A book celebrating New Zealand's centenarians is due to be launched in Whāngarei this week.

Keepers of History, by Renee Hollis, tells the stories of 120 people aged over 100, including two Northlanders — Rawene's Bill Tuckey, who died in 2017 aged 105, and Whāngarei's Bob Mulligan, now aged 102.

Tuckey's story focuses on his wife Nora, who died more than 20 years earlier, and how marrying her was the best thing he ever did. He also describes the difficulty of having "sweet eff-all" when they were first married, and his dedication to Rawene. Apart from one short break the Hokianga town was his home from 1928.

Mulligan, a former Whangārei Hospital surgeon, was unusual in that he was the only person in the book who tracked the author down rather than vice versa. He read a newspaper report about Hollis' project and called her to ask if he could take part.


Mulligan's chapter recalls his childhood in Canterbury and Auckland, the Great Depression, his medical career and Air Force service, and how when he first arrived at Whāngarei Hospital operations were still carried out using the ''rag and bottle'' – a rag was put over the patient's face and ether was poured onto it – until he insisted on proper anaesthesia.

Hollis, a former primary school teacher, said she wanted to ensure the elderly and their stories were valued and celebrated rather than forgotten.

Her interview subjects included 23 World War II veterans, farmers, a racing driver, a nun and a member of the world's oldest hip-hop dance group.

The book launch will take place at Merrivale Retirement Village, at Springs Flat in Kamo, at 2pm on Thursday, March 28.

Along with two other centenarians featured in the book Mulligan will also be a guest speaker at the Auckland Writers Festival in May.

Currently the oldest person in Northland is thought to be Lena Walker, who is due to turn 107 in June at Radius Baycare in Haruru Falls, near Paihia. Hazel Fleming, who lives at Kauri Lodge in Kāeo, turned 104 earlier this month.