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From bar-tending to caring for those in crisis, Ngapuhi wahine's won wide respect in Arawa territory.

HONGI Hika's Mokoia Island massacre may have been 155 years earlier but when Carol Bristowe arrived in Rotorua, antagonism between Ngapuhi and Arawa lingered.

As a Ngapuhi barmaiding at the Geyser Tavern were most patrons where Arawa, she copped it full force.

She found the unspoken animosity difficult to fathom. That was until her father, a Ngapuhi elder, attended an Anzac dawn parade at Whakarewarewa.


"Every two years the Whaka [rugby] club would go north to play our people. My father was the organiser. As soon as the locals saw him everything changed, he paved the way for me being accepted, I really got to love and respect those people."

It's a two-way street and it didn't hurt that her family name was the respected Pomare.

Close to 40 years on, Carol's back tending bar-in the Lake Rd Sports Bar, the replacement watering hole for the soon-to-be demolished Lake House. Regulars regard her as the establishment's major asset, a super-efficient multi-tasker, the type who has their preferred drink poured the minute she sees them step from their car.

Her bar "snacks" are gourmet feasts.

Scrub any thought of Carol being a Maori version of Coro Street's blowsy, blonde Bet Lynch. She's Bet's antithesis; small, athletically toned and quiet of voice. Pub gossip's not her bag, what she hears remains in the highly classified category.

A near lifetime in hospitality taught her when to zip it and when to offer wise counsel. Wisdom's another of her traits, along with healing.

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I've been blessed with the gift of knowing what's wrong with someone almost as soon as I see them. The other day this guy came in and I knew instinctively he had a sore shoulder. He was a driver; cold wind had been blowing on it.


Massage is another of her skills that would make her CV a hefty document if she had one. She doesn't; her reputation's gone before her. When the Pukeroa Oruwhata Group established the Sports Bar they poached her from a night club to manage it.

So let's take a look at this northerner who's embraced as Arawa's own.

At 16, she was behind a Kawakawa tearooms counter. "I only got two School Cert subjects: art and English."

A year on she became the local pub's cleaner, moving behind the bar the day she turned 18. But since childhood she'd had her sights set on Rotorua.

"It was an exciting place, my family always came here for holidays."

She arrived at 20, the man in her life, Gerald Wilson, left behind. "Once I get it into my mind to do something I've got to do it."

Two years later he followed her, working at Waipa. They joined the mill's fire brigade. "I was in it for the competitions, in those days girls didn't fight fires."

She and Gerald married after their second child's birth. He was only weeks old when he was whisked away to be whangied (adopted) into his Ngapuhi family, not returning until he was 17. Two more girls were born before the couple separated.

The solo mother volunteered for the Whaiora Whakaruru counselling service, a stepping stone to becoming Rotorua Women's Refuge co-ordinator. Such intense work took its toll; Carol stepped down but those in crisis remained her speciality. Her home became home to kids she found living rough. With the family budget was already under pressure, there was never any question that they wouldn't be fed.

"As long as you've got milk, butter and flour you can makeameal, bread and jam's very filling."

Carol's an ace bread maker. What income she had came from working nights at the Lake Plaza, waitressing for hangi and conferences. Becoming a caregiver at Western Heights kindy took her back to a career in caring.

"My first client was a girl with Down Syndrome."

She continued the work with disabled pupils at Sunset Primary then Intermediate. However Aussie beckoned. In Canberra she nurse-aided for the elderly.

"That lasted six months, I was horribly homesick, missed my children too much."

She was caring for local adults with disabilities when the Citz's Club lured her back to hospitality. Carol spent four years behind the bar before winning the tender to run the restaurant, doing so for the next seven years. Fret about catering for a dinner party?

Ponder on this: Carol could be catering for 500 at a time. Came the day the invitation arrived to provide a banquet for an even bigger number-the Maori king included. With guests outstripping the Citz's Club capacity the event was moved to the Girls' High Arena.

"Everything that could go wrong did. Bain maries were delivered without plugs. When they arrived they blew the power out. We set the place up with round tables only to be told at the last minute no one could sit with their backs to the king. That sent the fear levels soaring."

Carol being Carol, she had the sensible solution . . . put the king and his entourage on stage. The evening was a smash hit, not a soul knew of the behind-the scenes chaos. From the Citz's Club she moved to the Millennium.

"I was asked to be dining room manager but I didn't want that, I changed from my blacks to whites and became breakfast cook. I can fit in anywhere."

With Carol Bristowe that's a given. Work apart, she's a super fit sportswoman. She's coached netball, walks everywhere (she doesn't own a car), and has fast paced the last two marathons.

"I got back in time to open the bar, this year I'm going to run it."

Her key to successful bartending?

"It's all about hospitality, making your clientele happy-wanting for nothing."

Born: Kawakawa, 1958.
Education: Kawakawa Primary, Bay of Islands College.
Family: 1 son, 3 daughters, 17 moko (2 pending). "My kids gave me a potted tree with their kids' names and birth dates on it so I can keep track."
Interests: Family. "They are my life, they fill my time when I'm not involved with sport."
Pet hate: Meat. "I can't get it into my mouth. I can smell when people have been eating meat."
Personal philosophy: "Share, count your blessings."