’s wife couldn’t believe ‘‘even the cook for the Earnslaw got on, that’s how desperate we are’’.

‘‘Lucky for her I was never within earshot.’’

A rollicking read: The cover of Margaret McHugh’s new autobiography/cookbook, The real McHugh

McHugh writes she ‘‘never held much respect for senior staff who work to keep the councillors divided and rule them that way’’.

‘‘If the councillors can’t agree the staff have less to do because nothing is being done.’’

She sorted out a male colleague who’d admire her clothing ‘‘and touch my hair or my boob
or something’’ by one day tugging the side of his trousers and telling him, ‘‘oh, it’s a bit tight around here’’.

‘‘You have to be on your mettle as a councillor, it’s not for the faint-hearted.

‘‘It’s a numbers game … with lots of brown-nosing, coercion and bullying, with staff right in
the middle of it.’’

She always opposed going into committee ‘‘because it was invariably a rort, going out of the public eye to protect staff and councillors’ arses, and to do deals behind closed doors’’.

McHugh was certainly popular, her high polling propelling her into the deputy mayoralty.

Her Queenstown chapters also refer to her dealings with the constabulary, including catering for ‘‘bad-looking’’ undercover cops and hosting visiting police at her home after
arduous New Year’s Eve shifts.

In her early days here, she was drinking after-hours at the Arthurs Point pub when legendary sergeant Warwick Maloney, after a drinking shift at Arrowtown’s Royal Oak, busted her and others.

A cop boarding with her suggested she visit Maloney next day, which she did ‘‘after 10 trips
to the loo’’.

After expressing her contrition, he ripped up her bluey, but when none of the other 40 or
so miscreants had the guts to also front up, he charged all the others.

McHugh also recalls sitting in court, getting tips on chairing council’s planning committee
while writing a wedding menu.

When infamous Judge Joe Anderson asked what she was doing, she surrendered her menu to a clerk who gave it to an unamused judge — Anderson later greeted her in a speech
with, ‘‘well, the wedding planner is here’’.

After four terms, she resigned from council — ‘‘it’s important to recognise when it’s time to
go’’ — and soon after moved to Auckland with her Scottish husband-to-be, Bill Brown.

●  To order The real McHugh, email