Sharp-Healy Family

The Story of the first two Generations

Doreen Sharp 1916-1998

Doreen Sharp

Doreen Sharp was born at St Helen's Hospital, Caversham in Dunedin on 20 August 1916, 21 months after her sister Joan. She was the third daughter of John Bentley and Margaret Sharp, and Eileen says she was a ten pounder, with Margaret declaring she had gone a month overdue. Doreen is recorded as enrolling at school at Kyeburn on 25 May 1924 (according to the book "Gateway to Maniototo". This is probably one of the occasions when she was staying with Grandma Healy, as reported by Eileen in her family history tapes.

The following is information provided by her sister Eileen on her tapes about her early life and times in Dunedin and Central Otago.

Escape to Kyeburn

When Doreen was three, the family moved to Kyeburn to escape the influenza epidemic raging across New Zealand in late 1918. Hundreds of people were dying in Dunedin, so John Bentley had ordered the family into the countryside. Margaret took the four children (Eileen 6, Joan 4, Doreen 3 and Denis 6 months) and moved into the old family homestead at Kyeburn since Grandma Healy was living nearby in Naseby. At the time the only way to avoid catching the virus was by keeping out of contact with other people. There were no flu vaccinations available, and no antibiotics for those who fell ill. You can read more about this on the Christchurch City Libraries website, and Te Ara. The newspapers of the day are full of lists of the dead in the major cities, and the government ordered an inquiry into the cause and course of the epidemic which resulted in new laws and a Health Act.

Luckily, the Sharp family escaped the epidemic. Eileen recalls: "In 1920, we were still living at Kyeburn, mother used to take us down to the river, about a mile from where we lived, it was the Taieri river, and quite often father would be out on his rabbitting rounds, and we would go down to the river for a picnic. Mother would pack a nice lunch and we always enjoyed the outings."

Back to Dunedin

Then about 1921, John and Margaret decided to go back to Hague Street in Dunedin, and were ready to set up in business again, with the money John had made rabbitting. So the family went back to Dunedin but there was no work for them, but by chance, he was able to buy into the Hyde Hotel, back in Central Otago. It was called the Otago Central Hotel, in Hyde. John sold the Hague Street home and was also able with the help of other money, to finance himself into the hotel, so the family started off on a new life back in Central Otago. Doreen was about 6 years of age at the time.

Eileen recalls: "Father of course was very fond of live theatre and when we lived at Hague Street, Dunedin, it was always a pleasure for father to take Joan and I down to see the vaudeville shows to get Joan and I out of the house to give Mum a rest. He had great pleasure in taking his family everywhere, he was a great father, not a demonstrative person, they kept their emotions very much to themselves, in their private life."

Life in Hyde

Doreen at the Hyde Hotel. The Hyde Hotel was a big rambling wooden place, one of the first hotels built in central Otago and was divided in the bar and business side and household side of the hotel. "What comes to me about this was the fact that their 35 years successful hotelling was that father ran the bar and business part of the hotel, and mother ran the household side of the hotel. It meant that mother employed and discharged and engaged and controlled the household side of the hotel, and never interfered with father's business, they talked about it though. Also attached to the hotel was a store, which catered for equipment, shoes, clothing and boots for the farmers, and had the post office and full grocery and part of the butchery all connected. So during the day, father had quite enough in the store to keep him busy and most of the bar trade was done from 4 pm when the farmers and wives would come in from their day for drinks and socialising. Mother before going up to Hyde was trained in Dunedin by the Post Office how to run a country post office, so she had to answer all the telephones which were manual to the homes, all the telegrams and parcels going in and out of the post office. So to help her with that part, Bill Foley, a young plumbing apprentice came up and took over the post office to help."

Hyde was a little country town and there were about half a dozen or more railway houses which housed the men who controlled the goods trains coming and going, and men who were employed on the railway lines, along with an inspector on a trolley who used to peddle up and down to check the lines to make sure there were no broken lines. There was one particular family of Smiths, Lillian was the oldest, then there was Sandy and Fred, who we were most attached to. They had a couple of dogs, and a Spaniel, and two ferrets.

Eileen recalls: "So there was the Smiths, the Sharps, and one or two other older children from some of the other houses, and away up the hills we would go rabbitting. We wouldn't take any lunch but the boys would have nets, and tonnyhawks and grubbers to dig into the rabbit burrows to rescue their ferrets, because very often the ferrets would find a happy family inside and promptly go to sleep. So we would block up the entrances to the burrows with nets and rocks, and down the hole the ferrets would go. Sometimes the rabbits shot out and sometimes we would wait and wait, and the ferrets would find the young nest of rabbits and would tuck in. So we would gather dead grass and twigs and green ones to create smoke to smoke out the burrows to get the ferrets out. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it didnt and very often we'd arrive home late, very hungry and tired, but no rabbits."

