‘Grandfather’ of the Queen Charlotte Track
Rod Eatwell loved chatting to people. Even at the age of 90, he spent most of his time moseying up and down the Queen Charlotte Track with his walking stick.
Eatwell, who died in a car crash between Blenheim and Picton, dedicated three decades to the Marlborough Sounds track, and was due to receive a Queen’s Service Medal in the upcoming New Year Honours. Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy agreed to enact it early so the award could be announced at his funeral in Blenheim on Tuesday.
Eatwell, an owner of land on the track, is considered the ‘‘grandfather’’ of the Kenepuru Walkway, which later became part of the Queen Charlotte Track. Son John said his father could often be seen riding an old lawnmower, maintaining the track for free.
Just last month, and with a broken hip, Eatwell finally finished building a toilet block on the track, something he was determined to do. ‘‘He was certainly fully engaged in life. He took life by the horns,’’ his son said.
He had accepted the QSM award about a month before his death. ‘‘He was very excited about it, he was very pleased.
‘‘We’re very pleased for him that he knew about it, and had recognition for all his efforts. As a family, we’re always proud of all the things he did, but to get external recognition is also fantastic.’’
Eatwell loved to yarn with walkers as they passed through his property. He was a unique and sometimes fiery character, whose service for the community was driven by a genuine love of people.
As one of the largest private landowners on the Queen Charlotte Track, he was credited with making it a reality.
He was always clearing viewing points for track users, putting benches and signs up on the track, his son said.
He owned motels in Renwick for 25 years, and ran the annual ‘‘old people’s day’’, in which people would come to the motel and have scones and relax on the lawn.
He was also involved with young people, running Scouts and youth groups and talent quests.
‘‘He was always busy, always active. He’s 90 and had trouble getting around, but he still wanted to do things.’’
He was passionate about local democracy and ensuring people’s voices were heard, and was a regular letter-writer to the Marlborough Express. ‘‘He lobbied hard when he didn’t think people were being involved or heard.’’
Queen Charlotte Track chairman Rob Burn said Eatwell’s death was a big loss, though he said he had ‘‘had a few lives’’ in the past.
He could have died on the day he drove his Land Rover 10 metres over a bank, crawled out, had a heart attack, cleaned the toilets, and then walked home and told his wife to call the ambulance, Burn said.
Or the time when he and his mates were at the Portage Resort Hotel, the railing gave way and they fell several metres to the pavement below. He had also had a few close calls on his quad bike.
‘‘He’s been the landowner arguably with the greatest vision of the track. When funding failed, he kept on with it and took some of the other landowners along with him.
‘‘It was a privilege to go there in the last few years and have a cup of tea and sit on his porch with him and just talk about how he helped build the track and how he loved the land out there.’’
Lynda Scott-Kelly, a fellow private landowner along the track and former Kaiko¯ ura MP, said the track meant a huge amount to Eatwell. ‘‘He was very keen on the walkers, not so keen on the bikers.
‘‘He typified how we all feel so passionately about the land, the care of that land, and the care of it for the future.’’
He was a real character, a real individual, she said. He set up signs to an ‘‘Eatwell’s lookout’’, and encouraged people to go off the track to see the incredible views.
‘‘Most people are amazed the way the Queen Charlotte Track works as a partnership, and then they get to meet Rod, it adds such a dimension.’’
Gary Benner, who was writing a family history of the Eatwell family, said:
‘‘It is a sad and ironic twist that his grandmother Jessie Eatwell suffered a similar fate, but under even more tragic circumstances.
‘‘She has just delivered her son to the ship that would take him into service in World War I as part of the Expeditionary Force, when her horse and buggy collided with another vehicle.’’
Eatwell was the husband of the late Kath and Glen; father and father-in-law of Mary and Stephen Butler, Phoebe Giles, Ruth Parsons, and John and Gabrielle Eatwell; grandfather and great-grandfather of Danny, Jo, Kelvin, Stephen, Rachel, Keith, Kathleen, Connor, Pania, Fergus, Shaila, Cayden, Henry, Sebastian, and Corban. – By Alice Angeloni
Rod Eatwell put signs and picnic tables along the Queen Charlotte Track, and had just finished building a toilet block when he died aged 90.