Zravko Ante (Tony) Brljevich, who died peacefully at his home on January 14, was one of the Far North's characters, and a pioneer in more ways than one.
Born in in 1929, the son of Ante and Katica Brljevich, he had two older sisters, Gladys and Violet, and three younger brothers, Ivan, Victor and Ned. The family lived in a two-roomed shanty on the Sweetwater gumfields, built on skids so it could be moved with bullocks.
The family later moved to the Ahipara gumfields, and then to Waiharara. In 1947, after years of living in gum camps or workers' accommodation, they built a home in Pukepoto Rd, Kaitaia.
Tony was the first apprenticed panelbeater in Kaitaia, training under Noel Morrison, and in 1950 he married Jean Shirley, a teacher from Southland who had taken up a post at Ahipara School. They met at a dance at the Kaitaia RSA, and it was a good match; they shared a long and happy marriage, raising four children — Judith, Ross, Keith and Paul.
In 1952 the couple moved to Kaeo, where Tony established his own panelbeating business, then to Kaikohe, where he worked as a drainlayer for McBreen and Jenkins. In 1956 the family moved again, to Manurewa, where Tony started a contracting business, specialising in road construction and drainage, building up a substantial enterprise.
Given his humble beginnings, the beautiful Brljevich home in Manurewa, complete with tennis court and swimming pool, stood as testament to their hard work and accomplishment.
In 1969 Tony and Jean returned to the North to establish a motor camp at Waipapakauri Ramp. They bought five acres of scrub, lupins and trees on the edge of what is now Te Hiku Forest, and set up home in a garage. The first campers arrived at The Park the following summer.
Over the ensuing years they built cabins and a shared kitchen. The popularity of The Park grew, and it became famous for Tony's spit-roasted lamb, attracting visitors and locals alike.
Tony was a good businessman, an ideas man, and Jean supported him 100 per cent in all his endeavours. In 1980 he came up with the idea of a big fishing competition to draw competitors from all over New Zealand. He approached several organisations, suggesting it as an ideal fundraiser, but none were interested, so in the summer of 1981 he and Jean launched the five-day Ninety Mile Beach Snapper Contest themselves.
It was an ambitious project, which took a lot of determination, organisation, marketing and hard work. The first three competitions ran at a loss, but Tony and Jean persevered. The fourth was a terrific success, and it gathered momentum. Sons Ross and Paul were called upon to help run it.
The competition, which became the biggest of its kind in the world, brought millions to the Far North's economy.
Tony was a quiet achiever who did it his way, always extremely proud of his Far North heritage. He was a member of the Greyhound rugby team, a foundation member of the Pirates Rugby Club and a one-time president of the Awanui Rugby Club. He was a member of the Kaitaia Rotary Club for 35 years, and a president, an honorary member and president of the Camp and Cabin Association, a member of Northland Tourism Association, the Far North Progressive Society, the New Zealand Accommodation Council, the Kaitaia Dalmatian Club and the Awanui Progressive Society.
He received Rotary's Paul Harris Fellowship for services to the community, and a Far North Citizens Award in 2015.
His best friend, wife and partner Jean worked alongside him throughout to the benefit of their community.