A Strange String of Arsons – Auckland, 1870s 


A series of suspicious, major fires in Auckland in 1871 frightened the locals, tested the fire brigade and galvanised police to find the culprits.

Before the saga was over there would be a ship scuttled in the harbour, poison-pen letters, attempted murders, shots fired, a violent death and inglorious end for the principal players.

The scenario was almost unbelievable…

 Ship-board Fire

This intriguing story begins with an early morning blaze on 24th January 1871 aboard the sailing ship “City of Auckland”, berthed at the foot of Queen Street. She had been constructed especially for the London – Auckland run and was on her maiden voyage.

The “City of Auckland”
NZETC Victoria University

The blaze aboard the ship involved flammable cargoes of resin, kauri gum, flax, oil and wool which had been loaded for the return voyage. Firefighters could not effectively get water to the fire for some hours, by which time it was beyond their resources. The ship, still ablaze, was towed out into the harbour, a hole was hacked in her side and she was scuttled: an ignominious sight in the port she had been named after! Losses were put at £25,000, mostly insured by New Zealand Insurance Company headed by Mr Thomas Russell.

The ship had carried a young Irish boy to New Zealand as an immigrant – William Massey, who became Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1912-25.

“City of Auckland” was salvaged and completed further trips to England before being wrecked off the Kapiti Coast, on the west coast of the North Island, New Zealand, in October 1878.


Kerosene-fuelled Fire

The day after the ship fire, 25th January 1871, there was a further outbreak when Archard and Brown’s Dangerous Goods Store in Stanley Street, Mechanics Bay, caught alight. Tins of kerosene containing some 10,000 gallons (37,000 litres), went up in flames in spectacular fashion. Intense heat was generated so that no one could get near the place, but inspection afterwards showed there had been forced entry to the premises, probably by an arsonist.  Then the discovery that some kerosene tins had been spiked, so that small streams of escaping flammable liquid had greatly assisted the fire-lighter’s efforts. The City Board offered a reward for any information leading to whoever was responsible and asked police to double their vigilance. The heavy losses, again, were with New Zealand Insurance Company.


Blaze in the Reading Rooms

Some 8 months later, in September 1871, there was huge blaze which took out meeting rooms in the New Zealand Insurance Company’s building in Queen Street.


New Zealand Insurance Company Headquarters, Queen Street
James D Richardson – Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-943

Again, it was an early morning fire which mostly affected the Exchange Reading Rooms – a downtown lounge for 600 paid-up members of the “club”, mostly businessmen. They had been gathering in 10 well-furnished rooms to meet, to read newspapers and to socialise. At the time of the fire the owner of the business, Cyrus Haley, was in the process of adding a luxury restaurant. It was almost ready to open, designed to cater for Auckland’s well-to-do with no expense spared in decorations, fittings, furnishings, cutlery, crockery and kitchen facilities. Haley could not account for the cause of the fire – the building was thoroughly checked before the last person left for the night. It had been an expensive blaze: the offices of two other businesses were gutted while a further 16 tenancies were damaged by heat, smoke, or water. Once again firemen had trouble getting water to the scene, and when they eventually used a steam pump in a nearby flour mill to get a flow going, it was to no avail: the flames had already done their damage.

Dubbed suspicious, there was no clue as to who was responsible for the fire despite a proclamation published in the New Zealand Gazette: “Free pardon is offered to any accomplice, not being the principal, who will give such information as will lead to the apprehension and conviction of the principal offender or offenders, or any of them, that set fire to Mr Haley’s rooms, in the New Zealand Insurance Company’s Buildings, on the 27th August last”.

In those days there was a Coroner’s enquiry into all serious fires. In this case an inquest returned a verdict that there was no evidence to suggest the fire was accidental or otherwise. Naturally, the New Zealand Insurance Company had cover of the premises it owned: losses ran to thousands of pounds.


Choral Hall Ablaze

In December 1871 the Choral Hall in Symonds Street was also a victim of fire. The premises were brand new, opened just a few months having been rebuilt following an earlier blaze.

The Auckland Choral Hall: replaced one that burned down
Auckland War Memorial Museum C9694

The Hall was a popular venue, used practically every night. The Choral Society mounted numerous musical events, the place was let out to travelling and local performers for a wide variety of entertainments and it was also the popular venue for serious lectures and presentations, for example “Principles of the Electric Telegraph”, “Magnetism to Generate Electricity”, “The Employment of Women” and “Practical Phrenology”, mounted by various  institutions.

The Hall was used regularly on Sundays by evangelical groups.  A public appeal had been launched at one of these gatherings in November 1871 to remember Anglican Bishop, John Patteson, who a few months earlier had been murdered in the Solomon Islands. This appeal began a Memorial Fund to assist Melanesian Missions: it was later joined by other Church initiatives which, over the decades, would make generous financial grants to Melanesia.

But for now, the fire had destroyed the new Choral Hall. The fire brigade arrived on the scene too late and could not find a hydrant in the vicinity.

Asher Asher
Tauranga City Libraries

Captain of the Brigade, Asher Asher, arriving before his men, led bystanders do the best they could… to throw buckets of cooling water over the roofs of adjacent houses. Firefighters got bad press in the New Zealand Herald: “… the building had been reduced to ashes by the time they arrived, an engine with a few of the brigade members in company was seen coming leisurely down, at a steady walk… and …when the fire-engine was brought to a halt amid much laughter from the crowd, one of the brigade men went to the edge of the burning mass, and lifting up small portions of the live embers, coolly proceeded to light his pipe, and then, whilst enjoying the soothing fumes of tobacco, looked calmly on at the fine pile of destructed building…”

There was no doubt that this fire was arson. Bundles of un-ignited kerosene-soaked rags were found in the ruins: an Inquest found a case of “wilful incendiarism”.

Thomas Russell
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1050-4

Mr Thomas Russell was President of the Choral Society, and, once again, cover was with the insurance company he headed. Perhaps a theme was developing!

Inspector Broham

Police, led by Inspector Thomas Broham, were investigating the cause of all the fires. Broham, a red-haired Irishmen, had been appointed in 1870 ahead of others to lead, and clean up, the Armed Constabulary in Auckland. There was some resentment about the way he got the job: his hard-headed approach in the Victorian Force in Australia apparently helped him get the position.

            Thomas Broham
  Alexander Turnbull Library

Now, Broham had two unsolved arsons on his hands (the kerosene store and the Choral Hall), and maybe others (the ship, the Reading Rooms and several recent house fires in Pitt Street). He was looking for answers. Success… or as he put it “clearing up these matters”, would confirm to all and sundry that his appointment had been the right one: that he was the best man to lead the police.

And the Press was also seeking answers. The Daily Southern Cross newspaper put it like this: “… we sincerely hope that… … it will not come to be regarded as an admitted principle that fire-raising in Auckland can be carried on with impunity. After the non-success that has attended their attempts to trace the miscreants, the police are bound to put forth their utmost efforts to trace and convict the incendiary that fired the Choral Hall”.   Auckland was tired of suspicious, serious fires.

But events in the farming district of Onehunga were soon to provide some answers.

Life at The Pah

The night before the Choral Hall fire there had been a serious crime at The Pah, a property farmed by Thomas Russell (that name crops up again!) centred on his mansion-home near where, today, a newer Pah homestead stands, now surrounded by parkland off Hillsborough Road  in Mt Roskill. Russell was a very successful – if sometimes dubious – businessman (a founding father of the Bank of New Zealand, land developer and entrepreneur, he owned shipping operations on Waikato River), politician (one-time MP for Auckland East and Cabinet Minister), insurance underwriter, and a busy barrister with an office in downtown Auckland. He was often referred to as being in the “Limited Circle” of Auckland’s business interests. Russell’s sometimes acerbic business style, his self-serving political alliances and ruthless takeover of Maori lands meant he was not without enemies. His nickname, perhaps among those who thought they had been done down by him, was “Cut Throat”.

He was the second owner of The Pah property, purchasing it in 1860 from William Hart who had erected the fine Regency-styled villa on the knoll, a former Maori Pah site. It was some 400 metres from the road, sheltered by bush and trees. The big house had novel French style casement windows, opening out on to a verandah on all sides. The farm comprised 250 acres (100 hectares) and Thomas Russell ran beef and sheep while growing barley and wheat. A member of the Auckland Horticultural Society, Russell introduced exotic plants… among them Chilean Wine Palms, Bunya Bunya Pines and a circular grove of Holm Oaks.

 Shots at The Pah

On the evening of December 22nd 1872 Thomas Russell was away in Auckland on business.  Mrs Emeline Russell, her children and household helpers had retired relatively early, as they did when Mr Russell was absent. Around midnight Mrs Russell heard noises outside and aroused the young Thomas. Peering out one of the French windows he found he was looking straight into the face of a stranger on the verandah outside. While getting a good view of the man’s clothing and face, Thomas Junior did not recognise the man. Realising he’d been seen, and probably identified, the stranger immediately drew a revolver. Thomas, shocked, quickly pulled back behind the curtain. Several shots were fired through the window into the room, one bullet narrowly missing the lad. The intruder then walked around the verandah shooting at random into the house through various windows. One of the bullets embedded the staircase’s post.

   Trophy from Pah Homestead: the bullet-marked staircase post
 Auckland Museums Collections

When he fired into Mrs Russell’s bedroom she was lucky to dodge the shots. One bullet lodged in the pillow on which, minutes before, she had been sleeping. There was a pause. It soon became plain the man had reloaded the weapon in surrounding shrubbery and gone around to the back of the house where he fired more shots into a bedroom and the kitchen. 8 shots in all, then the night returned to rural silence, the man apparently having left.

