Kirsty Sharpe - Keeping a ‘Sharpe’ eye on things
She arrived in Queenstown in 1975, coincidentally the founding International Women’s Year. By 1986 Kirsty Sharpe had polled second highest - one of just three women among 20 candidates, on the newly amalgamated Queenstown Lakes District Council.
Kirsty had three sons, including twins, 20 months apart, and some years later served, as a marriage celebrant with ‘Yoko Ono’ and ‘James Bond’ among the 300 or so weddings and wedding blessings she officiated at.
Raised in rural central North Island, near Ruapheu, on a Raetihi sheep farm, the family didn’t have electricity until Kirsty was 14. Kerosene lamps and candles lit the way. Cooking and water heating was on a coal range and a copper used for washing.
She attended Wanganui Girls’ College, before studying a Diploma of Home Science at Otago University. After a short stint teaching, she headed for two years’ OE in London, returning recently to the Country Inn in the Norfolk Broads where she worked in 1970. London film industry administration work followed including plenty of European travel before heading back to Wellington where she met late husband of 48 years Bill Sharpe. “He’d never heard of Raetihi and I’d never heard of Glenorchy where he was from,” she says. “Wellington was full of civil servants and very dull back then, so we moved to Queenstown with its population of 3000 in 1975. There were still houses downtown and some shops closed for an hour at lunchtime.”
They leased Pinewood Motels off Jock Boyd before buying one of Queenstown’s most notorious historic houses in Hallenstein Street – once home to infamous arsonist Philip Waldmann who history records as supposedly trying to burn down the cottage and his shop to claim insurance in 1882. The Sharpes paid $22,000 in 1976, selling an extended version in 2000 for $465,000. “It sold again recently for $4.3m after more improvements.”
Joining the local Toastmistress Club Kirsty became well versed in public speaking and Deputy Mayor Nancy Williams urged her to stand for council. “Nancy was the only woman on the Queenstown Borough Council and the Lake County Council had never had a woman member.” Once the two merged into the new district council, Kirsty, Margaret McHugh and Wanaka’s Brenda Taylor changed all that. Kirsty served nine years on the council, Mayor John Davies immediately making her community services chair.
Very soon after she took on the battle to save the lakefront bathhouse, then just an open shelter, and historic Forester’s Lodge adjoining the old council chambers.
“One of the men on the Lake County Council said they should be pulled down. He reckoned you could lean on the bathhouse and it would fall over,” she says. “I thought, I can’t let this happen.” Kirsty teamed up with local cousin Barbara Simpson’s husband Neill, then the local DOC manager, in a plan which saved the old bathhouse. It was rescued as an architectural office, then became a restaurant.
She even stood for the mayoralty against then Otago MP Warren Cooper in 1995.
Kirsty also later co-chaired Queenstown’s Casino Opposition Action Group.
Local community watchdog Margaret Templeton was Kirsty’s neighbour and kept her well informed. Kirsty later served for 12 years on the Margaret Templeton Educational Trust.
A founding member of Citizen’s Advice Bureau in 1989, Kirsty both worked and volunteered there for 17 years.
As a lay minister for 30 years at St Peter’s Anglican Church, she was once greeting people at the door when confronted by a Sydney male who refused to come in once he realised a woman was preaching. “That same service I had a wonderfully encouraging American Bishop in the congregation who was so excited for me.”
A Justice of the Peace since 1996, Kirsty was urged to become a marriage celebrant, and conducted everything from Japanese and Australasian wedding blessings to weddings for locals and overseas visitors. “I once had a bride called Yoko Ono and another groom called James Bond. He’d been jailed for a night while travelling in Eastern Europe as they wouldn’t believe it was his real name,” she laughs. “It was so much fun, being flown to the top of the Remarkables in a helicopter.”
Kirsty became a strong community advocate for Grey Power, serving as president for about five years, and a member of the Frankton Community Association committee. Her massive vegetable garden has fed many in need and there’s been a bit of time for travel with partner climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger.
This year Kirsty was awarded a QSM on the King’s Birthday Honours list for more than 30 years of contribution to community initiatives.