Happy New Year from a Greerton celeb

Photo: Bruce Barnard

She'd probably huff at the suggestion.

But Sally Benning's a minor celeb in her own backyard – she's the face and voice of Greerton Village, the manager of Greerton Mainstreet, the retailers' lobby group.

“That word ‘village' – that's what sets us apart,” says Sally. If the 12 apostles were cornerstones of the church, then this apostle is the cornerstone of Greerton.

“The village is key – we have fought hard for that name.”

Yep, fought! Remember the stink when locals demanded the word village be woven into the name on the new library. Not just Greerton Library but Greerton Village Library. Uppity lot.

There was no sympathy from the other end of Cameron Road – city fathers' soon clobbered that idea. But you can't surgically remove pride and identity. Greerton's still Greerton Village – and it wears the word well.

“It won't go away. It shows a community attitude,” says Sally.

Especially under Sally Benning's stewardship. She's a stylish, spirited, no-nonsense, make-it-happen, ex-pat Pom who comes from a village – another village, Titsey on the North Downs in Surrey. The accent has survived 27 years of Kiwi bastardisation.

“We have surveyed people. And a lot from outside Greerton. They like the village atmosphere and because we're small and friendly.” Not like those malls. “Malls are okay but one is pretty much like another.” Soulless places. Not like Greerton.

And no big box retailers because you can go to any number of places for them.

“We have lots of trees, beautiful roses, gardens and greenery throughout the village. We are definitely villagey,” says Sally.

Now we're aboard for a 25 hour flight from Greerton to Gatwick, the international airport south of London where Sally once worked for the airport newspaper, and where she once hobnobbed.

“He would come into the office – ‘hello Richard', ‘hello Sally' – he would wear his skanky old jumper and sit on the corner of my desk and chat.”

She has certainly frolicked among tall poppies because ‘he' is Sir Richard Branson – the entrepreneurial billionaire owner of everything, who at the time had just launched Virgin Airlines. And our Sally's on first name terms.

“I doubt he remembers me – he won't be wandering around London boasting he knows me.” But here's Sally sitting in her modest un-Branson like office in Greerton and name-dropping.

When The Weekend Sun first suggested to the business leader Sally that we do a Christmas profile she snorted. “I am not that interesting.” But the Richard Branson story makes her eminently interesting. “He was great, very ordinary but had lots of ideas about things.”

Now if Sally Benning was back home in Titsey, she would be contemplating a traditional Christmas dinner of roast turkey and all the trimmings – chestnut stuffing, bread sauce and roast potatoes. “And you have to have parsnips and Brussel sprouts.” Hopefully not the ones this reporter's mother served up in Dunedin – you could boil tenderness into a rock in the time it took her to drain the last bit of goodness from a sprout and serve it up as khaki gruel.

Before dinner she and her husband would have walked five miles to the local pub for a Christmas drink and then home again. The Poms are very civilised like that. Then Sally might throw on a Christmas carol – ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem' and ‘Silent Night'.

But this Christmas Day Sally Benning may well be fishing. “My sister-in-law is coming out. And people coming here from England in December – escaping a northern winter – want to do something on the beach or at sea.”

But if not a fishing expedition, then a barbecue. Prawns and crayfish and ham.

And she might pick up a book – her choice is never author-driven, but there will be suspense and or history.

Then she's back proselytising on behalf of Greerton – never misses a chance. “It's a great place to be at Christmas, amazing lights.  In fact I would challenge any other suburb in Tauranga to decorate their shopping centre as we can.”

And she has a Christmas message. “We always wish people will have a happy life and you wish the world would be a happier, nicer place, but we can't necessarily make it so.”

So settle for the simple things, the attainable things. “Christmas is very much about families. And it's always quite special for us to have family around.”



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’Summer Pohutukawa Blossom’, part of an iPhoneOgraphy photo-series. Photo: Bill Gibson-Patmore.

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