Thomas Russell Senior was furious that his family home had been invaded, especially when he found that bullets had only just missed his young son and the lives of his wife and the rest of the family had been in jeopardy. Russell hired 2 burly men for security.

Poison-Pen Letter

Days later, on Saturday 27th January 1872, Russell received an anonymous letter poked under the door of his city office. The hand-written note threatened his life, his family, servants, the family home and his farm. His wife, the poison-pen letter continued, was “… haughty and too proud to those she ought to help…” The menaces carried on, saying there would be “years of retaliation at every opportunity by poison, shooting, stabbing and fire”, because Russell had gained his wealth and prospered by defrauding the humbler classes by manipulating share prices, especially those of the gold mining company, Caledonian. The letter concluded with a dramatic death threat – “Finale within 2 years”. Shaken, Russell was pleased he had hired strong men to help protect his home. He handed the letter to Inspector Broham.

More Fires

On the night of Saturday 27th January 1872, within hours of Russell receiving the letter, the security men noticed a glare in paddocks on The Pah property some distance from the house towards Royal Oak. They found three hay stacks on fire. Situated apart, it was obvious all three had ignited about the same time. The alarm raised, there was an immediate search of the farm but to no avail.  Although nothing could be seen of the person or persons responsible, the whereabouts were known because turkeys, disturbed by the decamping strangers, set up great aggressive cries.

Mr. Russell at once despatched a mounted messenger to Auckland, “gallop all the way, find Inspector Broham, tell him what has happened and ask him to send out some of his men to search for the person or persons responsible”. It was past one o’clock when the messenger reached police headquarters at Albert Barracks in town.

The Chase is On

Notwithstanding the time of day, the Inspector gathered a police party and set out for The Pah, with instructions to the constables, foot soldiers in effect, to spread out across-country, widening the search. Broham, like Russell, knew of the poison-pen letter and now it seemed one of the threats, fire, had been carried out.

Whoever had written the letter was more than likely responsible for the hay stack fire, designed to hurt Thomas Russell.  It appeared the series of previous fires had each been lit for the same purpose – to get at Thomas Russell or the organisations he was associated with.

It was important to catch the fire-raiser and It would be logical, Broham thought, that this person was probably at that very moment returning to town. The Inspector had hopes his men would intercept the offender. Detective Jeffery rode out, heading down Khyber Pass Road while another group of police was told to follow the railway line towards the South. Instructions were to arrest anyone upon the slightest suspicion.

                    From Epsom, looking towards Mt Eden 1870s/80s: area of the search.
           James D. Richardson- Sir George Grey Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-322

Inspector Broham, on horseback, proceeded along Mount Eden Road from Symonds Street. By now, early morning mist and drizzling rain limited visibility. But as the Inspector passed by the road leading to the prison (these days, Boston Road) he observed someone coming from the opposite direction. He at once stopped his horse. The man immediately reacted, leaping a fence and running off into scrub. The Inspector dismounted and gave chase across country. The man had a head-start and ran as fast as he could but the Inspector narrowed the gap. One after the other, the men cast off their heavy outer coats and threw them aside, continuing the chase. It was rough, volcanic, country on the gentle northern lower slopes of Mt Eden and something of a steeplechase ensued. Both had trouble picking their way through scrub and around rocky outcrops. Broham had the better speed and the man being chased realised this, so, without stopping, drew a revolver. A few more steps and he paused just long enough to turn and aim it at the Inspector. But it was the wrong move. In swinging around to take aim, the man stumbled in the uneven scoria, lost his footing, rolled over and dropped the hand gun as he fell. Not done, the man got groggily to his feet and attacked the Inspector with a few well-aimed punches, subdued only after Broham used his riding whip, still in hand, to ward off the unknown man with blows across his head.

The Arsonist Unmasked

Once his captive was subdued Broham was utterly amazed to discover it was well-known Auckland businessman, Cyrus Haley.

           Cyrus Haley

“Take me, Mr. Broham: I surrender,” Haley said and when asked about the haystack fires he replied, “You would have done as much if it had been you”. Broham had a confession. Haley was taken to Albert Barracks and searched. Bullets were found in one of his pockets. It was almost 3am when Haley was put in the lock-up where a doctor attended to cuts on his head. The pistol dropped by Haley was afterwards picked up by the police, minus the chamber. But it, too, was later located.

Haley came to New Zealand in 1870 from India where he held responsible positions, “a man of education and good address” the New Zealand Herald said, “who acquired a standing in the community as a man of affairs”. Until the fire in the NZ Insurance building, he had owned the business carried out there, the Exchange Reading Rooms. When gold-mining investments did not prosper as he had expected, Haley blamed Thomas Russell, chairman of directors of the Caledonian Company, for his losses. Over several years it had become a vendetta. As we have seen, Thomas Russell’s connections, one way or another, had suffered at the hands of the arsonist with every fire. It’s not plain that this pattern was detected at the time, just as there had not been the slightest suspicion that Cyrus Haley, the respectable businessman, had anything to do with the string of crimes.

 The Evidence Mounts

Next day police searched Haley’s house in Newton. Firearms and ammunition were found along with an empty leather revolver case which fitted, exactly, the piece that Haley had used to accost Broham. Moreover, a quantity of fabric was found which matched the appearance of that which had been produced, saturated in kerosene as a fire-starter, at the inquest into the Choral Music Hall fire. Detective Jeffrey also found a set of tumblers, precisely the same size and pattern as one found in the ruins of the Choral Hall fire, apparently used to throw kerosene on to the walls before the place was set on fire. The tumblers were rare… during his enquiries Detective Jeffrey had, without success, searched all Auckland suppliers and shops trying to trace the distinctive pattern. And now, here were matching examples in Haley’s house.

Detectives found a sheet of paper in the house that had been torn in two… and they found the tear exactly matched the paper containing threats which had been poked under Mr Russell’s office door.

Bullets taken from a wall in The Pah mansion were found to fit Haley’s pistol. An expert said, when compared, the poison-pen letter and Haley’s handwriting were identical.

The evidence against Cyrus Haley was stacking up.

He may have set fire to the Choral Hall to satisfy two counts… his animosity towards Russell with his connection to the hall’s insurers, N Z Insurance Company and Russell’s personal oversight of the hall itself.

Insane?The New Zealand Herald at the time noted that the accused had invested unwisely with the proceeds from the insurance for the burnt-out Reading Rooms. “Some business transactions…” the newspaper said, “…plus things said to police and the doctor on the night of his arrest indicates the man is bordering on insanity”. Haley continued espousing his philosophy that the humbler classes in Auckland were suffering at the hands of cheating upper-class, well-to-do, businessmen (he meant Thomas Russell) and that he was leading a movement to stop it, supported by many followers.

Despite strong claims of Haley’s delusions by his lawyer, Haley was committed to the Supreme Court on charges he admitted: attempted murder of the young Thomas Russell at The Pah, the arson of the haystacks and the kerosene store: and charges to which he pleaded not guilty – arson of the Choral Hall and sending threatening letters.

Supreme Court Trial

The jury enlisted to hear the case read like a Who’s Who of Auckland businessmen at the time – names like Daldy (Foreman), McFarlane, Isaacs, De Quincey, Kempthorne, Paton and Wynyard.

Chief Justice Sir George Arney

At the end of a protracted trial in April 1872 the Chief Justice, His Honour Sir George Arney, found the charges resulted from a motive of mania: Haley continued to put forward that he was one of a large local movement intent on exacting vengeance on better-off businessmen. The Judge also reflected that before his arrest the defendant had often been heard decrying those responsible for the arsons, and that he continued to go about his normal business for months, knowing his guilt. The Judge, sentencing Haley, said the “…offences show how a strong will, coupled with an ill-balanced mind, led a man to the commission of a series of crimes as seldom fell to the lot of a Court of Justice to enquire into…”. On those charges he admitted, Cyrus Haley was sentenced to imprisonment for the term of his natural life. The Judge ordered forfeit of his remaining assets to help meet costs of prosecution.  Effectively, given the charges, it was two life sentences.

But, as it turned out, he would not serve either of them.

Broham’s Work Recognised

Before the Court adjourned His Honour applauded Inspector Thomas Broham’s work to find and successfully prosecute the person responsible for Auckland’s arsons. For although there were no charges regarding fires on the ship “City of Auckland”, in Pitt Street houses and at the Choral Hall, most Aucklanders, the New Zealand Herald said, believed Haley was responsible for them all.

Broham was also congratulated in the Press, especially for his tussle after encountering the armed Haley at Mt Eden and, single-handedly, taking him in. The Inspector needed the accolades to restore his indifferent mana and senior position in the Armed Constabulary. He was later promoted to Superintendent in Charge of the Canterbury District but his ill-temper and old, inculcated, ways affected his duties and in 1889, despite public support, he retired medically unfit, in fact a broken man. He took a recuperative trip abroad and died in Rome in 1900.

Haley’s Violent End

Cyrus Haley did not serve out his life sentences.

Just 3 years into his servitude he was transferred to Dunedin Prison along with seven other of the Colony’s notorious criminals, authorities fearing the old Mt Eden Stockade was not sufficiently secure. Construction had just begun on a much more robust prison, built of stone and concrete which survives today, largely disused. Among the so-called “Notorious Eight” was another arsonist, John Elcock (set fire to his house in Chancery Street, Auckland, which spread to many other properties), convicted murderers, those who had attempted murder and burglars.

Their transfer was delayed by an argument with a shipping company over the fares to be paid for their passage to Port Chalmers. The wrangle ended when a prominent Auckland man came forward. Without naming him, the newspapers of the day reported that a businessman, a former Member of the House of Representatives, immediately rushed forward to hand over a cheque for the amount in dispute. “I would be happy to pay double that amount to see just one of the eight convicts out of Auckland Province”. Plainly, it was Thomas Russell who paid the money, and that it was Haley he was so keen to see the back of, transported out of Auckland under escort.

