Training the lens on career trailblazer whose business heritage is Rotorua's heritage

If anyone can claim long, long links to Rotorua's business community it's Chiria Gould.

Rotorua's been her home 89 years; her paternal side, the Lees, planted their family tree in the district more than a century ago. But it's by her married name, Gould, most will associate Chiria. Gould Photographics under various trading names has been an integral part of the city for 60 years.

Last week the Gould family turned the key for the last time on their Tutanekai St premises, their's had been one of the city's few remaining solely family-operated businesses.


For the family matriarch it was one of those moments literary types refer to as "bitter sweet".

Of course she's sad but she's also a realist.

"I don't think very much of it closing down, but the reality is my boys [Mark and Greg Gould] are reaching retirement age and, to be honest, I'd rather they did close up than someone new coming in and carrying on with it."

Mrs Gould, as her family respectfully refer to her so we shall too, has spent many a moon behind Gould's counters and did so until shut-up-shop day.

Son Greg says if she hadn't he'd never have been able to "practice" his beloved bowls or brother Mark serve what's now his fourth council term.

But it's their mum's Rotorua heritage we're here to tap into, setting the scene with those pioneering days of the Lees.

In 1913 the brothers settled on a balloted farm at Atiamuri, their introduction to "town" coming when the family clubbed together to buy land near what we now know as Koutu Corner, then outside the borough limits.

Mrs Gould's aunt, Eva Lee, opened a grocery store there, Lee Bros set up next door, their first big build the municipal abattoir.

Mrs Gould was a Lee Bros board member until the business was sold to Carter Holt Harvey in 1986.

Jack Lee's daughter's birth, a year after Lee Bros opened, was in the then family home, on the corner of Grey and Lytton streets, the name he gave her is Indian in origin, he'd lived there as a youngster.

Until she won a scholarship to Havelock North's Woodford House at 14, Chiria's upbringing was, by her reckoning "sheltered".

"My sister, Gloria, and I weren't allowed to play outside our Carnot St property unless it was with our cousins living nearby. When I went to Miss Douche's private school in the St Luke's Hualapai St hall my teacher walked me to school."

Moving on to Rotorua High School she was permitted a bike.

She scoffs off any suggestion of hanky panky at the co-educational school. "The boys played out the back, the girls stuck to the front."

Out of Woodford House she became a career trailblazer, one of four females in a class of 25 at Auckland University's school of architecture.

"After two years I was considered sufficiently experienced to join Lee Bros and design houses. I was drawing plans for State Advances houses being built at the rate of knots for the district's rehab farms, designed lots of places for Aucklanders flocking to build at the lakes.

"Rotorua Tile Company contracted me to estimate quantities and costings for roofs so it was work, work, work for me."

Table tennis was Chiria Lee's release valve; through it she met David Gould, he'd not long arrived from London where he'd been a Reuters photographer-correspondent.

When they married photographs of happy couples were a popular feature of this newspaper's forerunner The Morning Post. Chiria Gould's is of her alone.

"The photographer mucked up the developing chemicals, cutting David out."

David Gould knew he could do better on the picture processing front, opening his first shop on the corner of Tutanektai and Eruera streets in 1956. It was in the two-storied building his bride had designed. He'd been in business two months when a uniquely Rotorua phenomenon struck.

"A geyser erupted under the floor. We were at the pictures, our name flashed up on the screen with instructions to go to the shop immediately, when I saw the damage I thought 'at least we're insured' but no, we weren't, it was considered an act of God."

A land agent offered them space for Mrs Gould to take picture orders, her husband processing them in the family's laundry he converted into a dark room.

By then they were living in the Ashley St home that was another Chiria Gould original "the first house in Rotorua to have a flat roof".

Business boomed, Camera House bought the Goulds out, offering David the manager's job at its Queen St store. Two years on he fell down steep stairs carrying a projector; the mishap brought the Goulds home. Mrs Gould was delighted. "I hadn't liked Auckland at all."

By then the parents of four, the Goulds established the White Pine Coffee Shop at Tutanekai St's southern end.

"We served the first percolated coffee in Rotorua, I made all the sandwiches, pies, pastries, an awful lot of sausage rolls came out of that kitchen."

After selling up "for quite a nice profit" it was back to the camera business for David Gould while Mrs Gould joined Rotorua Electricity as a draftswoman.

"I used to walk almost the length of Tutanekai St to take the family's lunches to them, they'd have starved if I didn't."

When a second shop was opened Mrs Gould swapped her drawing board to manage the existing business.

In 1991 David Gould suffered a fatal heart attack, at the time he'd been en route to America to be presented with an international award from his achievements in photography.

His sudden death cemented Chiria Gould as the helmswoman of the company her husband founded, operating from the various premises it occupied.

After such an active business life what of her future?

Her answer's unequivocal: "I plan to put my feet up and enjoy my family in a more relaxed way. I'm very proud of the way they have worked so hard for the sake of the business."

Born: Rotorua, 1927.
Education: Miss Louche's Private School, Rotorua High School, Woodford House, Auckland University.
Family: Two sons, two daughters, seven grandchildren, five great grandchildren.
Interests: Family, knitting, crochet, foundation member and former vice president Rotorua East Bowling Club, former member Probus.
On the Rotorua of her childhood: "Arawa St was the shopping street, there were lots of guest houses for the visitors who came on the train."
Personal philosophy: "Don't let ageing get you down, it's too hard to get back up."