Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Cricket great casts line to hook capital's mayoral chains

Fishing is one of John Morrison's great loves. The City of Wellington is another, hence his desire to be mayor. Photo / Mark Coote
Fishing is one of John Morrison's great loves. The City of Wellington is another, hence his desire to be mayor. Photo / Mark Coote

John Morrison used to dream of spending his retirement growing vegetables and catching fish. But the silver-haired, silver-moustached Wellington councillor has put that dream on hold as he takes a shot at the capital city's mayoralty.

Morrison, 66, has represented the city's western ward since 1998. But this year, he's taking a gamble by not running as a councillor. His focus is on the mayoral race, against five other candidates, including incumbent mayor Celia Wade-Brown.

During a break from campaigning, he talks about one of his favourite places, the launch Sweet Georgia. And like all fishermen, Morrison has a yarn about his greatest catch, a nearly 30kg groper he caught off the back of Mana Island, south of Porirua Harbour. "The minute my sinker touched the ground my rod just about doubled - I thought it might have been a shark to start off with."

Bringing it in was "heart attack" material, he says.

He lived to tell the tale and has a photo as evidence.

The Sweet Georgia is owned by Morrison's mate Paul "Gubby" Gubb. The pair have known each other for decades and their friendship is obvious.

"He's a great guy; you won't get a more stand-up man," Gubb says.

The pair both used to own baches in Tory Channel in the Marlborough Sounds. It was a "magic" place where Morrison could row out in the morning in his old dinghy and catch a fish or two for breakfast.

It's clear what a family man Morrison is as his face lights up when he talks of his three children, one a stepson, and five grandchildren.

One of his sons, Mark, is a mountain guide, currently in Nepal leading a group of Americans in an area called the "death zone". Morrison admits to having a few worries about his son's adventurous lifestyle. "But I've always been a believer in following your passion."

Morrison's arrival into the world in 1947 was a little unorthodox - he was born in a hallway of Wellington Hospital. "I gather I was in a fair bit of a hurry."

He reckons other Wellingtonians are also passionate about their city and he is pleased to "step up" to run for mayor.

He has been described as politically right of centre but he isn't comfortable with that. "I've dealt with both sides of the spectrum and haven't wanted to be tagged as one or the other.

"A lot of the projects or involvement that I've had have been very much community-based."

He cites his advocacy for artificial sports fields. Wellington's weather can be uncomfortable at the best of times, but during our chat, a nasty storm was slamming the capital. Morrison gazes out the window: "You only have to look at the weather to see value."

Even though he is a former cricket star, having played with heavyweights such as Sir Richard Hadlee, Lance Cairns and Ewen Chatfield, he insists he's about more than just sport.

"I think what are pressing issues in Wellington at the moment are not [about] sport, although it would be nice to win a few more games, but it's about the economy and jobs and growth.

"Wellingtonians have always had passion and enthusiasm about the place and it's a little bit stymied at the moment."

Morrison disagrees with Prime Minister John Key's sentiment that the city is "dying", but says he understands why the Government is "frustrated" with the capital.

The council has a "preoccupation with indecisiveness", he claims.

Morrison's history is dominated by his career as an all-round cricketer and he is now a member of the Basin Reserve Trust.

But the man who played 17 tests between 1973 and 1982 doesn't seem nostalgic. Although he still has his beige one-day match top, these days he doesn't even own a cricket bat.

He also believes the historic cricket ground should not be sheltered from a "major infrastructure project" that he says will move the city into the future.

Morrison was one of the councillors who backed the controversial $100 million flyover that will be built near the Basin.

He has no qualms about the road being so near the ground - because the visual impact is going to be blocked by a new pavilion paid for by the Transport Agency.

The flyover is part of a larger project for a route from Ngauranga Gorge to the airport - a road he says the Government should pay for.

As part of his mayoral campaign, Wellington is dotted with large posters of his smiling face. It's a far cry from the days when he first played cricket for Wellington and newspaper headlines referred to him as "Mystery bowler".

He was once dismissed first ball against England at Lancaster Park in Christchurch, and he got another "golden duck" in Lahore. He's hoping his run at the Wellington mayoralty won't be dogged with similar bad luck.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 02 Oct 2014 06:12:15 Processing Time: 770ms