Stu Robbie rocks away at his stand at the Canterbury A and
P Show in Christchurch this week. Photo by Sally Rae.
Elton John might be the Rocket Man - but Stu Robbie can
lay claim to being the Rocker Man.
Mr Robbie, who has spent all his career working with wood,
went through a "complete revival" four years ago, moving from
making fine furniture to landscape furniture.
While manning a site at the Canterbury A and P Show in
Christchurch this week, the Dunedin man joked he was a
"I absolutely love it," he said.
His trade display was one of 600 at the show. which
celebrated its 150th anniversary during the three-day event.
Originally from Waimate, where he grew up on a strawberry
farm, Mr Robbie always wanted to work with his hands, and
After leaving school, he served his cabinet-making
apprenticeship at well-known firm B.J. Abraham in Waimate,
before moving to Dunedin and starting his own business when
he was 21.
He made both furniture and joinery, later concentrating on
But after decades of crafting fine furniture, he got to the
stage in life he needed a change. A desire to make a rocking
chair led to the formation of a new pathway using his
Macrocarpa timber, some of which he milled from his own
property, was used to make the furniture, coupled with
trad-itional cabinet-making methods.
Rope was incorporated in the designs, while another feature
of his work was the use of brass, with copper nails.
When he first started doing it, his mind "ran wild" with the
"I could do anything. There was absolutely no restrictions
and it was so creative," he said.
Mr Robbie loved the combination of rope and grain, saying it
was something "totally different', and the style was
"I make what I want to make and people love it."
His signature pieces were his rocking chairs and big swing
seats, which he described as the "cream of the cream".
There was an art to making a rocking chair. It required the
right combination of angles and rock, and he believed he had
come up with something that was "absolutely spot on".
He reckoned he could not leave wood alone and he loved both
the feel of it and the grain - "you never know what the grain
is going to be like until you dress it up".
The shape of the timber also dictated what he did with it.
Furniture was not his only foray. At the Canterbury A and P
Show, he had "man platters" for sale, which came with the
tongue-in-cheek warning "women may handle under strict man
While the change in style was a big risk, it had paid off.
Business was "absolutely fantastic", he said.
Mr Robbie and his wife, Shirley, attended about 42 A and P
shows, fetes, fairs and garden events a year.
They included small A and P shows - "which I love doing
because country people are my market" - to the massive New
Zealand National Agricultural Fieldays at Mystery Creek.
Transporting the furniture was a major exercise and required
a large truck.
The couple enjoyed the camaraderie among the stall-holders at
the various events.
"We are gypsies in a way. We just travel. We're on the road
all the time," he said.
However, the beauty of their product meant they could sit
down on the job. "I can rock to my heart's content," he said.
Mr Robbie loved living in Dunedin, which he described as a
fantastic city, and he always loved returning home.
Winter was spent busily making all the components while, in
the summer, he only had enough time to eat Christmas pudding,
He was helped by his original apprentice, Roger Simpson, who
has a small shop in Dunedin.