by Chris Tobin
South Island Organ Company managing director John Hargraves says the 2011 Christchurch earthquake in which two staff died was a “very hard time” but the company has come through the experience and will never forget it.
This tragedy has been documented in a soon to be released book on the company, More Than a Pipe Dream, written by former Timaru journalist Jill Worrall.
Mr Hargraves’ wife, Valerie Hargraves, a director in the company, said there were occasions when the tragedy came back vividly.
In the years since then they have held an annual memorial organ concert in Timaru’s Sacred Heart Basilica.
On February 22, 2011, employees Neil Stocker and Scott Lucy died when Christchurch’s Durham St Methodist Church in which they were working collapsed after the disastrous earthquake struck. A Christchurch assistant worker Paul Dunlop also died, while three other company employees survived.
“Moritz Fassbender and Neil Hooper both recovered and carried on and are still working with us,” Mr Hargraves said.
“Josh Anderson, a new apprentice, was in hospital for six months. He finished his apprenticeship and got a scholarship to England. We’re hoping he’ll come back to us one day.
“Those three recovered amazingly and carried on.
“We learned some hard lessons.”
Mr Hargraves said they were still dealing with earthquake-related work and this was likely to carry on for several more years.
The Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and Christchurch’s Anglican Cathedral still have their organs trapped in the ruins of the two buildings and Mr Hargraves said they were working with the Christchurch Cathedral to retrieve their organ.
“It’s a joint venture with the Government.”
Immediately after the earthquake the company had a large amount of work and Mr Hargraves said people “came out of the woodwork” to help.
While the Christchurch tragedy formed a dark chapter in the new book, the company could look back on happier memories after starting 51 years ago, when two young Englishmen, Garth Cattle and Vic Hackworthy, arrived in Timaru and were soon joined by Mr Hargraves.
“They picked up the Nelson Cathedral contract and offered me a job. I joined them three months after they started and came from the North Island.
“I was still doing my [organ building] apprenticeship in Feilding.
“Some thought we wouldn’t last long; a few pundits said two years and we’d be gone.
“But we’ve done pretty well and built up our enterprise. This is our third factory. We started in Redruth in a single room at the back of a plastering factory.
“Then Alan Hubbard built us a factory in 1971; in 1985 we outgrew it; we bought land here (in Holmglen St, Washdyke) and built a new factory. We’ve been here ever since.”
The company, the biggest of its kind in Australasia, has undertaken jobs throughout New Zealand and Australia.
It has recently restored and installed a Hill, Norman and Beard organ in St John’s Anglican Church in Sydney, which was a $1.5million project. They will be working on Timaru Sacred Heart’s organ, “a very significant organ in New Zealand”, Mr Hargraves said.
Photographs of major organ work projects they have completed hang on a wall of the company’s office include the Sydney Conservatorium of Music organ, Scotch College’s organ in Melbourne, the Catholic St Mary Star of the Sea Church organ in Melbourne, which, according to the National Trust of Australia was the most valuable surviving musical instrument in Australia in its original form.
“There’s still strong demand for our work but with the rise of digital technology which is affecting every sphere of life, it’s gradually dwindling.
“Less people go to church today and some churches don’t have organs at all.”