Page 1: Biography
Linton, Alister Murray
Surveyor, local politician, land officer, community leader, horticulturist, broadcaster
This biography, written by Jinty Rorke, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Alister Murray Linton was born in Halcombe, northern Manawatu, on 12 March 1904, the ninth of eleven children of Francis Robert Linton, a stock dealer, and his wife, Emma Maria Bray. Murray, as he was known, was brought up at Oio in the central North Island and was educated at Hamilton High School and Auckland University College, where he trained as a surveyor. He played rugby for the college, for Auckland, and for New Zealand Universities. He was chosen to play against the Springboks in South Africa in 1928, but refused for fear of failing his examinations with the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors. He married Alice Maud Richardson, a law clerk, in Auckland on 19 May 1930; they were to have two sons and a daughter.
Linton began work with the Department of Lands and Survey in 1921, becoming a registered surveyor in 1929. He worked on railway surveys near Buller (an area devastated by the Murchison earthquake), surveyed land boundaries in the Cook Islands in 1931, and in 1932 re-established rural boundaries after the Hawke’s Bay earthquake. From 1934 he was the government surveyor for the whole of the Northland region. In 1939 he was transferred to the Bay of Plenty in charge of Maori land development, opening an office in Rotorua the following year, and from 1940 to 1949 he was the Rotorua surveyor.
Linton was a member of the Rotorua Borough Council for six years before being elected mayor in 1953; he held this office until his retirement 18 years later. As mayor, he was an outstanding ambassador for Rotorua, enthusiastically guiding its expansion from a modest, small town to a vibrant, bustling city. One of his first moves was to increase rates by 57 per cent. During his initial term the borough consequently employed more staff, improved salaries, sealed pumice streets, and started work on the parks. Strongly parochial, he opposed Rotorua’s contributing to the running costs of the newly established deep-sea port at Mount Maunganui, and its inclusion in the Eastern Bay of Plenty Catchment Commission.
Linton’s local body work led to wider responsibilities. He served as president of the Municipal Association of New Zealand from 1962 to 1968. In this capacity he attended the International Union of Local Authorities 1964 conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he became the first New Zealander to be appointed an executive member. He held this position until 1970. Linton was also a member of the National Roads Board (1962–71), the National Water and Soil Conservation Authority (1968–74), the Commission of Inquiry into Housing (1970–71), and the Town and Country Planning Appeal Board (1972–73). When control of Rotorua’s electricity supply was transferred from the government to the Rotorua Area Electricity Authority in 1971, he was elected to the board. He served as chairman, and always topped the poll.
As the land utilisation officer for the Department of Maori Affairs in Rotorua from 1950 to 1962, Linton earned the respect of Maori. For many years he chaired the Ngati Whakaue Tribal Lands Incorporation, and was appointed inaugural chairman of the Rotorua Maori Arts and Crafts Institute in 1963. When Rotorua’s thermal area was rezoned commercial by the council in 1965 he was criticised for chairing the hearing – a conflict of interest arising from his dual roles. That year he was made a CBE. Always keen to promote his local area, he chaired the Guardians of the Rotorua Lakes in 1975, and the Rotorua branch of the New Zealand National Travel Association. In June 1979 he received the association’s Newman Award for his contribution to the development of New Zealand’s tourist industry.
Linton found time for an eclectic range of interests. He was associated with Rotary, Birthright New Zealand, the Boy Scouts’ Association and the Rotorua chamber music society. He was chairman of the Rotorua Hospital chapel committee, was involved in the settlement of Cambodian refugees in Rotorua, and was on the Rotorua High School Board of Governors for 12 years. Under his leadership the board secured from the government the return of rent from a school endowment site which had never been used for educational purposes. His interest in education led to his involvement in the establishment of the Waiariki Community College in 1977.
Gardening, however, was his passion. He was a fellow of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture and was president of the National Rose Society of New Zealand in 1963. For more than 30 years he produced and presented a regular gardening programme on the Rotorua radio station 1YZ. He particularly loved rhododendrons, and as mayor succeeded in establishing a specialised nursery for them. One year 4,000 were planted as street trees. During his time on the council he also took an active role in the development of Rotorua’s parks and reserves.
A caring, compassionate and deeply religious man, Murray Linton was an active member of the Presbyterian church. Some years before his death he and Alice purchased a plot at Rotorua cemetery. Shortly afterwards, however, he was approached by his Ngati Whakaue friends who requested that they be allowed to bury him at their cemetery; he agreed. After he died at his home in Rotorua on 15 August 1980, his body lay in state at Tunohopu marae in Ohinemutu before being laid to rest at Kauae cemetery, Mt Ngongotaha, with all the honours due a chief. He was survived by his wife and children.