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Call of the wild inspires hunter-lawyer

15 July 2020

Active hunter, book collector and outdoorsman Gwyn Thurlow says he has managed to make big decisions when a lot of other people would not have.

That’s why he recently made the leap from the pinnacle of corporate finance law to a new role as the first chief executive of the New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association (NZDA).

Gwyn’s role at the NZDA is to represent its 8,500-strong membership and network of 48 branches. The NZDA was established in 1937 and runs volunteer programmes, holds community gatherings, and offers hunter training courses.

NameGwyn Anthony (Gwyn) Thurlow
BornPahiatua
Age36
Entry to lawGraduated LLB, BCom (Management and Marketing) from Otago University in 2007. Admitted in 2008.
WorkplaceChief Executive and general counsel at New Zealand Deerstalkers Association, Wellington.
Speciality areaPublic law, mainly issues facing firearms owners and recreational hunters in national parks, and charities law.

Formerly a tax consultant with KPMG, followed by six years as a senior lawyer with Sydney law firm Gilbert and Tobin, and more recently as a senior associate in Chapman Tripp’s banking and finance team, Gwyn made the decision to follow his outdoors passion.

Gwyn Thurlow 2

“I thought that with personnel issues in the Department of Conservation, political issues, and the headwinds against the rural sector, recreational hunters and firearms owners, I needed to apply my ability to my own passion and make sure we have all these things that we have now in 50 years,” Gwyn says.

“Making the leap was a big decision but I did it.”

A member of the NZDA since 2003, he has helped with the association’s legal affairs. He is a member of the Wellington NZDA branch, where he is the treasurer and vice president. He is also secretary of the NZDA National Heritage Trust and on the committee overseeing construction of the National Hunting Museum and Deerstalkers House in Wellington.

Gwyn says he is excited by the challenge and as a keen hunter and proud NZDA member understands the expectation that comes with the role.

Hunting and fishing opportunities

Growing up on a farm in Pahiatua, near Palmerston North, where his mother Suzanne hails from, Gwyn also has strong connections to his father’s farming heritage in Murchison. “The Thurlows are a long-standing family in Murchison – they broke the bush in,” he says.

“My dad Peter grew up hunting in Murchison, as did my grandfather. Growing up we were always around firearms and hunting and that rural background - I have that strong connection in my family.

“The reason the Thurlows emigrated from England and settled in New Zealand was the opportunity to hunt and fish. They came here for a better life.

“That was always a big part of Dad’s side of the family. There are hunting and fishing outdoors opportunities we have here that you don’t have in the UK.

“I developed an early interest in hunting, the outdoors and camping.”

His interest in firearms developed when he went to Otago University and got his firearms licence. His first rifle was an American-made Browning bolt action 7mm-08, with traditional wooden stock.

“I shot my first deer at 18, out with my uncle in Nelson Lakes National Park, on a camping trip in the middle of winter. I shot it in the middle of nowhere and carried it out. Doing it the hard way.”

Gwyn’s father has a law degree from Canterbury University at a time when there were few law jobs around and didn’t practice. His sister Jane is clinical psychologist manager at the Corrections Department and his brother Brent is senior legal counsel at AMP in Sydney.

“I didn’t grow up with law. It was something I only got into once I got to Otago and saw fellow students doing first-year law so, in my second year, I decided to give law a go.

“I liked the sound of it and what they were learning. I didn’t come to law by design, more by interest.

“While I enjoy the arts, I am not a creator - I took the sporting route and misspent my teenage years playing cricket, as a batsman who bowls.”

Gwyn played representative cricket all through the age groups in Wellington, and was part of an Upper Hutt senior men’s team that won the national club competition one year.

“At university I fell off the sporting bandwagon, got into hunting and gave cricket away after university. My recreation became hunting.”

He prefers to get away hunting deer, tahr and chamois for longer periods, taking a week’s getaway holiday in a big hunting block, or having weekend trips into Tararua, Wairarapa, or Remutaka.

“I shot my Browning A Bolt 7mm-08 for year, and now have reverted to a modern Montana 99 in 7mm-08, with stainless steel barrel with carbon fibre stock. It does the job.”

The collector

As a collector of sporting rifles, Gwyn has all the “nice-to-haves” such as old Mauser 98s, .303s, Long Toms and collectable pre-64 Winchester Super Grade models.