Once in Dunedin prison the 39 year old Haley was hardly a model prisoner.

                     Haley’s new “home”. H.M. Prison, Dunedin.
                  Alexandra Turnbull Library Tapuhi Collection

He was caught trying to escape in February 1873 and sentenced to “6 months in irons”. Notwithstanding, just 2 years later he was classed a “trusty”, allowed to work outside the prison walls. On 4th October, 1875, he was with a group of other hard-labour convicts working at Bell Hill when again he attempted to escape. Warder James Miller first shouted to Haley asking why he had separated from the work party. Haley did not reply, instead making a break for it, running through the grounds of the First Church towards Moray Place and Stuart Street, hotly pursued by the warder. When several shouts to stop and two warning shots went unheeded, Miller took aim and shot Haley in the back. The prisoner continued a few steps, slumped and fell, dead. A jury in the Coroner’s Court not only upheld Miller’s action, doing his duty, but added a rider of commendation. Subsequent editorials and Letters to the Editor in newspapers throughout the country were divided over the severe measure adopted to stop the runaway.

Haley’s death ended the saga of the Auckland arsons connected with Thomas Russell. Well… not quite.


Mrs Haley and children, destitute without Cyrus Haley’s assets which had gone towards the cost of his prosecution, returned to family in England.  But later the family travelled to Dunedin to be near Cyrus serving out his jail sentence. By this time Mrs Haley was a hopeless alcoholic and the children were taken into care, much resented by their father. Emily Haley died on Pakatoa Island in the Hauraki Gulf in 1912.

       Thomas Russell in later life 

The Hon. Thomas Russell sold The Pah in 1877 at considerably less than he paid for it and, with his family, returned to London where he represented New Zealand commercial and banking interests. He returned to Auckland several times to check on farming and land investments, to make further commercial deals and to shore up business relationships. His intricate web of financial undertakings collapsed in the 1890s: he was technically insolvent and after a Court looked into his affairs he was lucky to escape prosecution. Through a series of clever, calculated moves he managed to rescue some of his fortune despite once again being accused of self-interest and commercial crony-ism – his integrity in doubt. He died in Surrey, England in 1904.



RCC December 2015, illustrations added December 2018.


Sources: Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand

C. J. Stone. ‘Russell, Thomas’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012

Richard S. Hill. ‘Broham, Thomas’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 5-Jun-2013

  1. C. (Nan) Payne. ‘Asher Asher, his life and time 1822-1899’. Published by the author, 1989.

Illustrations, where known, as credited.

Mrs Mack was a fellow TVNZ employee who befriended me: a woman who, travelling alone, braved immigration to New Zealand in post-war years to make a new life here. She was one of the interesting people in my life….

      Mrs Mack – portrait in oils by Sumit

The Names

Before the stories about Mrs Mack unfold, it’s best to first reveal that she had several names over her lifetime.

+ Hetty Dinah Abbill is on her birth certificate.

+ Diane Abel seems to have been her most commonly used name when she arrived in New Zealand from England in the late 1940s/early 1950s.

+ This name, Diane Abel, was her new name after she changed from Dinah Hetty Abbill by Deed Poll on 1st November 1954 in Wellington. It is thought the change was to “neutralise” any Jewish connotation in her original name.

+ It appears Dinah (on her Birth Certificate) became Diane Hetty. (She thought Hetty was a short form of Hesther, or Hester, a forename name previously in her family).

+ Abel (presumably a version from Abbill – the surname on her Birth Certificate).


+ Diane Rehe (after she married George Ngahue Rehe on 30th December 1969 and this was her generally used and legal name after her marriage).

+ McRae. Some senior members of the Rehe family used this name, perhaps a sort of anglicised form of “Rehe”, which Diane adopted. Her bank accounts were usually in the name of Diane McRae and this was the name she gave when employed by TVOne and TVNZ in Auckland.

+ “Borrelli” (a nick name that was given by, and used by, family members in England).

+ “Mrs Mack” (a nick name, shortened form of McRae, used mostly by TV colleagues and which, with her name Diane, will be used in these recollections).


Early Days

Hetty Dinah Abbill was born on the 15th September 1913 in Leeds, the daughter of Barnet and Deborah (nee Krinsky) Abille of 31 Cannon Street, Leeds.

The family’s abode was a tenement house, one in a long string of connected two-storey brick places. It was crowded, and Mrs Mack used to tell of the “bathroom” arrangements in one of the ground floor rooms where a tin bath would be placed and each member of family took it in turns to wash, the water heated between bathers. She attended the local public school.

Diane, the schoolgirl in Leeds

But she often resented, she said, watching the other children going home for leisure time each afternoon while she made her way to Hebrew School for a further hour or two’s instruction. In fine weather she was expected to walk between schools and home again, in wet weather she sometimes took a tram. Her Hebrew schooling left an indelible memory, frequently recalled, about taking the four steps into the building (the synagogue?) which she apparently dreaded, thinking about the additional schooling that awaited within. And no doubt she was jealous of the other kids at play while she worked away at her Hebrew studies. (She was still able to read and write Hebrew into her 70s).

 Afternoon Tea at Lyons

Other memories she spoke of about this time were the family’s Saturday afternoon outings to Lyons tearooms in Leeds. This must have been in marked contrast to the drab shops near their house because Diane always loved these visits. Perhaps part of it was the travel to and from Lyons by tramcar or just the chance to get out of their crowded house in a grey suburb for a while.

Not sure whether these outings would have been before her mother died c1918 (which meant Diane would have been young, under 6 years old) or more likely after her father had remarried. In this case it may not have been so much the company (like her siblings, she never got on with her stepmother) but maybe it was the surroundings once inside Lyons, or the fact that the family members (including her) enjoyed the novelty of being waited on and served by the uniformed Lyons staff. Then again it could have been the rituals of the order being taken, the dainty tea things fetched to the table, the cakes on their three-tier table-stands followed by the arrival of the piping-hot teapot. What was certain in her recollection: the quality cups of tea and wonderful cakes that were served. And all for a few pence! Diane so much admired all this that she was determined to be part of it one day, and in her late teenage years she got her wish and for some time she was a Lyons waitress, she became a Nippy as they were called, at several of their tearooms.

This is how J. Lyons and Co’s brochure pictured the waitress, a Nippy

“Appearance was everything,” she said, recalling how prim and well-presented the Lyons “girls” had to be in their immaculately clean and stiffly-starched uniforms. The waitresses got their nickname “Nippy” because of their speed and agility through the crowded tearooms carrying trays of crockery, cutlery, food and hot drinks.


Diane came to New Zealand as an assisted immigrant in the late 1940’s/early 1950s. The New Zealand Government greatly subsidised the fares for those with skills wanted in the colony. Diane was a tailor’s assistant, a seamstress and a machinist: she fitted the criteria and was accepted. It was a chance to escape the rigours of post-war Britain and her harsh childhood. She had heard that New Zealand was a great place to start afresh, opportunity abounded and there was little regard for race or religion. It was, she had been told, an egalitarian society.

Diane was well accustomed to sea travel. She told me she had done a few short cruise trips around Europe and on some of these visits had called on family and relations.

There’s no proof yet which ships she travelled on to New Zealand, but in Diane’s collection there are pictures of Lloyd Triestino Company’s liner “Australia” which made 6 or 7 post-war trips from London to Australia via Italy.

Photo appears to have been taken aboard the “Australis”

There are also photos of the TSS “Monowai” which was regularly on the trans-Tasman run, Sydney to Wellington from 1949.

Diane (second from right) aboard “Monowai”

It’s possible Diane made the trip out on the liner “Australia” as far as Sydney and then transferred to the “Monowai” to complete her journey.

On arrival in Wellington she said she had little money with her. It was up to immigration authorities to match her skills to an employer, arranged before she left England. She was introduced to a clothier who owned a factory making gowns, dresses etc. She got employment right away, just at the time this factory was expanding, and some years later growing even bigger, with a move to Auckland. Diane followed, as forewoman. She went with a new name, changed by Deed Poll in Wellington on November 1st 1954 from Hetty Dinah Abbill on her Birth Certificate to Diane Abel.

Diane at Trentham Races?

At some stage, most probably in Wellington, Diane took part in repertory, amatuer drama. There are one of two earlier photos, taken in England, of her on stage in the part of the dishevelled damsel, perhaps a little larger than life! It appears she continued this interest in New Zealand with one or two more photos to prove it.

Act 1 Scene 3 – contretemps over a cup of tea!

 Settling in Auckland

It’s thought that she rented accommodation in Wellington but soon after arriving in Auckland Diane intended purchasing a bungalow in Murdoch Street, Ponsonby.

She created a fuss when at first the authorities (or was it the bank?) declined permission for her (a single woman) to buy freehold property. However, somehow she persuaded the authorities (perhaps through dogged persistence!) and she bought the place, number 34.

It was spacious with 3 bedrooms, dining room, lounge-sitting room, kitchen and bathroom. In the basement there was a self-contained one bedroom flat, with access via the side path and a separate door underneath at the rear. There was also a laundry and storage area in the basement, beyond which there was space for a vegetable garden.

34 Murdoch Road, Ponsonby

The basement was rented and a boarder was taken in, occupying one of the bedrooms in the house. The boarder was George Rehe who was a general-hand in the workshop of a local bus company. He later became Diane’s wife.

