What do Para (Brazil) and the Canterbury Horticultural Society have in common?
George Waldemar Skjellerup.
George Skjellerup was born in Cobden, Victoria, Australia in 1881 and was the youngest of 13 children.
In 1902, just before his 21st birthday, he arrived in New Zealand and began working in Dunedin at a bicycle shop. Within a year, it was another change of scenery for George – moving to Canterbury where he later worked for Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company thanks to a previous manager in Melbourne.
Then in 1907 he married Elizabeth Reid back in Dunedin and they moved into their first home in Riccarton which George had built himself. Together they had 3 daughters and 2 sons.
During the New Zealand International Expedition (1906-1907), designed to showcase New Zealand for almost 6 months and attracting nearly 2 million people – George began working long hours and making money fixing punctured tyres.
The New Zealand International Expedition was the idea of Richard Seddon – New Zealand’s longest serving Prime Minister – to highlight 7 things to the world: A land of abundance, beautiful New Zealand, “the social laboratory of the world”, the “Britain of the South”, a man’s country, Maoriland as well as a respectable people.
Coupled with the money George made during the expedition was an inheritance of £400 his wife received. This gave them the money to start a company in 1910 – The Para Rubber Company. Para, in Brazil, was at that time a major source of rubber and George referenced in in the name.
Para Rubber’s slogan in 1910 was “We have it in stock, will get it, or it isn’t made of Rubber”!
The company went through ups and downs but in 1918, George had 4 stores. This is when he also dropped the ‘j’ in the name Skjellerup.
He enjoyed cycling, tennis and mountaineering but his biggest enjoyment came from gardening. He was a member of the Canterbury Horticultural Society, a supporter of the New Zealand Rhododendron Association and was made a life member of the New Zealand Lily Society.
George was known as a kind man who gave generously and believed in family values. At his death in 1955 following a heart attack while in holiday in Somerset, England, Para Rubber had over 1,000 employees (who George treated as family) and sales were about £4 million a year!
He is buried in Ruru Lawn Cemetery.