New Zealand Law Society - Surfing Dad’s trio of legal ladies

Surfing Dad’s trio of legal ladies

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Gisborne lawyer and life-long surfer Neil Weatherhead’s three daughters all have law degrees, and are all admitted to the Bar, but none practise law.

Izis was the latest to be admitted, in August, following in the footsteps of her sisters Raine and Zaria.

“I imagine there’s been three brothers admitted but I think three sisters is rare,” says Neil.

Neil Weatherhead
Entry to law
Graduated LLB from Canterbury University in 1972. Admitted in 1973.
Sole practitioner at Wilson Barber & Co, Gisborne.
Speciality area
General practice.
Neil Weatherhead
Neil Weatherhead

“I would be interested to know if they are the first three sisters to be admitted. The unique thing is none of them hold practising certificates.”

Izis is a marketing coordinator at Burger King Corporation in Auckland, Raine works for Origin Energy in Queensland and Zaria is secretary of the Gisborne branch of the New Zealand Law Society.

“I don’t know what attracted them to law, I haven’t asked them. I didn’t point them in that direction or encourage them. Perhaps it was the fact that I was a lawyer. They are all hard workers and can apply themselves, and are fairly focused.

“My brother-in-law Phil Dreifuss is a lawyer with Rishworth Wall & Mathieson, in Gisborne. He’s another surfer. His daughter Kim works for Russell McVeagh, in Auckland.

“There’s another niece graduating from Waikato University with a law degree later this year.

“There is a strong legal connection through the family but they need to understand that, for the time being, I am still the family’s senior lawyer.  They can jostle in the wings. I enjoy what I do so I’m not giving up that role just yet.”

Surf life led to move north

Neil came to Gisborne after a North Island holiday with his first wife Wendy.

After he finished his law degree he worked at Corcoran Thwaites and Brown in Christchurch, and during a holiday stop in Tauranga saw an ad for a solicitor in Gisborne.

“I liked Gisborne because had an interest in surfing. I applied for the position but didn’t get it. Later that year Wilson Barber & Co were looking for a solicitor so I got that job and moved to Gisborne in September 1974.

“Ron Barber and Bob Wilson were the partners. Bob retired, Ron carried on and died about five years ago. So I’m a one-man band in a provincial city, with a very general practice.

“I used to do a lot of court work, criminal trial work and family court work. I don’t do criminal work now and limit family court work and don’t go to court very often.

“Dad Hugh had a grocer’s shop in Heathcote Valley, Christchurch, and Mum Catherine worked the shop with him.

“When I was about ten Mum and Dad moved round to Horotane Valley, where they had a market garden and grew tomatoes and lettuces. They were both from Glasgow and came out to New Zealand when they were very young.

“I try to stay active. I’m a well-nourished elderly gentleman. I bike to work and home, it’s flat and 6.5km.

“And paddle around on my surf board. One of the essential things in surfing is getting to your feet quickly. With aches and creaks it’s not easy to leap to your feet quickly.”

Neil and his partner Sharon live at Wainui Beach, 5km from Gisborne, where he enjoys getting out on the water with his surf board. “When there’s a flat sea I do a 2km paddle for a workout.”

“I also go to a dance aerobics class once a week and flap my arms and legs around, trying to do it in time to the music, without much effect.

“I don’t do sport but if I don’t get out on the ocean I often go to the Olympic pool here and swim up and down for two and a half km. I try to do that every night if I haven’t been out on the water.

“I try to keep active and maintain a level of agility and fitness.”

Soldier cousin an inspiration

“I saw a careers adviser at Linwood High School in Christchurch, who suggested, after I did all these aptitude tests, that maybe I might be suitable to try accountancy or law.

“I had an older cousin, Hugh, who enrolled in law at Canterbury but didn’t finish and went to the army.

“He was the first in the family to go to university and that resonated with me in the sense that maybe I could follow the careers adviser’s suggestion and do law.

“There wasn’t any burning ambition to help the under-privileged or the poor.”

“I’m not musical, which is something I regret. I went to guitar lessons when I was 12 or 13 but I was not much good. I wasn’t musically inclined and found it difficult to get into. I had a friend who could play by ear and I always envied him because I couldn’t do that.

“For listening I like Vanessa Mae, Joan Armatrading, Grace Jones and Fleetwood Mac.

“I can’t think of the last novel I read. I read a lot for work and enjoy reading newspapers. Sharon is always reading. Daughter Zaria a ferocious reader, as were Mum and Dad.

“I don’t go to many films and watch news channels, sport, the History Channel and documentaries. Family Guy is my favourite, that is clever.

“Izis spent the last six months of her university time in Milan, so we went there and did northern Italy, two Christmases ago. We visited Florence, Venice and Bologna.

A holiday home ... at home

“I took my sons surfing in Indonesia about 12 years ago. There is excellent surf there. I tended to sit off the break and just watch. Sharon and I went to Perth this year, but I haven’t travelled much.

“My favourite holiday spot in New Zealand is Wainui Beach, where we live.

“Over the summer I put my crayfish pots out, 200 metres in a direct line from my back door. I walk out at low tide, puts the pots in a crevasse or a hole and come back the next morning at low tide.

“It is enjoyable early in the morning when the sun’s coming up and its calm and quiet and a low tide. A magical time.

“We don’t have pets because Sharon doesn’t like the thought of dogs and cats shedding their hair about the house.

“My 2004 Audi A6 needs to be upgraded. And we also have a Ford Territory.

“One thing that made a deep impression on me when I was growing up was a book I was given by my best friend in Christchurch, sculpture Llew Summers, who died in August.

“His father, John Summers, had a second-hand bookshop in Christchurch. Llew gave me a biography of Paul Robeson [American bass baritone singer, actor and civil rights activist, who also held an LLB from Columbia Law School] and that left a deep impression on me.

“So I would like to have Paul and Llew round for dinner. I like cooking so I would cook fish, probably tarakihi or gurnard with salad. I’m about one drink away from being a teetotaller. But usually have a white wine.

“I thought before I went to ‘varsity I wouldn’t mind being a market gardener like Dad. But they discouraged me because it was long hours and hard work over summer in the glasshouses.

“The other thing I looked at but didn’t take very far was air traffic control. I looked at the ads but never followed it up.

“My claim to fame is that about six months ago I lost an eye. This time last year I noticed a floater and a white flash in my right eye. A week before Christmas I got a reminder from the ophthalmologist for a check-up and went in after Christmas.

“Initially they thought it was a detached retina, but it wasn’t. It was cancer in my eye. The cancer was too extensive to operate on so my eye had to go and it was taken out in February.

“I have a flash new artificial eye but it doesn’t work, I can’t see out of it.

“It changes things a bit but you get by. Because we do so much reading and writing in our job I am conscious of it.”

Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. If you think you would make for an interesting profile, or know of someone who would, contact Jock at

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