Diane and George, possibly taken on their wedding day

They were wed in 1969. Diane’s love of tearooms (right from her childhood days in Leeds at Lyon’s) and her devotion to Smith and Caughey’s in Queen Street, means that the story is probably correct – that the two celebrated their marriage there, in the Cedar Room, the tearooms on the top floor. It was a sometimes difficult marriage, occasioned for the most part by his frequent drinking bouts.

A New Job

By 1975 the bottom had fallen out of the local “rag trade” because of new free trade arrangements and mass-produced garments. Diane left that business and joined TV One, the new television station in Auckland, as courier.

It was her job to hand-carry films and documents across the central business area, between the TV station in Shortland Street studios and the TV One newsroom in Manchester Unity Building on Hobson Street at the corner of Victoria Street. TV2 started up soon after and did a deal with TVOne to share Mrs Mack (as she was known by all at the TV stations) so that she would carry film, mostly News items, for both channels. This meant she added a third building to her “beat”, the TV2 headquarters in Anzus House in downtown Customs Street East.

Competition between the two channels increased, with both trying to make their mark with the latest news, the most comprehensive coverage and “scoops”. Both channels, thus, were aggressively independent keeping their activities very much to themselves. They shared very few facilities because they did not trust each other. But one resource that the two channels did trust was Mrs Mack who was in a most counted-on position – not to tell anyone what titles she was carrying in her bags in case it leaked to the competitor company. She was very much aware of this, she kept her counsel and it was no time at all before everyone knew that it was no good asking her what news items were in her bag. It was secret, and Diane kept it that way!

Diane was engaged as a courier to walk between the buildings in the downtown congested traffic, because on foot she could nimbly beat any car across town. Despite the steep rise from Queen Street up Wyndham or Shortland Streets, Diana stepped it out, acknowledging the nods of acquaintances and greetings from those who, over the years, observed her en route, at least twice  daily, frequently more often. She quickly asserted her own uniform which changed with the seasons, but not much. Her garb always favoured the threat of inclement weather and a shower or two. In Auckland that seems to be most days! Her tam-o’shanter style (tea cosy) hats became legion, as did her heavy leather full-length raincoat, corduroy trousers, her boots, scarf and gloves. Only on the hottest summery days was her diminutive figure without the leather coat, shed in favour of a light cardigan over a plain cotton dress. The hat very occasionally changed in hottest weather to a light-weight affair, a sort of white mesh decorated with imitation flowers. Coloured thick stockings replaced trousers in warmer months. It was very rare for the boots to be swapped but when they were it was to stout, black, flat-heeled shoes. “Sensible shoes”, I called them.

Before Diane began the combined TV One/TV2 arrangement she came in to meet me, suggested by her manager (and friend) at TV One, Sandra Thompson. “You are the other Boss”, Diane declared, “I’ll still be getting my wages from Number One Boss, Sandra!”

Mrs Mack’s contact in TV2’s newsroom was Chief Reporter Frank Boyle (on the phone)

I then canvassed with her the need for utmost confidentiality, with a caution, but there was no need. She had already seen the publicity about the “difference” between the two channels and the cut-throat rivalry that was developing, whipped up a bit by other news media. I could see I had no worries about any leaks from her bag!

It was soon after that I noticed she was sporting a bandaged thumb. Sympathising, I asked her what had happened that required such a large and obvious wrapping. “I jammed it in the car door” was the answer. Further questioning revealed she had injured her hand whilst getting a lift across town in a company car. I again sympathised and then, with mock anger with a smile said something like “We pay you good money for shoe leather to walk between buildings. What’s this riding about in cars? And… getting hurt into the bargain!” Sandra rang me a few minutes later. “Mrs Mack”, she explained, “has just returned to my office saying that you have told her off. Just remember, she is of the old school and takes censuring or criticism from management very seriously, even if it is `the other boss’ having her on with a leg-pull. Desist!” The only jokes I had with Mrs Mack after that were never about work and I always made sure she knew I was jesting.

 The Walker

In Diane’s mind her house in Murdoch Road was well within walking distance of her workplace in the central business district. Most folk would take a bus, a taxi, or drive. But Diane, even in advancing years, obviously found it manageable and even on wet or cold days relied on shanks’ pony to get to the office. She insisted on an early start each morning so she could undertake a job that she sort of grew into without it being on her unwritten “list of duties”. But Diane showed a real sense of responsibility… distributing the morning newspapers to those in the newsroom who were entitled to a copy. The “Herald” was in big demand: there could not be one for every member of staff, so Diane took great care to ensure proper distribution. She would write the name of the recipient along the top of the front page and then personally deliver each newspaper to office and desk, sometimes placing the “Herald” in a secret hiding place… drawers, behind filing cabinets etc… which only the rightful recipient would know about. To ensure this chore was completed by the time the first staff members started arriving at the office for the new day, Diane was usually first in the office accompanied only by the cleaners finishing their overnight tasks. In the winter this meant Diane was up well before the first bird call and walked to the office in the dark, always the same route. On some occasions she must have been striding it out on her way to the office when the last of the late night (early morning) revellers were heading home from Karangahape Road night clubs. Her route took her past the “Pink Pussy Cat”, “Las Vegas” and other notorious “K Road” joints.

Las Vegas, survivor on K Road

After distributing the newspapers she would “brew up” and after a cup of tea she would call at the Chief Reporter’s desk to get the first indication of how busy the newsroom was going to be that day, when the items were expected and, right away, whether there had been any overnight items that would be first to be picked up. Her daily courier duties had begun.

A New Company – But Few Changes

Things changed in 1980 when competitors, TV One and TV2, combined and became TVNZ. The new company took over larger accommodation in the same Manchester Unity building as TV One had been occupying in Hobson Street and immediately converted the premises to a large newsroom and offices. TV2’s headquarters in Customs Street were vacated. Production and transmission was still centred in the Shortland Street premises, so Diane’s job continued, taking film and, increasingly by now, videotapes, between the two sites: Shortland Street studios and Hobson Street newsroom. She transferred, like most of the staff, to the new combined TV company and, as a kind of bonus, didn’t have to worry any more about the competitive rivalry between the 2 channels! It was now all one happy family (despite a few initial amalgamation wrangles) and Diane wanted to keep on working, despite advancing years, and she was relieved to hear that she could stay, with minimal changes, for the new employer. Soon after TVNZ was established in the new Hobson Street premises I transferred from Customs Street. And Diane added a new chore to her daily round. Not only was the newspaper delivered to me soon after I arrived in the office each morning, but there was a cup of freshly brewed tea, too, courtesy of Diane. Being proper, Diane would not entertain using tea bags nor making tea in the big staff tea pots. That would just not do. She had her own small teapot, an electric jug and a supply of her favourite brand of leaf tea in the kitchen so she could make the tea in her own way (the method recommended by that oh! so! English people at Earl Grey, as it happened), thus ensuring the enjoyment of a decent brew. Each morning she delivered a cup of tea to my office. She must have recalled that it was a bit like the good old days back in Lyons Tearooms!

On special days, and if I was not too busy early in the day, I might invite her to “bring yours in, too” and we would have a chat over her carefully-brewed cuppa. At some point Diane began bringing me a little gift on the Fridays before long weekends and holidays – croissants, which she had bought on her way to work. She later confessed that she walked quite a bit extra (down to the foot of Queen Street, in fact) to get these, because, as she pointed out “other bakery shops aren’t open when I pass by on my way in”. It impressed on me just how early she was making “the daily commute” on foot. Her kindness was acknowledged, the croissants always appreciated.

Star of Academia

TVNZ hosted an academic for a few months, a doctor of media studies from a university in the United States of America, who came to New Zealand to study “whether the change from film to electronic coverage led to more or less coverage in News programmes of story-lines with violent, opportunistic or gratuitous content” or some such esoteric theme. The doctor was given carte blanche to go anywhere within the news organisation and access to newsroom records to enable his studies. We noted he dodged the worst of the American winter when he timed his studies in Auckland from late December to early March as he developed his theories. The doctor borrowed a camera crew so he could create his findings electronically because the report to his Professor would be on videotape. He opened his dissertation with shots of Wyndham Street in downtown Auckland, one of the steeper streets on Diane’s preferred routes across town. The street-scape pictures of tall office buildings, passing traffic and busy pavements soon zoomed in on a little figure striding it out, tackling the Wyndham Street incline, big leather bag on shoulder. Yes, it was Diane. Over these shots the Doctor, gently mocking the antipodean television station, said “… in these days of television pictures racing across continents in milli-seconds, in our age of microwave links and in this time of international satellite communication systems, meet Television New Zealand’s (camera zooming in on Mrs Mack at this point) guaranteed, time-tested, and robust link across Auckland… affectionately known by all in television news who depend on her so much as ‘Mrs Mack’…”. He went on to explain her vital role and then, having set the scene with these and other shots, continued with his taped report which, as I seem to recall, ended with rather inconclusive findings into his topic, despite a couple of months’ investigation. From memory It added the desirability of further research: perhaps another trip to New Zealand to complete the project?

An Accident

Mrs Mack developed her own pet routes across town between the two main buildings she visited, mainly to vary the “scenery” I suppose, and to get best shelter if it was raining. One of these routes came to light when she had an accident in Fort Street. In Fort Street? That’s a bit off the direct track isn’t it? Well no, not really. Mrs Mack had found she had much more shelter on a wet day by entering the upper floor of Nathans’ Office and Warehouse off Shortland Street, taking the lift down to the ground floor which let her out on the lower Fort Street where there were shop verandas over the footpath giving good shelter all the way to Queen Street. There were no similar verandas over the pavement down Shortland Street. On the day in question Mrs Mack had slipped in the wet and was taken by ambulance to Middlemore Hospital with a broken elbow. Sandra Thompson was the first to go out to see Diane once she had returned from theatre after surgery which, I think, inserted a pin in the bone. Sandra found Mrs Mack in good spirits and with a large sum of money in her famous bag. “I have to pay the rates to the Council” was her reason for having the cash-in-hand. In the bag was many times what the rates could possibly add up to: Sandra fetched the several thousand dollars and banked it for safety.

