Newspaper Article 2003 – Author leaves Bay legacy

Elizabeth Hill

Author leaves Bay legacy

A writer with a passion for Hawke’s Bay history has left her mark in books and stories.


Hawke’s Bay writer Elizabeth Hill, who died on August 3, has left a legacy of books, short stories and poems that have been shaped by family experiences and a lifetime love affair with the Hawke’s Bay landscape.

The author of Between the Rivers, an oral history of Hawke’s Bay compiled from interviews with people whose lives had been influenced by the regions waterways, Elizabeth died at Waiapu House, Havelock North, aged 83.

She wrote three other books –  Lucky Old Frank, a biography about her father, The Elusive Key, the story of her daughter Wendy, who was brain damaged at birth, and a historical novel about a Pakeha/Maori marriage called Ticket of Leave.

Other publications included short stories and poetry in Landfall and stories in the Pacific Moana Quarterly, on Radio New Zealand and in Short Story International, New York.

A story by Elizabeth Hill was published in Hawke’s Bay Today in April this year. Titled Battling the big wet of Anzac 1938, it recounts her arduous journey back to Napier after heavy rains had drowned the Esk Valley in water and mud, stranding her and her mother in Te Pohue.

Elizabeth was the daughter of Napier doctor Frank Harvey, who arrived in New Zealand from Ireland in 1910 and became a pioneer of X-ray in this country, and well-known portrait and landscape painter, Beatrice Harvey.

She was born in Napier and the family was living at the base of Bluff Hill in 1931 when the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake struck, bringing part of the cliff crashing down to demolish the house. The family then moved to Athboy House in Napier Terrace.

With a passionate trout fisherman for a father, and a landscape artist for a mother, the family spent many weekends packing fishing rods, painting gear and a picnic basket and setting out for the Hawke’s Bay countryside.

It was through these adventures that Elizabeth developed a deep love of the Taupo and Hawke’s Bay landscapes, which became the setting for many of her stories.

She also became a competent horsewoman and thought nothing of spending a whole day riding from Napier to Matapiro Station at Crownthorpe to stay with friends.

Elizabeth was educated at Napier Girls’ High School and Woodford House before marrying Vivyan Hill, at the age of 24, and shifting to the Hill family homestead at Fernhill House.

She was a vivacious hostess and Fernhill House became the venue for many parties and social gatherings.

The couple had three children, with their second daughter Wendy born brain-damaged as a result of lack of oxygen during the birth. This event embarked Elizabeth on a life-changing journey to find out all she could about raising children with disabilities.

During those challenging years, Elizabeth also battled poor eyesight, undergoing repeated operations. She was lucky, becoming one of the first people in New Zealand to benefit from advances in eye surgery that prevented her from becoming blind.

Elizabeth had always dabbled in painting but it was writing that became her chief passion and in the 1970s she began working as a freelance journalist, contributing pieces to the New Zealand Women’s Weekly, Dominion, Hawkes Bay Herald-Tribune, the Daily Telegraph, the Listener and various community newspapers.

At the same time she began writing her first book, in which she told the story of Wendy’s search for identity and her gradual move toward independence. At the time The Elusive Key was published, Elizabeth said she hoped the book would get rid of some of the Middle Ages superstitions and the blame and shame which still existed about people with disabilities.

She said the family had received little professional help, learning to cope by “getting stuck in” and she hoped sharing her experiences would help other people.

Elizabeth’s biography of her father was produced in 1982 to wide acclaim with the book winning the Christine Jefferson Award from the New Zealand Women Writers’ Society for the best unpublished biography.

In 1989 Between the Rivers was published, eight years after Elizabeth began gathering oral histories from a wide range of people who had contributed to the growth and life of Hawke’s Bay.

The book covers music and dance bands, working sheep stations, drovers, the 1931  earthquake, early horticulturalists, travel, the world wars and the history of Tomoana.

The Hills left Fernhill House in 1983 and moved to Flaxmere.  Elizabeth shifted to Havelock North after the death of her husband in 1993.

She travelled extensively throughout her life, reluctantly putting her passport away only when her health deteriorated to the point where travel became impossible.

She lived in Waiapu House for the last part of her life.

Elizabeth had a strong connection with young people, becoming a generous mentor and a passionate grandmother to her three grandsons.

She continued writing to the end with a manuscript documenting the goings-on in an old people’s home completed shortly before her death.

Elizabeth is survived by her three children, Rowan, Wendy and Peter and three grandchildren, Denver, Marcel and Jesse.

Photo caption – ELIZABETH HILL. . . four books.

Original digital file


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Date published

11 August 2003

Format of the original

Newspaper article


Hawke's Bay Today


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today


  • Beatrice Harvey
  • Frank Harvey
  • Elizabeth Hill
  • Vivyan Hill

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