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Cricket-mad travel blogger and the case of the shrinking ice cream

21 March 2019 - By Jock Anderson

The lure of first-class cricket took Queenstown lawyer Russell Mawhinney around the world - and got him on a sports blacklist - before returning him to practice “just up the road” from his Ranfurly birthplace.

After returning to New Zealand and working in Dunedin for a while, Russell bought his practice in 2002 and has now lived in Queenstown longer than any other place – including Ranfurly.

He is a former member of New Zealand Law Society property law section executive committee and a former one-term Queenstown Lakes district councillor.

Name Russell Eric Wilson (Russell) Mawhinney
Born Ranfurly
Age 58
Entry to law Graduated BA (Geography) and LLB from Otago University in 1984. Admitted in 1986.
Workplace Principal at Queenstown Law, Queenstown.
Speciality area General property and business law.

He has been involved in numerous sports in Queenstown including golf, cricket, football, swimming and karate clubs supporting his children, and community groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, Destination Queenstown strategic review board, Wakatipu Health Reference Group, various working parties and hearing panels while on the council and the local National Party executive.

“This is home now and I’ve got good local connections through my great grandparents, the Chards, who were original owners of Chard Farm, now Chard Farm winery.”

Russell Mawhinney

Chard Farm winery is across the Kawerau River from the Gibbston Highway.

“When I was growing up, Ranfurly and Queenstown were roughly the same size and I remember saying to Dad ‘how come the icecreams are so small in Queenstown’? He told me things were always more expensive up here than in Ranfurly.

“We were farmers in Ranfurly. My Dad, Wilson, came from Ranfurly and my Mum, Gay, from Cromwell. They are retired in Alexandra.”

The top-class cricket career

After completing his degrees at Otago University, he took a year off in 1985 to play cricket in England.

He also played two seasons in Scotland, for Stirling County. “Scotland are pretty strong and they beat England in 2018.” (By six runs in a one-day international in Edinburgh).

His distinguished cricketing career includes captaining New Zealand universities and representing Otago, Northern Districts and Griqualand West in South Africa in first-class cricket for a number of years.

He also played age group rugby for Otago. “I think I kept David Kirk out of the Otago under-20s rugby team.”

Along with thousands of other athletes, Russell was put on an international blacklist when he played cricket in South Africa, in the 1989/89 season.

“South Africa was still in isolation and I wanted to see it through my own eyes. I wanted to make my own judgement. It was a good opportunity to play first-class cricket there and I loved it. The cricket was good, the people were good and it is a fantastic country. It’s a shame about the problems it has got.

“Sport is everything and cricket is a big part of our life. Biking, hiking, skiing and golf. As a family we have just walked the Routeburn Track. Susan is a guide on the Milford Track. I’m doing the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail at Easter.”

Hitting the heights on Everest

Having done all the great walks around New Zealand, Russell and Susan decided to try something quite different and seriously challenging.

“We went to Everest Base Camp. It is one of the tougher things I’ve done. We trained for a few months and off we went.

“At more than 5,500 metres the air is pretty thin and it is really tough going. One foot in front of the other, plodding along.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like for people who climb the mountain. Seems to me there’s a 50/50 chance of coming back.

“We went through an organisation in Kathmandu, with another Kiwi couple and a guy from Italy. We had a local guide and three porters. It was really cold. The warmest place was lying in your sleeping bag, but it was a great experience and the people were fantastic.”

Russell is from a family of four and their parents have unique ways for keeping everyone in touch.

“My brother Jeff is a roading engineer in Cape Town, and his wife is also an engineer, from Namibia. My sister Derryn lives in Carterton and is now a lawyer doing a bit of family law and my younger sister Trish is a management consultant in Hong Kong.

“Mum and Dad have a weekly email that does the rounds of everyone and they are regularly on Skype to South Africa and Hong Kong.”

Russell married Susan 25 years ago on January 1, “so I wouldn’t forget the date” and they have three sons.

The family are great travellers and his sons have had the travel bug from a young age.

Sons Ryan and Mitchell are studying commerce at Otago University and Seth, who is leaning towards surveying, is in high school. Mitchell is going to university in Virginia for six months, where he can continue part of his Otago degree.

“When the kids were young we took them to a lot of different places – the Unites States, South Africa, Hong Kong and China. I did a travel blog which people seemed to enjoy.

“When I tallied up the blogs they came to about 17,000 words. I spoke to someone about how to write a book and published Blogs of the Travel Bugs in 2013. I love seeing how people live and studying people.

“I have written about 55,000 words on another book. For want of a better name at this stage I’m calling it Property Law is my Friend.

“It is designed to be something that is easy to read, practical and based on experience on the ground. It is not a text book and is not aimed at lawyers. It’s aimed at people to give them some insights when they are making decisions around property matters.

“But I’ve been becalmed for about six months, and need to finish it. It has been fun writing it and I have tried to make it timeless. I have made a point of not mentioning one act of Parliament.”

Law an alternative to the farm

“I sometimes wonder what attracted me to law. I didn’t know what a law office environment was going to be like growing up.