Having a large sum in her bag was, apparently, not unusual. She would save up those parts of her wages not required for food and other outgoings until they accumulated to a considerable sum. She would then walk up and down Queen Street looking at “today’s blackboard interest rates” offered by various banks, pick the one paying the highest, walk in, plonk the bag on the counter, advise the teller she wanted to invest all the money in her bag, and demand an account be opened then and there, giving her the best going interest rate!

I went to see her in hospital several times while she recovered from her fall. After one of these visits I sent a newsletter to TV staff… “and there dwarfed in the big hospital bed, surrounded by a dozen pillows was Mrs Mack, sitting up knitting. No wool or needles. But her 60 something-year-old elbow has been knitting so well, she’ll be home in a day or two”.

Mrs Mack is all Made Up

Diane’s headquarters, the TVOne newsroom, was part of Manchester Unity Building with a large sound stage where TV productions were pre-recorded, or presented live-to-air. Diane thus saw the intellectuals entering the building to participate on Mastermind, she would have shared the lift from time to time with overweight, aging strong-men types taking part in the wrestling programme, On the Mat, and also the celebrities connected with ongoing musical productions such as Radio Times and the Ray Woolf Show.

It was in 1975 and for an episode of the Ray Woolf Show that freelance makeup artist David Hartnell was to promote his latest book “Beauty from 30 to 90, Makeup for the Mature Woman”, so he was looking for suitable “models” to take part on TV.

David recruited his mother, Gina, and the show’s hairdresser, Cammie, but was one model short.  David says “I had always seen Mrs Mack around and had often stopped to say ‘Hi!’, when it suddenly struck me that I wondered if she would be the third model. At this point I don’t think many people – including myself – had ever seen her without her hand-knitted hat. I remember coming across her at the studio mid-afternoon, during a tea break, the week before I was to appear on the show.

At this point I did not know if she had long or short hair, but I always remember her skin was in very good condition. I casually told her I was looking for a model to appear on camera with my Mother and Cammie next week in a ‘before and after’ makeup session. To my surprise she said she would be delighted to be my model: it seemed that she never thought twice about agreeing”.

“The following week she showed up at the studio where I took a ‘before’ Polaroid picture of Mrs Mack, my Mum and Cammie, which were to be shown on the programme. Mrs Mack was fantastic on camera, she looked like she’d been an elegant model in her early days and she still had the style.

After the show (which was live – so only one chance) Mrs Mack asked me if she could have the ‘before and after’ Polaroid picture.

 After the makeover, as seen on TV!

Of course I said yes, but told her that it Polaroid prints had a habit of fading over the years. ‘No problem’, she said, ‘I’ll have it re-photographed’. At the time I thought she was only being polite to me as the makeup artist. Looking back, had I recognised her beauty and how good a ‘before and after’ she was, I would have had included it in my book. Of course that was all published by the time we appeared to promote it on the Ray Woolf Show”.

David’s Footnote: “I was very touched and quite emotional when in May 2009 Ric showed me a box of pictures that Mrs Mac had kept, and there was the very ‘before and after’ photo I had taken of her all those year ago. She kept her word, and did, indeed, have the ‘after’ picture re-photographed. Over many years as a professional makeup artist making up stars like Joan Collins, Eva Gabor, Phyllis Diller, Audrey Hepburn, Dolly Parton, Diana Dors, Mary Martin and the list goes on and on, I now look back to see that no other makeup has given me so much pleasure as that which I did for Mrs Mack. Seeing that picture all these years later really bought it home to me. Mrs Mack, you were a beautiful human and a woman of your word”.

The Christmas Waif

Christmas morning and I was making those last minute preparations before joining family for a traditional midday meal. A phone call interrupted. It was a distressed Diane, trying to talk to me between shouting out at someone else in the house. Her husband, George, was being unreasonable. Suspending Christmas preparations, I advised my family that I would be a little late arriving for the lunch and that I might have an additional guest with me. I went to Diane’s, found an impossible situation where George’s attitude had swamped any chance of Christmas goodwill. It was obvious there was likely to be a repetition of earlier episodes where the differences seemed just too difficult for George (and me) to resolve, and certainly not on Christmas Day. So I took Diane with me to share the Carlyon family’s Christmas that year.

Family Ties

Diane did not seem to have much contact with family abroad and I did not know if this was by chance or by design. While she cherished photos of her parents taken in Leeds, she mentioned just a few relatives overseas. Her niece, Gwen, lived in Milton-Keynes in England and there were letters and cards exchanged from time to time, the only real and regular link with family. Diane mentioned a relative, Doctor Abel and his wife (also Dr Abel) who lived in London’s Shoot Up Hill near Golders Green. Then there were younger kin in Israel and in the USA who were periodically in touch. Diane said she wanted to see them all “before my time comes”.

There were other friends, a Miss McKenzie, whom Diane had met on one of her pre-war Continental cruises and who now lived in Melbourne. This woman had kept in touch for decades and was obviously concerned for Diane when letters sent to previous addresses went unanswered. Somehow Miss McKenzie must have tracked Diane down to Herne Bay because in desperation she sent a letter addressed to “The Superintendent of Police, Herne Bay, Auckland” asking him to help locate Diane.  The small suburb doesn’t have a Superintendent of Police, of course, but the letter wound its way through police channels until it was delivered to Diane by the local community constable. On Diane’s behalf I was in touch with Miss McKenzie, Diane’s long lost shipmate, but soon after that all correspondence ceased and I learned the old lady had passed on.

I had continued to be in touch with Diane’s relatives, notably Gwen’s daughter, Virginia in England. Nothing further has been heard of other relatives since Diane travelled to see them.

Overseas Trips

Diane and I made two overseas trips. The first was to Melbourne in 1990 for a weekend to see the stage production “The Phantom of the Opera” and to catch up with a few old friends. We both enjoyed the break from Auckland.

Recalling Diane was a seasoned traveller over the decades, I did not give it a second thought as we went through airport procedures and boarded the plane in Auckland. It was not until Diane dithered a bit after we got inside the aircraft that I suddenly realised it was her first flight, ever. All previous travel had been by ship. Her confusion was further highlighted a little later when a meal was being served. Reaching for her purse, she offered to pay the bewildered flight attendant for both our meals! Minor matters aside, she took to air travel, no problems.

Diane was mightily impressed with the “Phantom” and any doubts she had were instantly dispelled once we agreed that the collapse of the giant chandelier on stage during the opening scenes was deliberate, part of the show. She said she thought this was the case, but just wanted reassurance that there had not been a mishap. Her enjoyment was total when, the show ended, she was taken back-stage by a friend of mine, Ross Skiffington, who arranged for Diane to be introduced to members of the cast who then presented her with a signed souvenir programme. She told me later she felt “like Royalty”. And nothing, to her thinking, ever eclipsed that!

Diane with Ross Skiffington in the Dandenongs, Victoria

The following day we had a pleasant trip into the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges to visit Ross at his home in the bush.

The second trip abroad was as the result of my mother telling Diane about what a great time she had during a visit to Thailand. My mother recommended it. Diane then asked me if I was willing to “escort” her the next time I went to Thailand. Based on the earlier, easy introduction to air travel I considered there wouldn’t be a problem.


In 1992 we got to Thailand all right, booked into the hotel about bedtime and, tired after travelling all day, retired almost immediately. It was not long before one of the hotel’s house-men discovered Diane floating in the hotel’s interior swimming pool. The kidney-shaped pool was centrepiece within our hotel suite, the lounge and bedrooms leading off it. The house-man raised the alarm, we dragged her out, raised her up to drain the water from her insides. Thank goodness Diane was so small. Between the two of us we were able to almost hang her up by her feet, hopefully getting rid of water from inside her lungs.  I began mouth to mouth resuscitation while the hotel man went for help. I maintained her barely discernible pulse and kept up the breathing and chest-pumping. We repeated the upside-down treatment to drain more water from her lungs. It was then I saw blood under her body. Worried about this apparent escalation in her condition, I soon found the blood was mine: I had scraped my knees on the rough, gravelly, tiles surrounding the pool as I knelt giving CPR. Eventually I was told no ambulance was available and I was trying to get others to arrange alternative transport to get her to hospital when a police car arrived. The constables offered their car for transport. Diane was put on the back seat. I climbed in on top and in that cramped space tried to keep up mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as best I could. Diane was taken to a nearby hospital where doctors immediately got to work with suction to drain the fluid and they also revived her heart beat and restored circulation.

I had a sleepless night worried about Diane in case her condition deteriorated but in the morning it was found she was better. As a precaution she was to be transferred to a hospital in Bangkok. First thing next morning (NZ Time), distraught, I was on the phone to the office, Sandra Thompson, Fiona Buchanan and others in Auckland, to tell them what had happened, that I felt responsible and just how touch-and-go it had all been for Diane. This accident spelled not only the end of the holiday arrangements but a longer stopover in Thailand until it was decided Diane was fit to travel back to New Zealand. This episode was very scary, especially that first night when it seemed Diane might not survive. I was very upset, mostly that I had underestimated the danger presented by the nearby swimming pool.

In Bangkok I took a room near the hospital and spent a lot of time with Diane in the ward. I purchased food I knew she liked to substitute for the local, Thai, dishes served by the nurses and I arranged laundry and other items not provided by the hospital. After 10 days Diane was judged medically fit to travel and she flew back, first class, with an accompanying physician, courtesy the insurance company. I was back there in economy!