"Another time mother would want mushrooms in the autumn, so off we would go on a mushroom trip, we'd walk for miles picking up mushrooms. There were the very large horse mushrooms, and the smaller white ones with pink underbellies. Anyway we got to this paddock and found some huge horse mushrooms and filled up all our bags, feeling very proud of ourselves. When we got home mother would say oh no they are poisonous, and we'd have to throw them out."

"We had about a mile and a half to walk to school so we took our lunches with us, but quite often in winter we couldn't go to school because of the frosts and snow, but it was lovely in summer. Quite often on our return from school in early autumn we would go into the farmers garden and paddocks where they used to grow swedes and pick some to chew on our way home. It was great life at Hyde for a young family. On Friday afternoons we used to have the afternoon sports, running, in the winter it would be football and in the summer cricket or running races, and that is where Doreen got her taste for sports because she always used to win, no matter what she did, she was one of the best."

"On one sports day she was locked in the schoolhouse for doing something naughty, but Doreen wasn't having any of that, so she decided to climb out one of the windows and go home. It was quite high and took off home, and when we went to let her out, Doreen had disappeared. She always enjoyed sport and brought up her three children up liking sport as well."

"Another episode at Hyde was Sunday School, it was the first time I can remember gong to Sunday School, I don't know what happened in Dunedin, because I was too young to go at that stage. But anyway the railway master would hold it at the railway station for the children around the area, and we all went, and in the summer time we'd be dressed up in our best dress with hats, looking very posh. After we came home one day, father said go out and look in the pig sty, so out we go, and Doreen was quite short for her age and she had to lean well over into the pigsty to see the mother and her new babies, and the first thing that happened her hat dropped into the sty, and of course, the pig, chewed it up immediately. Doreen attempted to climb into the sty to retrieve her hat and Joan rushed off to the house to say Doreen was in the pigsty, but we rescued her with only a few bumps and bruises."

Eileen remembers that there was so much to do around the farm, feeding the hens, trapping the mice in the loft, and they enjoyed their early life at Hyde.

"Another time while we were at Hyde, the circus came to town, it camped in the large section across the road from the hotel. In the morning after it had arrived, when we woke up it was there. Father took us over to visit the circus, it was a highlight of our day, and on Saturday afternoon all the children from far and wide arrived to visit the circus. He enjoyed it as much as we did as children."

From Hyde to Alexandra

About 1923, when Doreen was 7 years old, the family moved from Hyde to Alexandra. "I don't know how it came about but apparently the Caledonian Hotel in Alexandra was up for lease and father signed up. During these gaps between moving to one place to another, a few months here or there, Joan and Doreen and I usually ended up with either Grandma Healy or Mrs Strode, we called her Aunty Strode. We shared our holidays with them when we were on the move. Aunty Strode remained a family friend until her death in the late 1930s. She had one daughter named Mary who at 13 died of tuberculosis. They were also farmers who had a herd of cattle which she milked and sold the cream and milk. It made Joan and Doreen and myself more important to her as she liked our company, but she had 5 sons also, and one of her sons married Mabel Hughes."

At Alexandra, it was quite a nice hotel, partly wood, and brick, so Dad apparently got the lease of the hotel for three years. In those days the hotels were owned by widows or families and hotelkeepers paid a lease for so many years, it was usually three to five years. We left Alexandra in the spring of 1925.

It was a nice place, Alexandra is a town quite different to Hyde, it was a big commercial farming area, with gold dredging in the Clutha. We enjoyed the different atmosphere, compared to Hyde, which was quite unique and quiet, but Alexandra had a bigger shopping area, and businessmen, two or three banks, huge post office, doctors and dentists. It was surrounded by huge rocks and trees and surrounded by rivers, very warm, a good fruit growing place, and was the centre of the area's business.

Doreen and Beverley. While we were living at the Caledonian Hotel, electricity was switched on one night with great joy and celebrations, and some of the engineers and electricians who helped put the electricity through were contracted to live at the hotel. Before that there were just the ordinary iron street lamps which were lit just before dusk.

Back to Dunedin

Eileen says: "In 1927 Father became concerned about his daughters' education, but the boys he expected would go on to secondary school and on to a career or a trade because he always felt it was more important to have a good education as they would be the future breadwinners of the family, but the girls usually married quite early between 19 and 25 and had families."

"Mother had also come into a small inheritance from the estate of her mother Margaret Healy who had passed away in 1926, and I think she put that money into the education of her daughters, and she put that into Archerfield college, and there was the case of outfitting of the girls with uniforms in 1928, Joan and Eileen started in the February of 1928."

