Pete Rainey

At Government House, Pete receiving his MNZM in 2013
At Government House, Pete receiving his MNZM in 2013


Musician, teacher, impresario and Nelson councilor Pete Rainey talks to Jack Martin about his vision for Nelson and whether he will run for mayor


WT: What motivates you?

Pete: I guess a desire to contribute. I’ve always had quite a strong sense of community and community involvement, which comes from my mum and dad. Both have been very community-focused over the years, and we as kids from an early age were involved a lot in the community.

What did they do?

Dad was a lawyer. He was very much community-focused, particularly with the Nelson School of Music. He was involved for many years as chairman of the board and head of various fundraising efforts. Mum had a busy time looking after four sons.

What was it like growing up in Nelson?

Nelson is Arcadia now, but it was even better back then. Life is getting more complicated, and although there are lots of things about life these days that are great, things were simpler back in the ’60s.

Do you have a TV at home?

Hardly watch it, and interestingly in the last year I’ve noticed I’m not watching broadcast TV at all. Sometimes the news, but I’m enjoying online content.

What do you watch?

I dabble in Netflix, watching some series. I’m particularly enjoying Arrested Development. Over summer my boys and I were away a lot on holiday while Philippa worked, which is as it should be – don’t put that in! – and we watched about 12 James Bond movies in a row, night after night.

Which is your favourite?

Probably Goldfinger. They’re all good, some better than others. My favourite person is Connery.

Do you find those old movies incredibly slow?

They’re very slow, but still fantastic. And interestingly, the kids, who are 9 and 11, they perceived that they were slow, but they started really getting into the fact that they could identify the characters, the plots and stuff, and they absolutely loved them. Amazing that they would be interested in simple old cheesy James Bond movies. Can you explain that?

All those plot lines are eternal: love, death, betrayal.

I could certainly do with a DB5 with machineguns from time to time.

When dealing with Council members?

No, I’d probably use one of those things that come out from the wheels; those spinning blades.

Can you describe your personality?

I’m an enthusiast. I get enthusiastic about projects and people and things, and over the years I’ve enjoyed putting things in place; creative things. I’m essentially a creative person, and have had plenty of failures in doing that.

Any particularly magnificent failures?

Glenn Common [Rockquest co-founder] and I put on a rock concert in Hamilton during the Rugby World Cup. We were convinced there was money to be made because there were two Cup games in close proximity. It was a spectacular failure.

The rugby fans weren’t into rock?

The Rugby World Cup was a spectacular failure full-stop apart from the rugby. For all the peripheral activities, nobody was interested. People only wanted to watch the rugby games on telly or live, and drink beer. We put on a great show with some really great bands – Shihad and others – and only about 500 people turned up, and there were thousands of people around at the time. They just wanted to drink beer.

What do you think of the idea that large-marquee events like the Rugby World Cup have a flow-on marketing effect. You don’t get people at the time but later …

I’m not sure. Certainly one of the things that sold us as a Council to develop Trafalgar Park and the Saxton Oval was the flow-on effect afterwards, and it could well be years for that to bear fruit. One could assume that a lot of people come to Nelson now because they’ve noticed it a bit more because of the big sporting events. I hope that’s the case because a lot of money went in there.

I always think of the Sydney Opera House. Prior to that the world didn’t think of Sydney in a cultural way whatsoever. 

That’s interesting, and the other interesting thing about the Opera House is that Sydney-siders hated it at the time. It’s often the way that people need to be led.

How about a massive sculpture for Nelson?

That would be great. That concept to do one on Haulashore Island was just fantastic.

What are your hobbies?

Playing music. Dabbling in jazz and playing various other bits and pieces. My other main hobby is getting to Rotoiti, generally focused around boating and classic boating.

Do you read much?

I’m reading a lot online nowadays – more than I should. I have an iPad. I like reading the Sydney Morning Herald.

Any authors; any books?

Not in particular. I feel a bit remiss because I should be reading more.

And obviously you’re mad about music. Any particular music heroes?

