‘Happy-hearted’ Fae’s big milestone

Fae Robertson started colouring her hair to cheer herself up when she struck some health wobbles....
Fae Robertson started colouring her hair to cheer herself up when she struck some health wobbles. PHOTO: PHILIP CHANDLER
Fae Robertson says her mum gave her "a happy heart". 

Turning 80 last Saturday, and a month off retirement, the long-time Queenstowner - co-winner of a ‘lifetime contribution award’ in 2019 - tells Philip Chandler what her favourite community role’s been, and why she’s down to one eye.

If you compiled a list of high-contributing Queenstowners, kind-hearted Fae Robertson would be at or near the top.

For a start, there’s her longevity as a travel consultant.

She started, aged 15, in 1958 - two years before TV arrived in New Zealand - and, though she’s had some years away, is only retiring next month, 66 years on.

Fae’s also had many community roles, like with Showbiz Queenstown since the mid-’70s, Victim Support for the past 31 years, training public speaking, taking weddings and funerals, and assuming ministry and other roles in the Catholic church - even serving as international secretary for the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations.

For the past five years she’s also suffered a bad right eye that was finally taken out last month - ironically, her employer is the isite visitor centre.

Raised in Invercargill, Fae moved to Queenstown in 1957 - population 600-700 - when her stepdad Owen Lockhart got a joinery job here.

Having been used to a convent education, she found the district high school "extremely rough", and determined to leave.

She successfully applied for a travel apprenticeship with the government tourist bureau at a Steamer Wharf office housing several departments.

When she told her parents, they said they’d discuss it overnight - "it was the longest night in my life".

Her mum only stipulated, "you will not wear nylon, you’re only 15, and there will be no dating until you’re at least 17".

Fae says her first errand was fetching a box of glass-head nails - she told her boss her dad was a joiner so she knew they didn’t exist.

As part of her apprenticeship, she travelled around NZ inspecting tourism product including hotels and motels and writing reports.

She was even briefly sent to Melbourne to sell NZ to Aussies.

Playing a character in Showbiz Queenstown’s The Doo Wop Club in 1992. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Playing a character in Showbiz Queenstown’s The Doo Wop Club in 1992. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Fifty-nine years ago, she married (later long-time chief fire officer) Bob, and subsequently they had three children.

Fae’s been a lifelong Catholic but says in her early Queenstown years the churches worked together and she even sang in the Anglican choir for 10 years.

"They made me a robe on the 100th anniversary of the church and let me lead the choir in - I said to my parish priest, ‘am I committing mortal sin?"’

She was involved early on with the then-Queenstown Musical and Operatic Society - her stepdad was stage manager and even wrote a show, Beyond the Moonlight.

Now a life member, she chaired the society for four years and organised their first sponsorship - with Shotover Jet - so they could employ a producer.

Fae played the mother of a gangster in 1992’s The Doo Wop Club and, as she’d just had her back rebuilt, was lifted on and off the stage - "I got an award for the ‘most bracing’ performance".

Her favourite community role’s been with Victim Support, where her empathetic nature has helped visitors who’ve lost loved ones while here.

After getting fully trained, she persuaded her committee to follow suit in case there were big emergencies.

"In the old days the police picked you up - a good way to get the neighbours thinking you were up to no good."

For 22 years she’s also headed their fundraising, saying they’re grateful to Bannockburn’s Carrick Peonies for growing flowers they sell each year.

Fae says she’s forever taking courses to upskill herself - "I’ve always wanted to learn more, that’s probably weird for people of my age".

She attributes her positive nature to her mum, Maureen.

"She had the most beautiful heart you’ve ever seen and she said, ‘Fae, you get five minutes for a ‘poor me’ and after that you get on with your life’."

Her "misbehaving" right eye goes back to shingles in her head five years ago, she says.

"For over four years I had the worst eye you’ve ever seen and incredible pain.

"I just said to the specialist, ‘could you please take it out? I’d rather have one I can see out of than the other being what it is’."

She admits she’s also had other ailments.

"I say I’ve still got my heart and my liver, everything else is on loan".

Ideally she’d work till she’s 90, "but then I thought, am I keeping a young person out of a job?"

In retirement she’ll learn to play the piano and possibly te reo Maori, but, typical Fae, will still look for more ways she can contribute.