Graham Stewart - National Press Club Lifetime Achievement Award


Nag mihi nui o te po

E nga iwi, e nga mana, e nga reo

tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

Good evening

It brings great pleasure to welcome you here this evening to honour a most distinguished Wellingtonian, Graham Stewart. Someone who has penned many a love-letter to Wellington in book form, a person who is an absolute pillar of the media fraternity, and someone who shares with me a passion for good transport, rail and trams!

Last year I helped launch Graham’s 22nd book, Wellington: A Portrait of Today and Yesterday.

As much as it captured the beauty of Wellington’s past and present, it also reflected the extraordinary talent of Graham and his passion for our city.

As a newspaperman in 1953, Graham first stepped into our Council Chambers 60 years ago, to cover the presentation to the City of the silver-gilt ceremonial Mace by the Borough of Harrogate in England.

Graham became a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2011 for services to historical research and photography.

Last year I was delighted to award Graham the Absolutely Positive Wellingtonian award, recognising a lifetime of service and achievement to our city.

Graham Stewart’s career in publishing spans over 60 years. He has produced many notable pictorial histories of New Zealand through his Wellington publishing firm Grantham House, established in 1985 in Oriental Bay. He has over 100,000 copies of his books in circulation.

As a young photo-journalist he witnessed several momentous events, including the 1951 waterfront dispute, the Tangiwai Railway disaster, and the last tram from Oriental Bay.

Beyond the indelible mark those three events left on New Zealand, they are also linked by the theme of transport. To this day Graham’s healthy fascination with transport remains.

It is 40 years since Graham’s first book, The End of the Penny Section, was published. It was launched by Lord Montague of Beaulieu who was visiting New Zealand at the time and became the best-selling non-fiction New Zealand book for 1973, and is still acknowledged as the definitive history on public transport in this country.

Graham has been instrumental in preserving our city’s history with rail, and provided his considerable wisdom to the rail heritage pylon project that Council unveiled last year.

I’d like to share a quote he sent me from his first book, written 40 years ago and still true today:

“Cities have slowly been demolished and reshaped to accommodate motor transport, and large areas laid waste as motorways were provided to bring more and more vehicles into city streets already congested to the point of thrombosis”.

Graham’s heart and mind has always been focused on the big picture, the things that matter, the infrastructure of the world we live in.

Writing and transport are, however, just two of the things we can celebrate about Graham.

As well as his extensive publishing career, Graham has founded New Zealand’s largest transport and social history museum, the Museum of Transport and Technology, and been heavily involved in many charitable trusts such as the Wellington City Mission and Ronald McDonald House.

Graham was chairman of the Wellington City Mission Anglican Trust board in the 90s, at a time when there was less money going into the public purse and greater pressure on institutions.

I congratulate Graham on his achievements. He has done so much to preserve the story of our city, our communities and our institutions, and I applaud the National Press Club for honouring Graham today.

The speech delivered may vary from this text.