Our People: Rosemary Michie

By Jill Nicholas

"Rosemary's reluctant''. There, we've kept our promise to Rosemary Michie to repeat those words at the earliest possible opportunity.

They're ones she used to emphasise her reluctance to talk to Our People, insisting she's too "old hat'' to be profiled.

That's such a silly statement it makes us want to eat or own headgear.

Reluctant she may be, but Rosemary Michie's contribution to Rotorua and the wider region since her 1972 arrival, via Canada, has been comprehensive.

She spent 12 years as a district councillor, served nine years on the regional council, has twice stood (unsuccessfully) for Labour at parliamentary elections, chaired the Mt Ngongotaha Restoration Trust and been involved in a mind-spinning list of committees and organisation. An MBE recognises her service.

Away from the public arena, family's paramount. Having once had three children under  2-and-a-half, she identifies

closely with struggling young mums.

Health, or more precisely the lack of it, is something else she's encountered at close quarters. In 2003, she contracted the paralysing Guillain Barre syndrome. Reflecting on her unexpected recovery, she considers herself a "walking miracle''.

"I was so immobile I knew I couldn't even commit suicide.''

She's equally chuffed about the way she's bounced back from hip and knee replacements. "I'm a recycled woman;

saying I'm a new woman would be stretching it, but I've definitely got my energy back.''

Energy's been her driving force.

British-born and with Austin as her maiden name, she suspects she and Jane Austen share the same bloodline.

It was during her nursing training that she met  arts-student-turned-national-serviceman Alan Michie. They married and  emigrated to Canada.

"I blamed my mother. She took me to Wild West movies, and I loved all those wide open spaces.''

As their family grew, the Michies moved around Canada until New Zealand beckoned.

"Edmonton was sub-Arctic, 32 degrees below in winter, and one day I decided I couldn't live in that godforsaken climate any longer. I said `we're going to New Zealand'. South Africa was out because of its apartheid, I'd met a few Kiwis and Aussies and I found the Kiwis gentler.''

Alan hankered after a motor camp; Okawa Bay on Rotoiti's shores fitted the bill. The Michies ran it for 10 years.

It was there Rosemary's community involvement began: joining school committees, starting a craft group and

becoming a vocal member of the local ratepayers' association.

"The day I saw Lake Rotorua's awful state I knew I had to do something to help.'' That something was to stand for

the newly-formed Rotorua District Council.

"In 1980 [the late] Matt Tamihana and I were elected to represent the Rotoiti ward. I was on until 1992 when the voters dumped me.''

Did that hurt? "Well, I knew I was up against it when Stephanie Foster [Olympic and Commonwealth Games rower] and Knocker Dean [Ngonotaha's community constable] stood too. It taught me never to stand against a leading sportsperson or a popular cop.''

To fill the work void she conducted labour-force surveys, but her local body years weren't done. In 1995, Rosemary was back at a council table, this time Environment Bay of Plenty. It was her second stint. While on the district council she'd been one of its regional council representatives. She remained until 2004 when her health faltered.

"I got a huge knowledge of the Bay of Plenty and how important its environmental issues are. I now have a good knowledge of things like stopbanks, river management, pests. I think perhaps I should have been a farmer.''

She'd also tuned into national politics, standing for Labour in the Rotorua electorate in 1987 and six years later the then Tarawera electorate.

Rosemary wasn't always left-leaning. "My family were avid Conservatives. I voted Conservative in Canada. When I came here I went to a National Party meeting, they were slating a forestry workers' protest march. I've always been for protests and said so.''

Labour welcomed her into its fold. "It was such fun and I felt very strongly about the anti-nuclear issue.''

Reminding Rosemary that she'd attempted to fob us off because she argued she was doesn't consider she's done much, she relents ... slightly.

"Well, yes, I have been very fortunate to have such a varied public life but to me the greatest blessing is my family.''


Born: Surrey, UK, 1932

Education: Kenley Primary, evacuated to Hertfordshire, aged 7, where schooling continued including St Alban's Girls' Grammar, Leicester Royal Infirmary (nursing training)

Family: Widow, three sons, one daughter, six grandchildren and six step-grandchildren

Local body and community involvement: Rotorua district councillor 1980-1992 chairing parks and community committee, recycling committee; regional councillor 1989-1992 and 1995-2004, chaired Operations and Rural Services Committee, one term as council's deputy chairman. Member of Whangamarino Primary and Mokoia Intermediate school committees, active in Rotoiti Ratepayers' Association, former member Festival Art committee, Life Education Trust, Rotorua Civic Arts Trust, District Community Arts Council, Trust Bank BOP Community Trust, Trust Bank BOP board of directors, chaired QE Hospital Community Trust, member Rotorua Social Services Council, chaired Lakeland Disabilities Support Trust and Mt Ngongotaha Bush Restoration Trust, current president Probus Ngongotaha

Royal and local recognition: MBE 1995, Rotorua Community Services Award 1994

Interests: Family, reading (favours historical novels), gardening, music, politics, history. Member U3A (University of the 3rd Age) current affairs, philosophy and writing for families groups.

Personal philosophy: "The Lord helps those who help themselves.''


- Rotorua Daily Post

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