Home' Advocate Communications : Fiordland Advocate 9 January 2009 Contents 9 January, 2009 | Page 12
Rural Southland was still reeling from
the 1980s recession when farmers’
wives Margaret Taylor, Annabel Russell,
Sue Anderson, Gail Ryan and Rosemary
Turner first floated their “mad idea”.
Mossburn was a visual reminder of
the hardships many farming folk had
endured. The town had become quite
run down and, at the heart of it, the
old community hall stood rickety and
neglected. Many considered it would be
Annabel was selling dried flowers from
the town’s craft shop when the owner of
the old hall came in. She mentioned that
she thought something could be made
of it and the reply was an offer to sell it
The first person Annabel called was her
friend Margaret who, in turn called Gail
and so on. Before they knew it there were
five of them keen to work together to
open a gift shop selling Devonshire teas.
So they organised a dinner to talk through
the finer details.
“ We’d decided to do it – that was to talk
the husbands into it,” Annabel said.
With five partners they drew up a roster
that gave them one day a week each
running the shop along with every fifth
Margaret: “We just thought five spread
the workload, five spread the risk, five
spread the money.”
“I can see how people looked at us and
said it’ll never work.”
“Most people only gave us five years,”
Their first job was to get the hall ship
shape – enter the electrician.
“He sat on a box in the middle of the
room and just shook his head.”
But despite the apparent impossibility of
it all they got the business off the ground
and soon became a big hit with locals
and visitors alike.
“I remember saying that if we turn over
$50 a day we’ll be fine,” Annabel said.
“Now we want it a minute, not a day,” Sue
added, prompting a chorus of laughter
from her partners.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. Two
of the five, Gail and Rosemary, died of
cancer within the first seven years of
operation. It was a devastating blow for
the others who lost not only business
partners but very close personal friends.
Margaret said it was a reminder to live
every day to the full and enjoy every
“It made us appreciate the fact that we’re
If it’s true that the team that plays
together stays together, the Bracken
Hall women are walking advertisements.
Each year they and their husbands take
a holiday together – the most recent was
aboard a cruise ship.
The harmonious partnership has
not been without its hiccups though.
They’ve never had a major falling out
but things like what colours to paint the
building have required long and detailed
“ We work on the theory that majority
rules and if you’re in the minority, tough,”
If anyone gets too stroppy it’s usually a
sign of something deeper. Like the time
Annabel was clearly not herself and Sue
instructed her to go to the doctor.
“I had thyroid problems but I didn’t know
it,” Annabel said.
Stock buying trips, on the other hand,
have been perfect as each woman has
brought different tastes to the equation
meaning the store has always been filled
with something to suit everyone. So good
is the mix that they’ve never had an item
that didn’t sell.
“There was an orange vase that sat here
nearly 15 years but that sold in the last
sale,” Annabel said.
A string of bells hung around for about 10
years – “an Asian lady bought that, she
thought it was wonder ful,” Margaret said.
The store has also attracted a range of
famous faces including television
chefs Al Brown and Steve Logan who
featured Bracken Hall’s venison pies on
their “Hunger for the Wild” programme.
That feature raised the store’s profile
Other visitors have sported familiar faces
that the women have struggled to put a
name to. The recollection of a visit from
Governor-General Dame Catherine Tizard
results in eruptions of laughter.
“I said ‘I feel we should know you, you’ll
have to excuse me asking you but have we
seen you on the telly?’ ” Margaret said.
Locals have adopted Bracken Hall as
something of a drop-in centre where they
enjoy a catch-up over a cuppa, while
tourists like the personal touch.
“ You’re a friend. They come back and tell
you how their trip’s gone,” Annabel said.
After Gail died the remaining three made
a pact that if any of them wanted out they
would sell the shop. Now Sue has moved
to Arrowtown and, after 15 years in a
business where they have lasted longer
than most of their suppliers, they all
agree it’s time to sell up.
They have romantic notions that five
young women might come in and follow
in their footsteps but they know that
the relationship they have had and
maintained is unique.
“That’s how it all started – how it all
finishes, who knows,” Margaret said.
“But we started as friends and we’ll end
of Bracken Hall
Fifteen years ago five women opened a gift shop in Mossburn.
Many people told them they were mad. Now the “for sale” sign
is out on one of rural Southland’s most shining success stories.
KIRSTY MACNICOL visits the women of Bracken Hall.
A business partnership forged on friendship (from left) Annabel Russell, Margaret Taylor and Sue Anderson in the popular
Mossburn gift shop and café Bracken Hall they opened 15 years ago.
LEFT: The old
that was once
is now an
for locals and
Taylor and Sue
gift shop and
Hall that they
for sale signs
have gone up
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