I’m not mad about music. I’ve been a musician for a long time. Grew up in a musical family, did a music degree, sang in the Cathedral choir, did a whole lot of things that were very musical so I was immersed in music-making. I’m not necessarily mad about it. I enjoy participating in it and could exist without it but I very much enjoy modern technology, and get involved in things like Spotify, Bluetooth speakers and such. I lean towards the American music scene, whether jazz, country, alternative bluegrass or whatever. I also love classical music, choral music especially.

What would be your perfect weekend?

My favourite all-time activity is cooking. My perfect weekend would be cooking for two dinner parties, one on the Saturday night and one on the Sunday, with the ultimate ingredients and the time to do it.

What would you cook?

You go out and see what’s available. One of the joys of living in Nelson is the abundance of good ingredients, just when the asparagus has gone it’s only a few more weeks and feijoas start coming round the corner.

And wine with that?

I used to drink a lot of wine when I was younger – before kids, when I could afford it. Now, if it’s wet and has a certain percentage of alcohol in it, I’ll drink it. I certainly prefer whiskey – it’s the thinking man’s drink. I enjoy Nelson wine very much. We’re beginning to produce really good aromatics. I enjoy the beer scene, but I just wish it wasn’t quite so expensive.

What did you do before returning to Nelson?

I was at university for a long time because I did doctoral and post-doctoral work. Actually that’s a lie – I took eight years to do a three-year degree. I was particularly bored by university and took a hell of a long time to do a degree, and took years off in between.

Where was that?

At Canterbury. Then I stayed and did a teaching diploma, then taught at some Christchurch schools before I came back. I taught at Christ’s College and at Hornby High, which couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.

What do you think of private schools?

I went to a private school (Wanganui Collegiate) and then went to Nelson College. The most important thing is that kids are engaged and they’re happy. We’ve got some fantastic state schools and I understand why some people would want to send their kids to a private school, but I don’t see the point.

After university?

I came back up to teach in Nelson in 1990. I got the job as Head of Music at Nelson College for Girls, and taught there for six or seven years and amused myself with music-making in Nelson.

You didn’t want to carry on as a teacher?

No, teaching’s not really for me. I’m not a great detail guy. I did enjoy working with kids but to be a teacher you’ve got to be a systems person.

What made you enter politics?

An increasing frustration with what was happening in this city in regards to some of the infrastructural spending, and the attitude of the Council regarding arts infrastructure in a city that has a reputation as being artistic.

The performing arts centre would be one of those things?

Yes, but certainly not the driver. I’m philosophical about a performing arts centre now. It’s something the city would benefit from but I’m not going to die in a ditch about it.

Can you describe your personal politics?

I guess left-of-centre.

On everything?

Not at all. I come from a family that was immersed in business in Nelson so I very much believe that it’s good to be able to make things and sell them and have a business. Economic prosperity leads to social wellbeing and all those other things. But yes, I’d say I lean left-of-centre, especially at the moment.

Because John Key is in power?

I’m tremendously impressed with how he’s kept going for such a long time. A lot of things are going extremely well, and they’re not to do with the National Party, and it certainly is pretty amazing the amount of things they’ve done that would generally have pissed a lot of people off over the years and that they’ve gotten away with.

Any particular thing?

I don’t think they’ve been truthful with the electorate. I was particularly aghast leading into the last election, not just because of the Nicky Hager book, but the kind of stuff that was going on was just outrageous and they just absolutely got away with it.

More so than in previous years?

Probably not, but they were adopting a model used overseas in America and the UK. In saying that, there’s a whole bunch of things that are good, but generally the tone of the current Government is to pass a lot of stuff that previously was under their wing onto local government and onto individuals.

Do you mean welfare?

Not just welfare. There’s a whole range of things in society that previously the Government would have taken care of that have either gone or been passed onto other agencies or other levels of government to deal with.

Would you take your political career further to solve those problems?

No. I enjoy living in Nelson too much.

What’s it like being a local councillor?

I really enjoy it. You have to have a fairly thick skin, but it’s people’s undeniable right to slag councillors off. That’s okay – you don’t go into the job to win friends. Well, you do once every three years.

Do you think the three-year term is a good length?

It’s too short. Four years would be the optimum because by the time you’ve really got things going you’re coming to the end of it.

