WORDS BY ALICIA LÜDI-SCHUTZ
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PETE THORNTON
Guy Ewing is what you might describe as an open book, but not your standard, bound bundle of pages variety.
No, Guy is like one of those talking books that he listens to while cycling around the Valley at the crack of dawn. The ones where you plug in the earphones and just listen to the story unfold.
Spend an hour with Guy, and that’s exactly what happens.
You discover this well-known Nuriootpa pharmacist was born in Hokitika on the southern island of New Zealand, surrounded by lakes and rivers. It’s here he learned to fly-fish and play golf , taught by his father, a slaughterman who was tough as an ox with a work ethic to match.
Guy worked beside him, starting out when he was barely seven years of age.
“I salted the hides and painted the numbers on them… I can still smell crystal violet. Worst thing was getting rock salt down your boots, it would cut your feet and sting like hell!” he says, his Kiwi accent becoming more noticeable.
The family moved to the North Island after his father got a job at Wanganui, managing a big abattoir.
From about 14 years of age, Guy would spend every school holidays working at the abattoir and then moved into the by-products section whilst studying at Pharmacy School.
“I wasn’t squeamish, you couldn’t be. It was really good money. It was like working vintage all the way through.”
Guy was 15 when he decided on his career path.
“It looked like a good game. Nice and clean too. I was interested in science and medicine and you didn’t have to put your fingers up anywhere that would gross you out!”
He enjoyed pharmacy school, a “flash new place” that provided him with exceptional qualifications.
Yet Guy’s idyllic world would turn upside down just days after turning 21, when his father suffered a stroke.
“It paralysed him on one side…He lived for about another 30 years with mum looking after him and died when he was 83. It’s a long time to be sitting in a chair.
“I often say to people it was like dealing with a calculator where you work out an equation but you never knew where the decimal point was. It’s a stupid analogy….but he could be talking complete sense or complete nonsense, it was really hard to tell the difference sometimes because he didn’t know. It was a horrible thing.”
Guy talks of the loving bond he shares with his mother whom he calls “an absolute angel” who he thinks is 86, he’s not game to ask.
Once Guy was a fully qualified pharmacist he “bolted” to Australia to “see what would happen.”
“I was mad on cricket and wanted to watch Malcolm Marshall bowl so I came over to watch the World Series Cricket at the MCG.
He was that fast that from the seats I could afford, you couldn’t see the ball!”
He visited his mum’s sister, “Aunty Al” who lived in Adelaide and next thing he knew he had found a job as a pharmacist.
“It was in Broken Hill. I didn’t know where it was.”
“I woke up on the bus and thought, what the hell? It was a bit of a surprise… I had absolutely no money, just the 50 cents Uncle John had given to me.”
He grew to love the experience and joined the local cricket team consisting of a pharmacist, six New Zealand born dentists and an Aussie physician.
“I was a bowler, left hand over – flat out…. We had great fun, we were unbeatable.”
“In those days, married women couldn’t work. It was incredible! I had the whole shop blacklisted by the union because I had a Clinique girl come up from Adelaide and she wasn’t a union member and they shut the joint down for a couple of days!”
Guy also tried his utmost to lose his accent.
“I remember a packet of Amoxil, was ‘sivin’ dollars and ‘fufty sux cents’ – it was just terrible, the ‘six’ was impossible!”
He describes the rising tension between the Aussie shearers and those from New Zealand.
“There were fights in the bar, in the street. It was a real problem so you didn’t want to have a Kiwi accent!”
That’s just one of the many stories Guy tells.
He describes the time he decided to travel around Australia in a combi van and living on “bananas, avocado and VB” up in Cooktown where he met “this Pommy Sheila” whom he worked alongside, cleaning the building site of the brand new Skase Resort in Port Douglas.
He drove across to Darwin, through all the places “you shouldn’t go unless you owned a four wheel drive”, and worked for a dodgy pharmacist who would drink beer and say it was fine because it was too hot and nobody would come anyway.
Guy would eventually end up driving to Port Augusta in his combi which, by this time, was only running on three cylinders.
“I needed it reconditioned and I had no money.”
He came up with a scheme to raise the funds needed and became a door-to-door salesman, selling “peephole things” he had bought for fifty cents at the hardware store and installing them in people’s front doors as a security measure for $10.
At Port Augusta, he was offered a job as a pharmacist once again and he was grateful for the continuity it provided.
It was in this town where he met his wife Elly, working as a lawyer at the time, in a night club called “The Vault”.
“It was a terrible, terrible place! I went there once, got a wife and that was it,” he laughed. “Never went there again!”
Port Augusta was also where he had a full blown argument about a health policy with the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke which made the front page of every newspaper in Australia and he still has to chuckle at the stir he made.
Guy and Elly eventually found their way to Nuriootpa, following their shared dream of owning a business.
“Then we worked like maniacs because all of a sudden we owed hell of a lot of money!”
Guy says working out sales campaigns with his wife and pet dog at the top of Rifle Range road was great fun, as was working with the wonderful staff he calls “The Sisterhood” whom he shared every up and down in life with as well as many “bottles of bubbles”. He thought they actually forgot he was a bloke at times.
The family doubled when Guy turned 40 and he often says he got twins for his birthday.
“It was 1998 and we had a big sale on at the shop. I got a phone call saying Elly’s got pre-eclampsia and I’ve got to be down there in an hour.
“I drove past and saw Sue Harrison standing in front of the shop with this big sign saying hip, hip hooray, babies on the way, come again another day!”
Daisy and Betsy arrived safely but there were some tough times.
“Twins can be very, very hard work. I was working 60 hours a week. I remember coming home on a Thursday night at about half past eight, really tired…ride the bike home and hear all three of them crying on the couch.
“I’d take over…Not even going to bed, much less going to sleep, then go to work the next morning.
“You’d get there and some old biddy would be waiting at the door and say you’re five minutes late! They just had no idea.”
Firmly settled in the Barossa, Guy is passionate about the place he now calls home and reveals, for the first time, just how far he went to save it from developers.
“Remember when they were going to put a supermarket out at Kroemer’s Crossing? There were all these corflute signs being put around, ‘Keep the Barossa unique,’ ‘It’s a valley not a suburb’….They just appeared mysteriously in the middle of the night and then bumper stickers came out.
“Well, that was me! It certainly created a hell of a ruckus.”
Guy has lived through what he calls “near death experiences” that included dodgy helicopters, cycling into a flooded creek, heart surgery and the time he broke his foot at the Doobie Brothers’ concert…
When asked if he has any regrets, his reply seems to sum up a life full of drive and adventure.
“You go to a funeral and somebody’s saying that they had no regrets, I think crap! If you have no regrets, you are setting your targets too low! You weren’t ambitious enough and your aspirations were just too low.”