Mr G and the forgotten aviator

About three months ago Graham Hoete, or “Mr G” as he’s known, was chatting with Tauranga Airport manager Ray Dumble.

The airport terminal had been extended with an upgrade worth about $14 million. There was already art work in place, such as the unique collaboration between local carver and artist Jason Porter and Mackie Signs at the arrival gates, fabricated from conceptual drawings on to laminated ply. Now it was time to “G’ up the place.

“Ray was wanting me to do an interior mural,” says Mr G. “At the time we were stuck on an idea of what we could paint, so I thought I’d shelve it for now until we came up with something appropriate.”

Fast forward to about four weeks ago when Alys Ingrid Wicksteed got in touch with Graham.

“She told me about Oscar Garden’s story,” says Mr G. “She asked me if I could do a tribute mural of him somewhere in Tauranga.”

Oscar Garden, who has been called ‘The Father of Air New Zealand’ by NZ pilots, landed his Gipsy Moth plane Kia Ora in Australia on November 4 1930 after flying solo from England. His original intention was to fly all the way to NZ, but on arriving in Sydney he realised that his plane didn’t have the range to fly over the Tasman Sea.

His daughter Mary Garden has written a book about his life, titled ‘Sundowner of the Skies: The story of Oscar Garden, the forgotten aviator’ which was launched on Sunday. Mary was born three years after Oscar left Air New Zealand, growing up with her parents in Tauranga, where Oscar became a tomato grower.

“I thought his story was incredible,” says Graham. “He lived here for about 25 years, the longest he’s lived anywhere in his life, and I thought ‘man I’ve got the perfect spot for this at the Tauranga Airport’. It just all fell into place.”

“Mr Garden was probably an unknown or little known figure during his life,” says Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless. “This mural has come about as a result of his daughter Mary writing a book about him. There’s a desire to see him commemorated as an important aviator who spent much of his life in Tauranga and it’s appropriate that a mural of him is part of our airport.”

Rather than painting directly onto the wall at the airport terminal, Mr G worked at the portrait in his studio, also making a frame incorporating subtle elements that relate to Oscar’s story.

“I heard that the wings of his plane almost clipped the Edinburgh Castle, so I’ve included the Edinburgh Castle in the frame, acknowledging his Scottish roots,” says Mr G.

“I didn’t know about him before. He came across as the kind of guy who didn’t really like to talk about himself, and was quite private. It’s really cool that we can tell his story so that people do know about him and what he achieved.

“He has a strong connection with Tauranga, he was a legendary aviator, so this is the perfect spot for it.”