What are your thoughts on the gondola?

It has the potential to make a huge difference to this region.

From what I hear it’s the executive rather than the councillors who are holding it up?

Well, it’s tricky for me because I’m conflicted around the Council table from talking about it because my brother is the chair of the gondola society. I just think we have a risk-averse Council administratively, and I’m not going to criticise anybody at all because that’s their role to be risk-averse. They feel it’s their responsibility to safeguard ratepayers from potential economic disaster, and to a certain extent I agree with that. But there’s a level of involvement with a project like this that would trigger private investment and private enthusiasm. It would be so easy to get there.

Rocks Rd? 

I’m an absolute enthusiast for doing more on the waterfront. It’s one of the great tragedies of the city that the port company has been able to snaffle so much of the interaction between the land and the water. That’s why I pushed extremely hard for the purchase of the Anchor building and the surrounding land. I’m very excited by the prospect of the cycling and walking promenade around the waterfront.

And the Southern Link?

You need to be rational as to why you’d build it, and at the moment there’s no rationale to justify it. Just to say that it would relieve congestion is not enough. Just to say it would transform the waterfront, without saying how, is not enough. Just to say it would trigger economic prosperity for the region without being able to justify that is not good enough.

Surely removing the state highway would reduce traffic on Rocks Rd?

Would it? One of the problems that happens worldwide is if you build more roads you get more cars.

But if you remove the state highway you can slow down traffic on Rocks Rd.

You could do that now. Heavy traffic numbers in NZ are dropping. Your article in the last magazine where the Mayor and the local MP were waxing lyrical about the waterfront and the Mayor was saying it was one of the most undeveloped waterfronts in the country, well I completely agree. But why would you not invest in the waterfront as opposed to a road one valley over? So, for instance, if you had $60m to spend on a road, why would you not spend $2-3m on an underpass at Nelson College, and $3m on sorting out a free-flowing solution at the Tahuna intersection. Maybe even a bit on public transport and then $30-40m into the waterfront and promenade. That would unlock the potential of the waterfront as opposed to just shifting the road and hoping it was going to work. Saying that it will unlock prosperity for the region is just rubbish. How would it do that?

By making Rocks Rd beautiful?

It’s beautiful already. Essentially the Southern Link project has halted progress on the cycle-walkway. Why don’t we go ahead and design the promenade now? Another arterial route isn’t going to happen quickly.

 It has to be a justifiable proven case, then it has to be consented, then potentially it got to go through the Environment Court. Then those who are supportive of it have to satisfy their colleagues around the Cabinet table that it’s a good idea, and then you’ve got to take into account that there will be opposition to it.

What are your thoughts on the Waimea Dam?

It’s crucial to the region to get a justifiable long-term solution to cropping on the plains. It’s important for Nelson City to support the dam or an alternative but a lot more needs to be done to prove the case, and it doesn’t have a hope in hell of getting through until the Councils are amalgamated.

Do you think amalgamation is going to happen?

Yes within the next 10 years, and I think it will be legislated by the Government. We’re a small community and we should work together, and the dam is an example of that, but if you go the other way, there are other regional projects that people in the TDC just don’t want to know about, like the Suter, the School of Music and the Theatre Royal. Of the $24m cost of those three projects, Tasman put in around $100,000. You can’t tell me the people of Tasman don’t have an artistic bone in their body just because their councillors don’t deem it necessary to assist artistic things that have a regional focus.

Why do you think Tasman Council is that way?

In a nutshell, they’ve under-rated for a long time, it’s caught up with them, and subsequently they have had a massive debt issue.

Why do you think Councils like New Plymouth, Wellington, Invercargill and Marlborough have done lots of things, and Nelson perhaps hasn’t?  

A contributing factor could be that we are geographically isolated and haven’t been part of the mainstream in NZ in lots of ways for a long time. So Nelson’s gone its own way … that’s filtered down right through to local government so there’s been an attitude that this will be good enough, and that’s come back to bite us on the bum.

Will you run for Mayor of Nelson?

Well, I’m certainly not going to announce it through your esteemed magazine. It’s something I think about from time to time. There is a series of interesting things that make a successful Mayor. I haven’t necessarily seen that mix yet in the last few Mayors.

