For Graham and Anne Stewart 2015 has been a big big year. Grantham House, their Oriental Bay Publishing House, turned 30 this year and in August they moved from their long-time home up the steep hill of Wilkinson Street off Oriental Parade, into Market Lane opposite Amora Hotel in Wakefield Street. The move was prompted by Anne's eye health and involved very considerable downsizing. Graham's enormous collection of books was just one of the problems to be solved.
I've always followed Graham's career with interest. I met him (more years ago than I care to remember). I was a cadet reporter on the Auckland Star (a now defunct evening paper) and Graham was a photographer on the New Zealand Herald. He was obviously 'going places' then. And he did — Royal tours of the 1950s; Sir Edmund Hillary's wedding to Louise Rose; the last TEAL flying boat taking off for Sydney; the last tram from Oriental Bay; the visit to New Zealand of Nat King Cole and also Vice-president Nixon...
He was appointed illustrations editor for the Herald and held that post for many years. He moved to Wellington in 1975 for a position in the old publishing house of A.H. & A.W. Reed. In 1985 he founded Grantham House which he describes as a boutique publishing company which has certainly made a real contribution to pictorial history in New Zealand.
His subject range has included antique furniture, art, architecture, early Colonial toys, New Zealand wars, cricket, New Zealand birds... He published a series on New Zealand tragedies: aviation, earthquakes, fires, railways and shipwrecks and another series on colourful transportation: tramways, merchant shipping, railways and harbour ferries... The transport focus has been enormously popular.
In 2012, the Wellington City Council awarded him with an Absolutely Positive Wellingtonian Award for his advocacy for Wellington charities such as the Wellington City Mission and Ronald McDonald House. He was chairman of the Wellington City Mission Anglican Trust board in the 1990s. Bay View has reported on some of Graham Stewart's career highlights from time to time. One was the occasion when he received the National Press Club's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013 — the seventh recipient of this award and the first cameraman.
At this event Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown outlined some of his career highlights as a press photographer. They included his coverage of the 1951 waterfront strike, the pivotal post World War II labour relations and the terrible Tangiwai disaster. In his reply, Graham gave a fascinating description of the early days of his 60 plus years career, well before television and hourly radio news. He described the cameras back then, which were "as large as a six-pack of beer". Glass negative plates were used and, when on out-of-town assignments, changing bags, with holes for the arms to be inserted, had to be used. One of the most amusing historic events he covered was when he was present at the signing of the contract to build the Auckland harbour bridge. "I was sitting in the co-pilot's seat when daredevil Freddie Ladd flew (illegally) under the bridge before the official opening."
In his early years in book publishing, book designers had to cut and paste with a scalpel every strip of typography on to each page of a book over a light box. They worked with long galleys of type produced on the old linotype machines. "Technology has certainly brought unbelievable changes to all forms of the printed word — and photography — since I started on the road." Over the next few months Graham will consider the future of Granthan's. Like so many booklovers, he laments the alarming reduction in the number of bookshops. In Wellington alone, Parsons, Capital Books and Dimocks have gone; while Whitcoulls now gives more prominence to children's games and toys than books.
Nonetheless this year will still be an exciting one for Grantham's. "I have a number of books coming out," Graham says, "We've just published two rugby books, for instance. One is called Black Jersey, Silver Fern, and tells the little known story of Tom Ellison — the first Maori to captain the All Blacks." In the early days of rugby, Ellison went to the New Zealand Rugby Union and suggested players should wear the black jersey with the silver fern.
Another book, called Just to let you know I'm still alive, brings a new angle to World War I publishing. It shows an amazing collection of postcards sent back to New Zealand from those fighting overseas. There's also a book coming up on the Otago Rail Trail, one of New Zealand tourism's success stories.
So it's difficult to imagine Graham Stewart hanging up his publishing hat just yet!
JCD, Bay View newsletter 66, November 2015