“I had been away at boarding school at Waitaki Boys’ High and didn’t really want to go straight back on the farm. I was always going to go to Otago University and study.

“So I thought I would do law. I don’t think it was any calling but I enjoy it. I enjoy interacting with people. I was never attracted to the big city firm environment.

Russell and Susan Mawhinney
Russell Mawhinney and wife Susan
in Mudgee, New South Wales

“I was at the age of making the decision but I wasn’t 100% sure if I would get picked for Auckland or Wellington at cricket.

“When I look back at family history there seemed to be a lot of people who were farmers or lawyers, and involved in sports administration such as the Otago Rugby Union board - that sort of thing.”

Russell wanted a say in community affairs and stood successfully for a seat on the Queenstown Lakes District Council, serving a single three-year term. “I didn’t stand again. I had some frustration about the length of decision-making. I might have another crack at it at some stage.

“I am busy with cricket at the moment, and have organised a couple of tours to Australia.

“We are trying to build cricket up here. I’m involved in the Queenstown schools cricket carnival – which started in 2017 – and has become an international event.

“I am in the process of forming a cricket charity, which will be launching next cricket season. It’s to give people here a bit more incentive to stay in the game.

“We are hoping to tie it in with another charity that sends young cricket people over to Sri Lanka to help under privileged kids - kids who have lost their parents or need to learn to read and write.

“You don’t have to be good players, just have a love of the game. We are looking at having scholarships for young players to go to university. We are working through it with the Wakatipu Community Foundation and we are now formalising our thinking.”

Russell’s love of cricket took him to Hong Kong, where – just after he and Susan were married – he stepped out of law and was chief executive of Hong Kong Cricket and coach of the Hong Kong team between 1994 and 1999.

“I branched out of that and into an organisation called Action Asia. We set up an event called the Action Asia Challenge which was like a mini coast to coast type event.

“It became very popular and before I came back we were working on plans to develop it around Asia and talking to Discovery Channel. In the end that happened and National Geographic came on board and now they have a series of these events all round Asia.

“A bit of biking, paddling, some running, rock climbing. It was fun working on that.”

Trashy novels and 80s music

Scuba diving is another of Russell and Susan’s hobbies. “Boracay in the Philippines is our favourite place. When we get a chance to go to some tropical island it’s generally because we want to have a dive.

“My youngest son Seth plays the saxophone and piano but I haven’t got a musical bone in my body. If you were a boy growing up in Ranfurly you did rugby and cricket. No violin players.

“I love the Maniototo, it’s probably my favourite part of New Zealand. And Queenstown.

“I listen to anything that sounds good and a lot of the time I don’t know who I’m listening to. I like the Beach Boys and 80s stuff from university parties.

“Reading trashy novels is when I know I am on holiday. James Patterson (Alex Cross series, Women’s Murder Club) and John Grisham’s endless legal crime dramas.

“I have read some of Susan’s book club books and some of them are good and some are not me. Apart from that I enjoy it when I can engross myself in a book on holiday, that’s when I know I am relaxing.

“I am addicted to sport on TV. Susan and I go to Dorothy Brown’s picture theatre in Arrowtown, where you sit in a big comfy chair, have a wine and cheeseboard. We saw the new version of A Star Is Born there. Chariots of Fire would probably be my favorite movie of all time but my boys would tell you it is Top Gun.

“We have a 14-year-old wee tabby cat called Loodia, who is part of the family. I have no idea where the name came from. I was brought up with dogs and sheep.

“My smaller four-wheel drive Mercedes GLA 250 is not popular with my younger son because he finds it hard to fit all his cricket gear and someone else’s cricket gear in and still be comfortable.

“But I’ve been traipsing all number of kids all around the district for years to different sports so it was time to go for a smaller car that I can enjoy.

Steamed pudding and custard for Barack

“I would invite President Obama to dinner. He seems like a decent person and would have a lot of stories to tell. But my cooking doesn’t have a lot to recommend it, so it would have to be catered.

“If he wanted a staple it would be what I was brought up with … mutton, veges, gravy, steamed pudding and custard. You can’t beat that. Wash it down with a Central Otago pinot of some description. There’s so many of them and we like them all.”

“I don’t have a particular memorable career moment but I enjoy working for good people. In the type of work we do, all our clients are good people, trying to get ahead, honest, who have done very well and are a pleasure to deal with.

“They are well researched when they come in. They are good to deal with because they know the right questions they want answered. I enjoy the feeling when you have done something that is adding value.

“An alternative career would be something in the sports field. It’s something I have been considering for a while, going back and studying sports sociology.”

“This came up when I was in Hong Kong. I was in Japan helping out the Japan cricket team and the guy in charge, Trevor Bailey, was studying sports sociology through Leicester University.

“We got talking about it and I have been fascinated by it ever since. You see these issues popping up all the time. The Me Too thing in sport, match fixing, gender issues, crowd behaviour etc.

“There’s a good chance I will study that when I’m winding down from law but it will have to be when I am still doing law because I can’t see myself stopping doing this for quite a while yet.”

“I can see myself still here in 10 years, maybe working a bit less, and doing some of these other things I want to do.”

Last updated on the 21st March 2019