Graeme Glass - From the pond to the podium

4 minutes read
Posted 12 June, 2024
Graeme Glass in his happy place on the ice copy

Graeme Glass on the ice

From bagpiping ice hockey star to organic farmer and health food retailer, Graeme Glass has always followed his passions, rather than following the crowd.

A farm boy from Albury, South Canterbury, Graeme was immersed in rural life growing up. As kids it was straight off the school bus for the whole district and onto the ice. The prestigious national Erewhon Cup, currently held by the Queenstown Ice Hockey Club, was first played on a pond on the family farm in 1937. “The Opawa Ice Skating Club built the rink years later. I loved watching my dad play ice hockey,” Graeme says. The family has since produced three generations of Erewhon Cup team captains – Graeme’s dad first in 1951, Graeme in 1987, then son Simon in the early 2000s. Simon’s young daughters are now showing great promise.

Graeme also led the first NZ team to bronze at the world championships in 1987. A lack of ice had meant no hockey from 1973 until 1986. Graeme missed playing for NZ again, instead asked to manage, the beginning of a 22-year-stint – 12 as Vice President, then President of the NZ Ice Hockey Federation. It was a huge commitment, travelling to Europe for meetings.

His biggest achievement was setting up the NZ Ice Hockey League, launched in 2005, home team Southern Stampede winning the first two years. “They’re the current champs and won the National League eight times,” he says, proudly.

He also encouraged the developers of a new Queenstown ice arena to build to hockey specifications. League games are still packed with sell-out crowds. “That’s now the biggest sporting event in Queenstown. It’s just mushroomed.” The NZ Federation now has over 2000 members, double the number when he started, and Graeme also helped set up the social Jurassic League with Jeff Hylton locally.

The grandson of a foundation member of the Temuka Pipe Band, Graeme has fond memories of his Grandad playing the pipes on the farm – pipes passed on to him when he learnt to play at Timaru Boys’ High. Winning solo competitions and playing in the Mackenzie and Timaru Pipe Bands, as well as musical director for Temuka, Graeme became NZ Pibroch Piping champion in 1977 and 1980, runner up in 1978, and gold medallist in 1979.

Working back on the farm in Albury after high school, an entrepreneurial spirit had arisen in Graeme. He’d met wife Shirley, from Fairlie, and he and his dad had got into deer farming during its heyday. Simon, and daughter Emma, arriving soon after.

During the 1980s he dabbled in organic farming, long before it was in vogue. “We were about 15 years ahead of our time,” he says. “The neighbours were looking over the fence. I think they thought we were a bit hippy. Dad thought it was pretty whacky,” Graeme grins.

Then the Mount Pinatubo eruption spewed ash across NZ and left them with two summers of drought followed by a huge snow dump in 1992. “I’d had enough of farming so in 1993 we shifted to Queenstown.”

There were no health food stores in town, so they opened Watson Hare Wholefoods. “Rents were among the highest in NZ so after five years we cut our losses, once again ahead of our time.” Legendary mountaineer Bruce Grant was with them though, a regular customer. “I asked him one day what he got up to in the weekend and in his laidback style it took a few goes to discover that he’d skied from the top to the bottom of Mount Cook!” Graeme grins. Another mountaineering legend Dave McNulty taught Graeme about the sport, and they climbed Mount Cook together. Graeme’s also been into backcountry ski touring since the 1990s, seriously since 2009.

After closing the shop he drove for Pipeline Bungy, becoming jumpmaster, and jump controller, continuing the role for 12 years when AJ Hackett Bungy took over. Another 10 years driving for Nomad Safaris’ Lord of the Rings tours, this self-confessed ‘LOR geek’ also guided trips to Skippers, Macetown and up the skifields, retiring in 2021.

Still in demand piping at weddings and parties, Graeme competed in Scotland last year, playing at the highly sought after Royal Braemar Highland Games, the King and Queen present. He’s competed at five Highland Games, making the prizemoney at Lonach. Last year’s trip was made more special, meeting his father’s cousin – doctor to the Royals for 25 years. “He took us to a church service last year where the royals were just 15m away. It was pretty special.”

An annual feature leading the QRC Graduation Parade, a neighbourhood lockdown invitation to play the pipes started a new annual tradition. Graeme now plays a powerful rendition of ‘Nurse Edith Cavell’ for large Anzac Day crowds each year – a lone piper on the Edith Cavell Bridge at Arthurs Point.

Graeme leads the charge at the QRC Graduation parade each year

Graeme leads the charge at the QRC Graduation parade each year


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