“I’m not a music snob and listen to everything. I like rock bands, Jack Johnson and Blink 182. On a long-haul drive I like chill-out music and punk rock.

“I’m a big reader of non-fiction, but if I was to read fiction it would be Lee Child (Jack Reacher), if I want my brain to switch off.

“I read a lot of New Zealand history books and have a big collection of New Zealand hunting books, nearly 500 books - every hunting book written in New Zealand including way back to the very first.

“I waste a lot of time in second-hand bookshops, which is fun, collecting those books. Hunting and the outdoors is the subject most written about in New Zealand literature.

“Some of the first books ever written about New Zealand were about tourism and hunting and fishing opportunities. Some of the first government books ever printed were by a chap called T.E. Donne on the acclimatisation of animals.

Gwyn Thurlow 3

“I have a particular interest in hunting and shooting books - many of them were printed in London because we did not have printing in the early days.”

Gwyn’s 18-month-old son Freddie usually decides what is watched on television but at night Gwyn’s favourite is British drama on Netflix – Killing Eve and Vikings.

His wife Ellen Fox is operations manager for Wellington modular building company EasyBuild, run by her father Mike and his business partner Luke Ryan.

“One of the reasons we came home from Sydney was for Ellen to get into the family business. The company’s work includes supplying social houses to governments, houses to the Chathams and a big project for one of the church charities. Everything is shipped in a container and assembled on site.”

Ellen managed the build of the couple’s modern home, which has high-speed internet connection instead of a phone line or TV aerial.

An elk of a job

“My other hobby is travel and I have done a lot, I backpacked through South America, all through Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Peru, the Inca Trail and the Amazon Basin.

“In North America, I salmon fished in Alaska, hunted elk in Wyoming with my brother, who was an Alaskan guide. We figured out how to do it as foreigners, got the permits, the gear, flew over and got the job done. It was interesting seeing a different system to New Zealand hunting.

“I have been through Europe and the Mediterranean heaps of time the UK, the Alps, Germany, Australia, the Pacific Islands and Asia. I have been privileged to do some long trips including six months with Ellen through Europe in a rental car.

“The glacier country on the West Coast is my favourite holiday spot in New Zealand. I was a guide on Fox Glacier while at university and it has a special place in my heart. I have hunted deer, chamois and tahr there. There’s no people, but lots of walking tracks.

“I drive a grey two-door short-wheel base Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, with all the off-road gear - and I thrash it.

“I would have American President Theodore Roosevelt round for dinner and I would ask him why he created the national parks network. I would want to talk about all his adventures. He had an amazing life. We would need to do lunch and dinner.

“I would serve New Zealand lamb and salmon and elk, which he would help get here, and have a good Hawke’s Bay Gimblett Gravels syrah. I would show him what his gift did for our country.”

In 1905 Roosevelt gifted wapiti elk from Yellowstone National Park to New Zealand to establish a herd in Fiordland.

“I’ve always being open to a big change or an opportunity. I’ve never been left wondering and always put my hand up for something, whether it’s a hard transaction or a big opportunity.

“The first opportunity was moving to Auckland to take the job at KPMG. The next one was going to South America and then moving to Sydney with $500 to get a job and become a commercial lawyer.

“I got on the biggest and best team in Australia and ended up working for the biggest private equity companies doing the biggest M&A deals. The highlight there was privatising the New South Wales power grid, the biggest ever deal done in Australia.

“It was a $10 billion deal when the New South Wales government privatised the power network. I did that, acting for a big syndicate of lenders. It was probably one of the last big deals in Australia.

“I lived an interesting high-speed M&A life as a glamorous Sydney lawyer. Then we decided to come back to Wellington and I joined Chapman Tripp.

“The highlight of that work was being seconded to the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), where I did all the legal setup for the PGF. I was on that from day one setting up contracts and advising.

“Another career highlight was as Crown Irrigation’s lawyer drafting documents for the Waimea Dam in Nelson, which is being built now.

“I have been privileged to do these transformational transactions for nations. It is cool to know you work on these important deals and make them happen, and do big closings.

“If I wasn’t a lawyer I would have quite happily been a farmer. Beef and sheep, not dairy. A humble farmer.”

Last updated on the 15th July 2020