Author recounts a fashionable life

Author Di Buchan, who grew up in Alexandra, with her third book Aiming High. PHOTOS: JULIE ASHER
Author Di Buchan, who grew up in Alexandra, with her third book Aiming High. PHOTOS: JULIE ASHER
Fascination with the life of a colleague led a former Alexandra woman to write a book about her.

Di Buchan, who attended Dunstan High School in the 1960s and now lives in Otaki, was back in Alexandra last week.

One of six children, she was keen to become a foreign correspondent, so volunteered to proofread at The News after school.

Buchan wrote a column for the newspaper about life at school but stopped when a column she wrote on alcohol consumption by pupils was vetoed by the principal.

She was so annoyed she handed in her prefect’s badge, although her mother insisted she ask for it back the following day, Buchan said.

However, she gave up writing the column as she had lost heart.

The book tells the story of entrepreneur Byron Brown and his granddaughter Mary-Annette Hay, an...
The book tells the story of entrepreneur Byron Brown and his granddaughter Mary-Annette Hay, an artist, broadcaster and one-time ‘‘Queen of Wool’’ for the NZ Wool Board.
Her first job was as a cadet teller at the Post Office Savings Bank in Dunedin, and the work suited her as she loved meeting people, she said.

That passion for people led her to a varied career including writing three books.

Last year Buchan was awarded a QSM in the King’s Birthday honours for her community and environmental work.

Her latest book Aiming High tells the story of Byron Brown, known as "the father of Otaki", and his granddaughter Mary-Annette Hay.

Buchan met Hay when she was chairwoman of the Wellington Civic Trust and Hay was a trustee. Buchan said she was a very glamorous woman who had been an actress, artist and wool promoter.

When Buchan and her late husband Michael Moriarty moved to Otaki they became closer as Hay lived nearby.

Hay’s stories were fascinating and Buchan kept thinking someone should write them down. Eventually she realised that someone was her.

"I thought I just have to do it."

Hay was 96 when they started the book and sharp as a knife, Buchan said.

It quickly became obvious she could not write Hay’s story without including Brown, as he had had such an influence on her life.

Brown was an entrepreneur, developer and philanthropist who, in the 1930s, gave the land for the first children’s health camp in New Zealand — Raukawa (later Otaki) Children’s Health Camp. Roxburgh Health Camp was the second.

Buchan’s first book Sun, Sea and Sustenance tells the story of the first health camp, which was established "for undernourished children — to give poor city children two weeks annually by the sea".

Four months after the death of Brown’s wife Susie, their granddaughter Mary-Annette was born.

The pair were always very close, Buchan said.

Hay grew into a remarkable and confident woman because of her grandfather’s influence. At the age 23, she was given the position of wool promoter at the New Zealand Wool Board but was told she would not be paid until she proved her worth.

When Hay turned up for her first day there was no telephone in her office.

"So she went off to the chief post office, in Wellington, and said she needed a phone because this really important position had just been created at the wool board and they needed a phone.

"So the head of the post office said ‘of course my dear, there couldn’t possibly be a job like that without a telephone. We’ll get one put on this afternoon’."

As she left the office the man said she should tell her boss he had a great little lady sorting out things for him.

"He had no idea that she was the person who had the job."

The book was launched with Hay present, wearing her red shawl, which has been donated to Te Papa.

In 2007, Hay donated her collection of fashion and promotional materials to the museum, which dubbed her the "Queen of Wool".

About six weeks after the book launch, Buchan was with Hay when she died in January this year, holding her hand and reading to her from their book.