Story: Waite, Fred
Compositor, farmer, soldier, politician, historian
This biography was written by David Green and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998
Fred Waite, the son of storekeeper George Waite and his wife, Isabella Edington Curry, was born in Dunedin on 21 August 1885. The eldest son in a family of eight, he went to work for the Otago Daily Times after his father's death. He was a compositor when he married Ada Philipson Taylor at Dunedin on 15 May 1912. In 1913 they took up Hill Foot farm at Waiwera South, near Balclutha; they had one child, Freda.
Waite, an 'intense patriot', enlisted as a lieutenant in the main body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in 1914. He was soon promoted and served as adjutant to the Corps of New Zealand Engineers on Gallipoli, where he was wounded, twice mentioned in dispatches, and won a DSO for gallantry after rallying disorganised troops during a botched attack. After being evacuated to England with severe dysentery, he was from 1916 chief engineer instructor for NZEF training camps in New Zealand. Near the end of the war Waite was assigned to write The New Zealanders at Gallipoli, which remains useful despite the haste with which it was prepared.
Waite then returned to farming and converted Hill Foot to dairying. He commanded the Otago Mounted Rifles Regiment from 1927 to 1930 and was president of the Balclutha branch of the New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association from 1935 to 1942, but his energies became focused elsewhere. Waite became active in the New Zealand Farmers' Union, becoming Otago president and dominion vice president, and was later made a life member of Federated Farmers of New Zealand. He was the catalyst for the formation of the Co-operative Dairy Company of Otago and its first chairman. In 1945 he became a director of the Otago Farmers' Union Mutual Fire Insurance Association.
Waite described himself as an 'Advanced Liberal' in his youth, but his involvement in farming politics led to a role as South Island organiser for the Reform Party, and in 1925 he easily defeated the Liberal MP for Clutha, holding the seat until defeated by an Independent United candidate in 1931. The plain speaking which helped him win office shines through in his speeches on farming and defence matters – but his sarcasm sometimes gave offence. In 1931 he was elected to the South Otago Hospital Board; by then he was also a justice of the peace. Appointed to the Legislative Council in 1934, he remained a member until its abolition. A long-time confidant of Gordon Coates, he shared his leader's desire to transcend Reform's traditional sectional support bases, and represented the party in the 1935 talks that led to the formation of the New Zealand National Party in 1936. In 1937 he became the first editor of National News, a monthly publication designed to rival Labour's Standard; he was also a member of National's dominion publicity committee.
From 1932 until 1936 Waite chaired the Otago Mortgagors' Liabilities Adjustment Commission, which doubled as a commission of inquiry into the tangled affairs of the Taieri River Trust. In 1938 he was appointed to the National Centennial Historical Committee which planned New Zealand's centennial celebrations. His compendious local knowledge bore fruit in Port Molyneux (1940) and Pioneering in South Otago (1948), one of the best productions of the Otago Centennial Historical Committee, of which he was a member. He also contributed articles on historical topics and current issues to the Otago Daily Times and other journals and developed an interest in early Maori settlement and archaeology. In 1925 he became master of the Clinton lodge of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand, and he was also president of the local Rotary, gardening and choral groups. He was an executive member of the League of Nations Union of New Zealand.
The outbreak of the Second World War gave the now Lieutenant Colonel Waite the opportunity to fully utilise his talents as overseas commissioner for the National Patriotic Fund Board, which provided comforts for the troops of 2NZEF. Based in Cairo from 1941 until 1944, he was also able to acquire some thousand artefacts for the Otago Museum, where he became honorary keeper of Middle Eastern archaeology. He was also an executive member of the Archaeological branch of the Otago Institute. In 1950 the museum published his Egyptian Predynastic pottery.
After a furlough in 1944, during which he was appointed an OBE and promoted to full colonel, Waite returned to Europe to organise facilities for released prisoners of war. In 1946, the year he was made a CMG, he performed his last active service, inspecting the facilities provided for Jayforce, the New Zealand force involved in the occupation of Japan. His final years were marred by ill health. He died in Balclutha hospital on 29 August 1952, survived by his wife and daughter.