The man who called it kiwifruit
Grahame Turner, the former managing director and chairman of produce company Turners & Growers, died in early March, aged 93.
A number of prominent growers attended his funeral service in Auckland while many more sent messages, remembering the man who, with his brother Jack, named kiwifruit and was pivotal in the decision to discard standard varieties in favour of Hayward only.
He had also established the still active relationship with the University of California’s Davis campus as agents for the company’s strawberry variety programme, which has now been transferred to Berryfruit Propagators Ltd. And he was the visionary force behind the nationwide development of the Turners Car Auctions business.
“And he was the best produce auctioneer I ever heard,” said his son Don, who followed in his father’s footsteps – and delivered his eulogy.
Grahame was the fourth of five children born to Harvey and Ethel Turner. The had family lived in the Auckland suburb of Mt Albert. Grahame’s younger sister, Audrey, attended the funeral service. Their father Harvey was the third of nine Turner brothers, children of Edward and Maude Turner, who had come to New Zealand from Cambridge in 1883. Grahame’s mother Ethel was a Penman, a family of millers from Te Arai, north of Auckland, and her mother was a Ross, from Kaiwaka.
Grahame won an Auckland Junior hurdles title, and captained a team that won the Intermediate Auckland Rugby title. He played flanker for the Mt Albert Grammar First XV rugby team, and was also in the First XI cricket team.
“He played cricket against a young left-hander from Takapuna Grammar that they couldn't get out, by the name of Bert Sutcliffe,” Don recalled.
He also reached the Mt Albert Grammar School Senior Boxing Final.
“He named me after Don Budge and Don Bradman, but his family wasn't so pleased though, as Donald was the name of Turners & Growers’ fiercest competition.”
Grahame’s brother Jack enlisted to go to the Second World War at 19 years old on the first day of enlistment in 1939, but was captured on Crete in 1941 and spent four years as a prisoner of war. Grahame and another brother David both enlisted as soon as they could, Grahame training as a fighter pilot then travelling to United Kingdom. There he became a bomber pilot, training on Wellingtons and flying Lancasters across Europe.
“By the end of his tour of 30 flights he was 21.”
Grahame became an instructor until the war ended and he returned home. His log book is replicated at Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) He was invited back to London a few years ago for the official unveiling by the Queen of the Hyde Park Memorial to Bomber Command.
After the war, his father, Harvey (who had been running the New Zealand Forces Club in Cairo), with Jack and Grahame set
out to rebuild Turners & Growers, which had been established in 1920. Harvey formed Fruit Distributors Ltd (FDL), which took up where the government’s wartime supplies Internal Marketing Division (IMD) left off, contributing to Kiwis becoming consumers of the largest number of bananas per capita in the world.. Jack focused on vegetables, production of which was dominated by Chinese growers, and he came to know the family connections of these growers as well or better than many of the Chinese themselves.
Grahame focused on fruit, and got to know the Auckland Dalmatian community who pioneered strawberry production and then fruit production in general. He also maintained close connections with Hawke’s Bay and Central Otago families like the Paynters and Hintons, Ivorys and Taylors. He saw the deficiencies in Auckland strawberry varieties, and initiated contact with University of California Davis campus, starting up importation of their varieties which now dominate New Zealand’s production.
Hawke’s Bay grower John Paynter said he remembered Grahame’s visits to growers there in the 1950s, where he would sometimes stay overnight at John’s parents’ house.
“If we were lucky enough we would even get a game of tennis from him on our asphalt tennis court.”
In 1974, when John and Peter Anderson formed the Yummy Fruit Company, excited about new Californian nectarine varieties and the marketing opportunities they provided, he said there were plenty of critics, but Grahame wasn’t one of them. And after a disastrous start to the venture he was there to pick them up.
“I will never forget or stop appreciating the encouragement he gave us to carry on and succeed. He’s made a huge difference to the produce industry and to the lives of people he interfaced with.”
Don said when most of the fruit and vegetable trade, apart from imports and pipfruit, was done under the hammer his father was the company’s best auctioneer.
“He had an instant understanding of the day's values, a sense of fairness, a strong presence and control of his sale that engendered confidence among buyers,” he said.
“And his voice was penetrating yet effortless. It was audible across the entire market building.”
Some of those buyers are still in the industry, such as Michael and Lawrence Chong from the North Shore, Peter Stott and Peter and Ronald Chan, who Grahame introduced to Albert Gubay of 3 Guys, the company they formed which was the forerunner of Fruitworld. Grahame’s closest friend in business, snooker and tennis, was Ray Hing, the first owner of the Mt Albert Pak‘nSave.
In 1959 Jack and Grahame named kiwifruit, which had until then been called the Chinese gooseberry. They wanted to export it to the United States and the Americans told them a name change was required.
“Who else in the world can claim they named a major fruit?” Don asked.
Grahame was also the driving force behind the development of Turners Auctions from a small department in Auckland to the nationwide operation under John Boswell’s leadership. He had retired as chairman at 72 years old but had still been very active and travelled widely.
At his bush retreat at Huia.
With Air NZ Sales Manager Herman Tros., and from left Keith Simpson, Grower Director, Roy Turner and Jack Turner, Directors of T&G.
Grahame and Pat Turner. Grahame Turner in action as an auctioneer.