"In 1931, mother was pregnant again and on 30 June, Norwood Alexandra Sharp was born, weighing about 6 and a half pounds, a healthy boy, with fair hair and blue eyes. Now we are a family of seven, and later we had a nursemaid to help. Doreen was 15 years old, and would have been a great help to her mother, with her twin brothers and baby brother.

Working Life

After leaving school, Doreen was able to get a position as sales position in the DIC in George St, Dunedin, a large drapery, mens and womens clothing shop, a well known shop throughout New Zealand, and she remained there until her 30s. Later on she joined forces with mother and father when they went to Nelson and she assisted them running the hotel in Nelson for a while.


When she was 32, on 25 March 1948 Doreen married Ritchie John Morrison, a solider in the Army at the time. Ritchie was born on 16 December 1918 in Whangarei.

Doreen had three children: Ned (Edward James), Barbara and Peter.

Unfortunately the marriage did not last, and Doreen and Ritchie divorced.

Doreen returned to live in Dunedin and brought up her three children alone. In later years, she moved to Paraparaumu Beach near her brother Desmond and their family, and her daughter Barbara who lived in Wellington.

Peter describes his mother as a very independent woman with a great sense of morality and principle. Her appearances on the television programme " Fair Go" outlined below, set a precedence for people in similar situations.

Doreen at Bendigo Doreen with family at Bendigo

Doreen spent several Christmases at the Bendigo crib with other members of the family, particularly the Braithwaites and her brother Desmond. She is shown in the photos above with the family. She was also very well known for her baking and needlecraft skills.

Sadly, Doreen's son Ned was lost in Fiordland on 29 December 1978 while piloting a plane with 6 passengers on a sightseeing trip across the Southern Alps. Despite an extensive search, the plane has never been found. He was 28 years of age. Ned is remembered on the headstone at the family plot in Andersons Bay, Dunedin. You can read about Ned's disappearance and the research that has been done on the Find Lost Aircraft website. We hope that one day the mystery will be solved.

A Fair Go

Doreen always had a sense of fairness, and was well-known to television presenter Kevin Milne from the Fair Go programme. She had appeared on Fair Go twice.

Kevin Milne wrote about Doreen in her Obituary, published in the Kapiti Observer on 1 October 1998.

Doreen embodied the very finest qualities of the ordinary, honest, battling Kiwi. She had enormous grace and a proper sense of self-respect. When bureaucrats forgot what they were there for, when politicians forgot there were real people at the end of their decisions, she would stand up to them.

The first occasion was when the government arrogantly decided that, if your maintenance payments were less than $10 per week, it wasn't worth the IRD's time collecting it. Doreen hit back: "No way. Some of us need that money".

The IRD suggested she contact her former partner and ask him to up his maintenance payments from $7 to $10. Doreen thought this hilarious. They'd split up 40 years earlier.

Doreen won the battle. The law was changed. The Revenue Minister admitted an oversight on TV.

The second occasion was when Doreen was terminally ill. Her son Peter, a qualified nurse, had taken leave without pay from his job in Australia, to look after her at home.

But Income Support in New Zealand claimed they couldn't pay him the Carer's Benefit because, although he was a New Zealand citizen, he didn't currently live here.

"It made no sense at all. Had Peter not come, Doreen would have had to be cared for at much greater public expense in a hospital", wrote Kevin Milne.

Doreen spoke from her bed matter-of-factly: "It's just silly. It's not like they'll be paying out Peter for very long." Her interview was "one of the most moving I've seen on Fair Go," said Kevin.

And Doreen won again. Income Support admitted they'd got it wrong. Peter would be paid. Another public apology from a Minister of the Crown was on its way.

Headstone - Doreen and Ned.

The story went to air on her birthday - her last birthday!


Doreen died on 23 September 1998 aged 82 years, at her home in Paraparaumu Beach, surrounded by her family, after a long battle with cancer.

She was cremated and her ashes are buried with her son Ned in the family plot Andersons Bay (Block 251, Plot 0049) in Dunedin.

Her husband Ritchie Morrison died on 24 August 2006 in Havelock North.

Headstone photo taken by Desmond Sharp.


Notes taken from transcripts of tapes by Eileen Sharp, and memories from Margaret, as well as official records and online resources.

Finding ZK-EBU

View this TV3 programme clip about the search for ZK-EBU in April 2015, the plane that Doreen's son Ned was piloting when it disappeared in Fiordland in 1978, and this preview clip to the search. The story of ZK-EBU is on the "Find Lost Aircraft" website. A record is also on the "Aviation Safety Network" website.