Thai police recommended me for a Lifesaving Award which was granted by the Thai Red Cross. I treasure the handsome certificate, (issued by command of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit as President of the Thai Red Cross, and signed by Princess Maha Chakhri Sirindhorn), as a permanent reminder of this unfortunate episode.

Two things in hindsight. It was probably Diane’s fitness, walking up hill and down dale, day in and day out, for those many years in Auckland that contributed to her survival, rapid recovery and easy convalescence. Physically, she was a very fit woman, especially for her age. But at the same time this accident may have accelerated Diane’s dementia. Knowing now how this problem robbed her of an active lifestyle in her later days, it appears that the near-drowning accounted for her increasing forgetfulness, at first her loss of short-term memory and then affecting her faculties.

 “Now, He Can’t Get Out of There, Can He?”

It was Christmas-time when George Rehe died. He had been poorly but I was surprised to hear that he was in hospital and that his illness was so serious, causing concern. Odd that I had not heard via Diane?  Perhaps not. The truth is that even after marriage, all the evidence points to a continuation of the status quo, as it was before. The relationship continued as landlady/boarder with separate bedrooms and independence.

George Rehe in earlier years

George died on December 23rd and was to be farewelled from his family marae at Whakarewarewa, near Rotorua, 200 kms South of Auckland. Traditionally, the timetable dictated that he should be buried on what would be Christmas Day. But New Zealand laws preclude burials on Christmas Day, so the ceremonials had to be delayed a day to accommodate this. Notwithstanding, men from whanau (family) had to give up their Christmas Day to cut a track through thick bush into the grave site located in the traditional family burial ground near the famous Buried Village. Having cut an access, they then dug the grave itself. Diane always knew she had to get George home: she had often spoken about this task as if it had once been a promise to him. First the trip from Auckland to Rotorua in the hearse, then Mrs Mack the small figure beside the open coffin lying-in-state on the marae. She stayed with the coffin on the marae overnight, awaiting George’s burial next day.

Some of us from television joined her at Whakarewarewa for the traditional Maori tangi, the funeral ceremony and, eventually, the trek behind the casket up the bush-clad hill, along the freshly-cut track with its carpet of fern fronds, through thick scrub to the graveside. Prayers and farewells completed, the casket was lowered. Diane pushed forward, right to the lip of the grave where she really was in danger of falling in. I went forward to support her and to grab hold of her arm. She took a long last look down on to the coffin and, in her own candid way, used an over-loud stage whisper to remark, by way of a question, that this really was the end for George. “Now, he can’t get out of there, can he?”

Some years later I learned that George was descended from those who survived the Tarawera Eruption of 1886 and, dispossessed of land, relocated to Whakarewarewa. So his burial near the buried village meant he was truly home.

Change of Address

With George gone and no tenants in the basement flat, which was a bit rundown by now, it was considered that Diane should sell the bungalow and move to a comfortable, smaller apartment which would be more manageable for her. Fiona Buchanan, occupational health nurse at TVNZ, who helped Diane a lot over the years with personal matters, led this mission. Although there was a bit of a “house hunt” it wasn’t long before arrangements were in hand to sell Murdoch Road house and purchase a flat in Hamilton Road, Herne Bay, which Diane said she liked very much. She reckoned that the wide lawns which the flat overlooked were like a Royal park in front of a castle, probably because the lawn had its own giant statue. Fiona was good enough to organise the clean out of Murdoch Road house, reserving only essential furniture and household items for removal to the smaller flat. Fiona also assisted with the land agents’ and associated documentation and it was time for Diane to move. We purchased a new TV set to give Diane sparkling reception of her favourite programmes, which included the News, of course, when she could see all those of her workmates who appeared on camera! The second bedroom in the flat, the guestroom, was always referred to as “Ric’s Room” and, embarrassingly to me, she told everyone and anyone (including my mother!) that she kept the room “just for Ric”, and that he could use it anytime he liked.

Maori Land

The other thing that happened after George’s death was that Diane’s attention focussed on land that he had part-title to. Although it was a fairly large holding, the area was in the backblocks, scrub-covered and apparently not much good for any kind of farming. George had, literally, just a few dollars in returns over the years. Nevertheless Diane took up the cause to have the land transferred to her name. After protracted legal affairs, the Maori Land Court agreed to the transfer. She was now the part-owner, along with probably thousands of others, of a Block out there in heartland New Zealand! Not many people held a British passport and had shares in land owned by a Maori Incorporation!

A Brush with Royalty

In March 1981 we at television were gearing up for the news coverage of Prince Charles’ visit, notably, among his other activities, a public walkabout in Queen Street. It was thought advisable to get Diane properly accredited as a news media representative in case the roadblocks before and after the Prince’s arrival blocked Queen Street, which she had to cross on her regular track between Shortland Street and Hobson Street. It would do us no good if coverage of the Prince’s earlier activities could not be quickly conveyed to the newsroom in Hobson Street, delays caused by the Prince himself in Queen Street! Not only did the pass get her into Queen Street, but she was making “the crossing”, wearing her Royal Tour Media badge, just as the Royal walkabout began. We never did find out whether this was purely accidental or very much by design! She thus got privilege with her accreditation, found herself next to the Prince, and shook his hand. The two engaged in conversation. “What did you talk about?” I asked. Diane could not remember all the detail but had remembered that Charles asked exactly what she did at TVNZ, and when he discovered what she did, he mentioned that the whole world, not just television, relies on all the unseen people in the background making their own, valuable contribution.

Prince Charles during his 1981 visit. Fairfax

To a Royalist like Diane, that part of the conversation made her very proud. To anyone who asked what passed between the Prince and her in Queen Street, she gleefully repeated it. Many, many times.


TVNZ saw Diane off with a big retirement function. She was 72 and as might have been expected she was slowing a little, mentally more than physically. The highlight of her farewell was the presentation of numerous gifts, one of which from the Company was a framed oil portrait of Diane, in her working “uniform”. I had it done on an earlier trip to Thailand and kept it for just this occasion.

Thai artist Sumit paints from a photograph

It was so like Diane, and we persuaded her to wear to the retirement function exactly the same hat and scarf in the portrait. It was like seeing double.

Seeing double, Diane and her portrait

Everyone attending… and there was a big crowd of present and past staff members … said how appropriate it was and how the artist had “caught” Diane’s looks. She took to it immediately.  The portrait was hung, prominent, where she could always see it until the very last… in her apartment, at the old folks’ home and in her hospital room.

Fitting farewell card from the “Te Karere” team

The retirement of such a character had not escaped one of Diane’s favourite colleagues, TV reporter Dylan Taite. He made a news item, shown on the network, to mark the event. “These Boots were Made for Walking” was the theme music and in the tribute Dylan estimated that during her time when she was messenger for television, Mrs Mack had walked the equivalent of several journeys to her native Leeds, and back! Her retirement date was carefully arranged to coincide with her wish to make another, final, trip abroad, this time around the world to see her relations in England, Israel and America.

The Passport and the Brassiere

There was awful trouble getting her a passport because no one in officialdom in either Leeds or in London could find her Birth Certificate, nor could her relatives. In the end it was a combination of a UK lawyer hired to make a search, and relatives, that came up with the document. This all took so long that it was doubtful if we could get her passport in time for her scheduled departure date, but the UK Passport Office in Wellington obliged. But they wrote her birth date wrong on the passport (so much for the expensive search for the elusive Certificate!) so all Diane’s arrival and departure cards as she entered and left countries had to show a wrong birthday to match the passport.

Sandra Thompson thought Diane better have some new clothes for the trip and in preparation they visited Smith and Caughey’s department store in Queen Street, I think accompanied by Fiona Buchanan.

Smith and Caughey’s Queen Street Store dressed for Christmas

Diane would say “It’s a very ‘proper’ shop, appealing to the genteel customer, selling quality merchandise”: over the years Smith and Caughey’s was one of the few shops she had regularly patronised. She was shown to the fitting room to try on new bras. Now it must be remembered that for her age, weight and height, Diane had been very generously seen-to by the Almighty when her bust measurement was allocated. The saleswoman was trying to be the soul of discretion; Sandra was recommending this bra and that, with Diane trying them until she found one that she felt was just right. She liked the look of it in the mirror. Puffing herself out to full stretch, she loudly exclaimed that “this is the bra for me, I’ll take it – it’s sure to attract the men”. Sandra was mightily amused. The saleswoman, true to her training, had a sudden onset of profound deafness and ignored the remark. But just on the other side of the fitting room wall, half the gentle-folk (staff and customers) in the shop must have heard – and wondered just what was going on in the fitting room!

Farewell, World!

The passport, bras and other clothing having been acquired, it was time for Diane’s Grand Retirement World Tour. Unlike Gladys Moncrieff, the Australasian songstress who did countless tours saying that they were “positively, definitely, the very last farewell appearance”, Diane planned just one.

Fiona had helped with packing Diane’s bags to ensure she had essential clothes. I was around at her house on the afternoon of her departure to make sure she was ready for her flight, scheduled to depart at midnight. I casually asked if she had any jewellery or money in the house which should not be left in the empty place for the month or so while she was away. “Let me have any valuables… I will put them in the office safe while you are away just in case someone breaks into your house”.

Diane said she had some money somewhere and went off to find it and fetch it out. Well, she just kept on bringing out the cash. It took me a long time to count the accumulated bits and pieces, notes and coins, in numerous pay packets and envelopes until before me on the kitchen table I had counted just under $30,000! Frightened about having this sum hanging around over the weekend, I was lucky to be able to lodge it in Diane’s Bank of New Zealand account at the 24 hour Airport bank as I saw her off on the flight that night.