Which things have been lacking?

I don’t want to criticise anybody in particular, but to tick as many of the boxes as possible is a tricky thing to do. You need to have a Council that will follow you and be inspired by you to work together, and you have to have a clear vision that is articulated well.

What do you think of Kerry Marshall’s mayoralty?

I have a lot of respect for Kerry. He stepped into that role perhaps a little grudgingly after having stepped out of the mayoralty in Tasman. One of the criticisms was that there was a fair amount of talk, as opposed to getting things done.

This was the Hands Up group, which you were part of?

Yes. But in saying that, I wasn’t a natural Hands-Upper.

Would a natural one be more right-of-centre?

Yes, but we generally agreed there needed to be change and that some of the old school who’d been ensconced in Council for some time needed to go. Some of them haven’t gone and are still influential.

Any in particular?

It’s not too hard to work out. It’s kind of ironic that Mayor Reese and I are the last two from the Hands Up group.

What did you think of Aldo’s term?

I have a lot of admiration for Aldo in his enthusiasm for doing things. He had a very good ability to pull a thing together. Aldo’s downfall was that he didn’t pay enough attention to bringing the community with him, or perhaps didn’t take into account that the community wouldn’t move as fast as he was.

Then Rachel’s term?

Rachel had difficult circumstances to have a group of councillors who very clearly wanted Aldo to get in. She pulled things together pretty well and despite us having some major differences, we’ve generally got on well. She’s a hard worker, and time will tell how people perceive her mayoralty … I don’t think it’s unfair of me to say that the pace of change has slowed in the city. It’s been a slower set of outcomes than I would have wanted.

Do you think Nelson has a higher percentage of naysayers than other places?

Yes. People come here to sit and relax in the sun. It’s hard to get enthusiastic about issues when you’re enjoying a place like this. That doesn’t mean to say it’s necessarily the right thing.

What would you change about Nelson?

I’d like another 15-20,000 people. But in saying that, unbridled growth is not a good thing.

What individuals have most influenced your life?

My parents have been a strong guiding influence. I’ve got three brothers and we’ve all followed similar pathways in wanting to contribute to the community.

Are your parents still around?

Yeah. My dad’s generally not enjoying being in The Wood retirement home. He’s in full care and he’d much rather be at home. My mum’s still at home and getting by, which is good.

What do your brothers do?

Joe is in Nelson, representing Trade and Enterprise. Bill was a lawyer and barrister and is living in Wellington working in corporate change management. Younger brother Tom is Head of Creative Industries at the CPIT in Christchurch. He’s a fine jazz musician.

What’s been your toughest experience in your life?

The fallout around the issues the School of Music had 15 years ago when I was working there. We had this financial crisis; lost our jobs. That was devastating. I took a while to recover, but I’m glad it happened because you just turn a corner and move on.

Do you have any eccentricities?

Not that I can talk about!

Do you have a motto or any sort of principles you live by?

The only way you’ll truly find success is if you stick to it. It doesn’t always work, obviously, but I’m proud that I’ve stuck in there with things like the Rockquest competition or the Classic Boat Show, and it is probably going to shape the way I feel about Council.

Anything else you want to talk about?

My aspiration for this city is to deliver on its uniqueness because that is the true pathway to economic prosperity. As a region we can’t sell logs to China forever. We’ve got to produce more added-value stuff and one of the attractors to added value is to get people to want to live here. They don’t want to live in a town with no trees and a K Mart. They want to live somewhere that’s interesting and unique.

So you’re going to run for Mayor?

One or two people saying that is one thing, but 8000 people saying that is something else.

You won’t know unless you put your hand up.

No, and everyone says you can’t stand for mayoralty and Council because you’re admitting there’s some chance you’re not going to get the mayoralty.

If anything it’s the opposite – it’s the prima donnas who just stand for Mayor or nothing.

That’s what I personally think, but I certainly haven’t made any decision.

If you’re a true servant of the town you’d be saying, ‘If you don’t choose me for Mayor, I’m happy to continue as a councillor.

I’m not sure the general voter sees it that way, but we’ll see.



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