Checking in at Auckland Airport

When I told Sandra, we mused that her first-class round-the-world air fares had well and truly been covered by the money that Diane had squirreled away in her house for a rainy day.

The Big Bonuses

Just before she went overseas Diane had received an offer from her lawyers at Shieff-Angland to consolidate all her savings, investments and Bonus Bonds, “with, as far as the Bonus Bonds are concerned” they said, “much better, guaranteed returns”.

I knew Diana would be reluctant to cash up the Bonus Bonds because prizes were tax-free, a definite plus in her eyes. Minimisation of paying any tax on any income was a decided attraction to her and, years before, I am certain would have been a major consideration when she first invested in Bonus Bonds. Her aversion to paying tax, I believe, was responsible for the creation sometime earlier of the name Diane McRae, deliberately introducing a new persona to share the tax burden. However, when it came to Bonus Bonds she was quite lucky in the weekly draws, often getting periodic advice from Bonds Headquarters in Dunedin that she had won $200 in one draw, $50 in another, etc. She was always happy to get these cheques, letting me know with a smile that she had received another “Letter from Dunedin”, as she referred to these cheques. It was my task, latterly, to bank them for her. Diane liked Bonus Bonds – prizes were tax-free

Source -Ewen McNeill: ewen.mcneill.gen.nz

But Diane’s cash flow was about to get even better, despite her absence abroad. I kept an eye on her house while she was away and collected her mail. I was surprised to receive advice that she had won $15,000 in a Bonus Bonds draw. I joked with Sandra that travel expenses had again been paid for, and how lucky Diane was:  retired, out of the country travelling first class and still “earning”. Before I could bank the cheque I got another for $5,000. Now, the two prizes combined, those two “Letters from Dunedin”, would be a nice little surprise to tell her about when she came home! I rang the lawyer at Shieff-Angland to tell him to put the consolidation of investments on hold, and, especially, to forget cashing up the Bonus Bonds. After the big wins it was going to take an awful lot to persuade Diane to make any changes! What with $20,000! And, better still, particularly in Diane’s eyes, all tax-free!

Her extensive travels were straight forward, we gathered, except in Tel Aviv where she forgot the name of the hotel she was staying at. A taxi driver took her to several likely international tourist hotels enquiring at check-in desks whether Diane was a guest. It took 2 or 3 before the correct hotel was found. This mishap aside, from what we heard, she met all her scheduled flights and connected, in person, with all those seldom-visited relatives on several continents whom she had been in touch with for many years only by mail. And we did not hear of any fuss about the discrepancy between her real birth date and that shown on her passport.

Retirement Days

The forgetfulness in Tel Aviv, and now in the months after her return, was a sign that, mentally, Diane was beginning to flag just a little. Following a visit she made to her lawyer, Ron Craig, he rang me to say he noticed the changes, and suggested that he would propose to Diane that I be given Power of Attorney over her affairs and asked if I would undertake to ensure she had the necessaries of life. I agreed, so did Diane. The document was duly signed.

Soon after, Diane and I went through a check-list to make certain her personal needs were taken care of. An appointment schedule was drawn up for visits to the doctor, hairdresser and chiropodist, there was a rough plan for the borrowing and return of library books, and Diane was to ensure she gave me household accounts for payment when they were due. And I was to bank any Letters from Dunedin. She liked to “keep the books” and this was good because it gave her an interest.

About this time it appeared to me that Diane was not purchasing enough food so I began to shop for her. It was one way that I could see what she was eating and to make sure she got enough of the right kinds of food. I would phone her at the weekend, get a list of items she required or was getting short of, make the purchases and deliver them to her flat.

It was a good welfare check as well. I got to see her at least once a week, every weekend, though we did see each other during the week if there were Letters from Dunedin, accounts to pay or other business to be seen to.

It was during these phone calls when I asked for her shopping list that I realised there was, gradually, further deterioration. Diane became muddled about what shopping she wanted and then on several occasions she would put down the phone handset, go over to the fridge to check on supplies, and forget to come back to the phone to tell me what I should buy. Obviously she had forgotten why she had gone to the fridge and sometimes I would find the phone still off the hook an hour or two later when I arrived at her flat after I had done the shopping.

Generally, it was virtually the same food items each week with as much variety as “her favourites” would allow. I soon learned, by seeing some items untouched, what she found appetising and what she did not like. In summer she preferred salad vegetables. In colder weather, vegetables and meats (plus bones) that could be prepared and thrown into the big soup pot that seemed always to be bubbling away on the stove. This just seemed to get added-to, time after number, forever, all winter long. An array of vegetables and additives went into the mix to make a thick soup. Fiona Buchanan, in her professional medical opinion, said it was a marvel, with the continual reheating of the food, that Diane did not get food poisoning.

And among the purchases year around – fruit. Diane liked her fresh fruit.

Then there were the everyday requirements like milk, bread and tea, oh yes, leaf tea (never tea bags). Diane went through a lot of tea!

At some stage I thought Diane was not getting enough to eat during the day. It seemed she just couldn’t be bothered preparing food, so Meals on Wheels, the Red Cross ladies, were arranged. They would deliver a hot meal around midday, Monday to Friday.  Diet and special requirements were taken into account. But Diane did not like the food they delivered. She favoured the desserts and left the meat and vegetables, defeating, somewhat, the purpose of the arrangement. I took another tack, stocking up the pantry and then tried to persuade her to “eat up”. I would gently chide her if there was too much food left at the end of the week! This worked well. Diane did not lose any more weight: perhaps, coincidentally, she had reached her natural weight in the aging process.

Twilight Years

The years rolled by. Diane enjoyed weekend outings in the car and occasional walks around Herne Bay with me, particularly if a hearty well-brewed cup of tea was included somewhere along the way. She enjoyed accompanying me during the car trip out to visit my mother in South Auckland. Sometimes she went shopping either at Three Lamps or further a-field, downtown. Occasionally, if she was in the city she would call into the office to meet her former workmates, for a cuppa and to deliver a bag of croissants to me! Her protests overcome, someone would give her a lift home rather than allowing her to walk.

But these outings began to get fewer. And I could see, weekend after weekend, as I delivered her provisions, that Diane was noticeably slowing and was more forgetful. “Letters from Dunedin” were no longer welcomed with enthusiasm, accounts and other letters were opened but not being attended to.

Some things that she preferred to look after, rather than have me see to them, like the Council rates. But these, I found, had been well and truly seen-to, paid several times over, and consequently were now in credit! This was not like the Diane we knew. We tried part-time caregivers to accompany Diane during the day, cooking a reasonable evening meal before they left in the afternoon.

But this did not work out. Diane did not get on with the helpers the agency sent. I think she regretted the intrusion into her space and world… and then one woman stole some of Diane’s belongings, was arrested for this and offending against other elderly folk, appeared in Court, convicted, sentenced and ordered to pay Diane restitution.

The Lady Above

Mary Short had the flat above Diane’s. Mary, as secretary of the Body Corporate for the block of flats, collected the contributions from all owners towards common expenses like outside lights, building maintenance, the upkeep of the grounds etc.

Her role led Diane to regard her and refer to her as “The Boss”. But Mary was good to Diane and kept a weather-eye out for her. I rang Mary from time to time, mid-week between my weekend visits, asking how things were downstairs. But even Mary did not anticipate the first episode of Diane’s wandering around Herne Bay and Ponsonby streets in the dead of night. Scantily clad, she was intercepted by a police patrol somewhere near Karangahape Road, taken into the car and, eventually, home. Her mind was perhaps reverting: she told Police that she was “on her way to work”.

It only took one more day-time episode of this wandering and it was obvious, for her own safety that Diane had to be looked after full-time. On this second occasion she had been walking out on the roadway, in real danger of being bowled over by passing cars. Fiona gave advice about Diane’s condition and her regular GP was consulted.

 Another Change of Address

As a result, Fiona found suitable accommodation in Mt Eden. Diane moved into comfortable care in a big converted house in Landscape Rd, Mt Eden where she had her own bedroom. The staff members were alerted about her tendency to roam. They immediately showed they knew what they were doing, that they had met this foible before, by taking away all Diane’s footwear, leaving her only with slippers, thus kerbing her “walkabouts” outside. Diane seemed happy enough at the home, independent and did things in her way and in her own time, but fitted in quite well. She enjoyed the outings with other residents in the Home’s minibus. Staff at the Home got to know her very well, and she had the run of the kitchen and a small teapot of her own so she could make a cuppa just whenever she wanted. This meant that whenever I arrived to see her, we almost immediately adjourned to the kitchen so that she could brew up and we could share “a cuppa”. Trevor Rehe, her stepson began visiting her. We marked Birthdays and special days. If I was away overseas I would phone the Home to see how things were. Fiona would deputise with visits.

The Years Catch Up

Chatting with Diane was getting more difficult. The words weren’t coming like they used to. Long bouts of silence were punctuated sometimes with one-theme thoughts and words… an imaginary “dog” and “dogs” were a constant topic. Part of a biscuit at afternoon tea had to be kept “to feed the dog” and the man passing the window was to be watched “because all his dogs will be along soon”. “Noisy dogs” kept her wake at night. All imagination.

I was in Auckland and in full flight as Host Broadcaster for the APEC Conference in late 1999.

Diane hit the jackpot. Just as I was fully occupied, preparing to begin an international broadcast of a special news conference with President Clinton, Prime Minister Blair, et al, re the desperate crisis in East Timor, there was a call on my cell-phone. It was Middlemore Hospital, a sister from Theatre, seeking my permission as Attorney, for Diane to be operated on for a broken hip. She had a fall at the Nursing Home and had been taken to Middlemore. When I explained the position, that I could not get to the hospital right away, the nurse revealed the operation was already underway and told me to get to the hospital as soon as convenient.

Diane was still asleep in the Recovery Room when I arrived a couple of hours later and, given that my duties with APEC would not allow me to visit again that day, the Sister let me gown up and go right into the room to visit her before belatedly signing the various legal documents. Diane was 86. She came through it with flying colours. As earlier with her broken elbow, the bone healed remarkably quickly and her system rapidly recovered from the trauma.

This hospital stay gave the medical and social staff time to assess Diane inside and out. Within days they decided the time had come for her to be in a hospital full-time, with better medical facilities than the Rest Home. Once discharged from Middlemore Hospital, Diane had a few nights in a Henderson private hospital until a room was allocated at a recommended private hospital, St Margaret’s in Te Atatu, West Auckland.

St Margaret’s

St Margaret’s was just a few years’ old, single-storied brick and tile and set in spacious grounds with well-kept gardens, manicured lawns and some sea views. It was obviously well maintained, spotlessly clean and the staff turned out to be extremely caring. Diane lived there quietly and, apart from the odd reference about dogs, mostly in silence. Her mind had gone to the extent she was not recognising me when I visited and her small body was frail, weak. She was entirely dependent on hospital staff. On fine days there were walks in the grounds, Diane in a wheel chair. We continued marking birthdays, etc but Diane, although present, was hardly part of it. Trevor Rehe, her stepson, and his wife were frequent visitors. Overall, though, she kept reasonable physical health: iron tablets the only regular medication.

Diane weakened. She was approaching her 90th birthday. Hospital staff warned that she was showing all the signs of fading. My visits became more frequent, until early one evening the night supervisor rang me at home to say the end was in immediate sight. I went to the hospital. Diane was peacefully sleeping. I sat with her in silence, listening to her every breath, until about 2am when the Night Nurse said that Diane, as had been the case all her life, was showing extra stamina and they were perhaps mistaken about her imminent demise. “You might as well go home and get some sleep”, she said. And no sooner had I walked in the door at home just 15 minutes later, the hospital rang to say Diane had just gone. Typically, Diane had done it her way, and in her own time in the small hours of August 28, 2003, about a month short of her 90th birthday. I returned to the hospital next morning, where she had remained until the hospital’s doctor issued a death certificate and the undertaker took over.

The End – And Worry

Then began one of the most hectic and worrisome 24 hours of my life. Years and years before, Diane and I had discussed “arrangements”.  It was her definite wish to have a funeral service in the Jewish style and to be buried in the Jewish section of the cemetery. I had promised her that I would see to this when the time came. I had ringing in my ears a Jewish friend’s advice of long ago… “get it arranged, Ric, they don’t take just anyone you know, don’t leave it ‘til the last minute!” I had taken up this suggestion and been in touch with the local Jewish office and Rabbi to make the arrangements. But that was years ago. I knew that the burial, by the rules, needs to be completed much more quickly than other denominations… something like within 24 hours.

And now, here was the undertaker ringing to say that he had been in touch with the Synagogue and Diane was not known.

They had turned her down. Jewish burial, the undertaker said, was out of the question. I tried to think over what the alternative might be. There wasn’t one. Somehow I had to get the decision reversed so that I could honour my promise to Diane. I contacted Lester Singer, a colleague at TVNZ and member of the local congregation. He knew of Diane, her one time ability to read and write Hebrew and, generally, her Jewish heritage. Lester was a great help, told me not to worry: if it was humanly possible to give Diane a Jewish send-off it would be done.

I repeated “I know they don’t take just anyone, I understand that eligibility must be proven”, but Lester comforted me at the same time with the reassurance that “if Diane belongs, we do not abandon her at this time, either”. Lester made contact with the Rabbi and the person from the Synagogue who organises burials. The latter was very kindly, guiding and considerate and after a long conversation with me answering lots of questions about Diane’s life, he agreed there could be a Jewish dispatch. He made arrangements at the cemetery while I rang the undertaker to finalise those matters. Then it was rapid phone calls to advise those of Diane’s friends who might like to attend the service to give them the details. The deadline had passed for an announcement in the local newspaper, so it would have to be word-of-mouth about the time and place, with follow-up notices next day.

A small group of mourners, including the necessary and obligatory number of men-folk, was on hand on a still, sunny morning, to attend the traditional, orthodox service in Hebrew and then to accompany the plain-timbered casket to the grave nearby. I was extremely grateful to Lester Singer who was there to guide us through the proceedings. Finally, a few prayers. Diane, as she had wished, arrived at her final resting place in the Jewish section at Waikumete Cemetery. My relief was instant.

It happened at the grave-site as the small group shared in the burial. I realised that the anxiety about the uncertainty of the arrangements had masked my full realisation of Diane’s death. It was the end of this particular line, sad but at the same time the conclusion of a life that, lately, had not much quality to it, a combination of dementia and immobility. Such an irony, sharp contrast to Diane’s previous enquiring mind, her energy and stamina. In her way she had been a great lady, a local character: certainly notable, and noticed, by all who came into contact with her. She was loved, loving and lovable by those who came to know her well.

After the service a small group of us adjourned to a nearby cafe. A sort of wake. Others often drink something strong on these occasions. I had tea, a hot, strong cuppa from a teapot, in honour of Diane. Nothing else but English Breakfast leaf tea would have done, shared with some of Diane’s closest friends, including Sandra Thompson and Fiona Buchanan.

Tidying Affairs

It was not until going through Diane’s few possessions at St Margaret’s that a small box was discovered containing correspondence and other papers. This box had obviously started out at the Landscape Road Rest Home and had been transferred with Diane’s things to St Margaret’s. It was then that I found letters addressed to her at Landscape Road that I had not previously seen. I was concerned that I had not been shown one in particular, from Diane’s sister-in-law relative, Gwen in Milton Keynes, England, who had said in the letter, with some relief, that despite not being in touch with Diane for a long time, she was now pleased to be back in contact, she updated family affairs and expressed the hope that now she had found Diane’s address and begun an exchange of correspondence that it would continue. I was astounded to see that the letter was dated some years previous and obviously had not been replied-to by Diane because she was incapable, nor unfortunately had it been referred to me by staff in the Home so that I could answer it.

I immediately began a search for Gwen, mainly to advise of Diane’s demise, but it was futile despite extensive internet, white pages, electoral roll and other checks that I could readily make from New Zealand. I phoned neighbours of Gwen in Milton Keynes, whom I traced via internet, BT and White Pages, but to no avail. I looked up maps of Milton Keynes and also rang several businesses I found in the near vicinity of her last known address, on the off-chance she was, or had been, a customer of theirs whom they may recall. This, too, drew a blank. I concluded Gwen and her husband had left the district or had died.

Items that for some reason had survived the moves between flat, nursing home and hospital were Diane’s “trademark” tam o’shanter hats and a few matching scarves. I have them.

Mrs Mack in her “trade mark” outfit

Diane held titles to Maori land, a legacy after her husband, George’s death. These were discussed with lawyer Ron Craig and it was decided they should be returned to the Rehe side of the family, via George’s stepson Trevor – their rightful ownership which we thought would be readily decided by the Maori Land Court if anyone else should attempt to lay claim to them. Ron oversaw necessary transfer processes.

Other tidying-up matters arising from Diane’s Will would be handled by Ron, and it was obvious he was going to have to try to trace sister-in-law Gwen, named as a benefactor. After a long wait while inquiries were made, Ron advised that she had been found and that he had received a letter from Gwen’s daughter, Virginia. Among Diane’s possessions are photos of a very young Virginia. I was in touch by phone and promised to forward relevant papers and photos that I hold. Virginia explained she is trying to create a Family Tree, but she is having some of the same problems with names that we experienced when looking for Diane’s birth certificate. I advised Virginia that, regrettably, I did not think I had anything of Diane’s that would help.

Later, 18 months after her burial, it was time to consider a permanent gravestone. I want to provide this myself, something I wanted to do for Diane, and so arrangements were made for the regulation-style headstone to be provided and installed. (Cemetery and Jewish officials have a strict prescription for the type, size, shape of headstones, as well as the style of lettering, allowed in this part of the graveyard). While I thought this was going to be straight forward, I hesitated when asked by the stonemason what the names and inscription would be. After much thought and getting the views of some of Diane’s closest friends at TVNZ, lawyer Ron Craig and stepson Trevor Rehe, it was decided on Diane Rehe, her birth and death dates, followed by “Mrs Mack”. This has been put on the stone, along with the appropriate Hebrew words, and placed on her grave at Waikumete Cemetery.

Ron Craig found some difficulties winding up the estate. I explained Diane’s investment habits in the days when 13 per cent (and more!) interest was not unheard of, when she would find the best going rate, open “instant” new accounts and put the money in. I told Ron there could be a number of outstanding existing accounts that I was unaware of.  Years before I had seen letters from various trading banks advising Diane that the term deposits had ended and asking what she wanted done with the principal and accrued interest. In latter years she had been ignoring these notices. “That one’s over and done with!” she would say when I confronted her with the latest letter from one or other of the trading banks. What she did not realise was that, while the investment period had lapsed, the principal, plus interest, was still in the bank in her name! Ron and I cleared most of these, re-investing the proceeds in a consolidated account, but my apprehension was that there were others, untraced. And of course the other complication was the question of which of Diane’s various names they were in! In the wash-up, Ron explained there’s a system to check all banks, etc, where Diane may have accounts under her various names – and he put wheels in motion.

It was some years before Ron Craig cleared all matters and finalised Diane’s affairs. She was very generous in the legacy I received and I inherited her portrait in oils, the one given at her retirement function. It once again has pride of place: this time in my house, with Diane at the top of the stairs overlooking everything and everyone!


RCC April 2005/June 2009