Page 1: Biography
Sinton, Walter James
Butcher, musical retailing manager, percussionist, broadcaster, concert impresario
This biography, written by Ian Page, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 5, 2000.
Born in Dunedin on 4 May 1911, the son of James Sinton, a butcher, and his wife, Louisa Matilda Hellyer, Walter James Sinton was educated at Albany Street School and Otago Boys’ High School. For the first 10 years after leaving school he worked in his father’s butchery. He played cricket, rugby and tennis, was an amateur boxer of note, and jogged with the athlete Jack Lovelock, who lived nearby. In 1936 he took up a job as salesman in the Dunedin firm of Charles Begg and Company, which sold pianos and musical goods. On 20 May 1939 at Dunedin he married Margaret Veda McMurray. The couple were to have three children.
Over the next 35 years Walter Sinton filled various executive positions in Charles Begg and Company. He became manager of the Timaru branch around 1940 and was later sent to open and manage a new branch in Palmerston North. In 1944 he was appointed assistant to the general manager at head office in Dunedin, and in 1952 he became manager of the Dunedin branch. In 1969 he took on the additional responsibility of zone supervisor of the Otago, North Otago and Southland areas. He bought the Dunedin branch in 1971.
From the time, as a four-year-old, he marched with the Albany Street school band, beating a kerosene tin drum with a pair of meat skewers, music was the driving force in Walter Sinton’s life. A percussionist, he played drums, timpani and the xylophone for both professional and amateur theatre companies. During the New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition of 1925–26 he played percussion with the 3rd Artillery Combination and with Les Napier’s Trumpet and Bugle Band. In later years he was a percussionist with the 4th Regimental (Red Coats) Military Band. However, he was best known as a xylophonist and was guest soloist at concerts throughout New Zealand. From 1927, when performers before the microphones wore dinner suits and evening dresses, Walter Sinton was a xylophone soloist on national radio. He recorded with his His Master’s Voice, Viking and Decca, and was one of the first instrumentalists in New Zealand to present a series of programmes on television. In September 1977 he recorded a special jubilee programme to celebrate his 50 years in broadcasting.
Walter Sinton had a lifelong association with the brass band movement in New Zealand. He toured the country with the New Zealand champion band of 1965, the Roslyn Mills Kaikorai Brass Band, and made several overseas tours with the National Band of New Zealand as a xylophone soloist. He was secretary and a member of the Kaikorai Brass Band. Between 1952 and 1962 he judged the percussion section at several national brass band championships and wrote the test pieces for each of them.
He had other interests. An authority on the history of theatre and music in Dunedin, he wrote a series of articles on the subject for the Evening Star. In the 1940s he arranged New Zealand tours for famous entertainers such as Australian baritone Peter Dawson, the Greek soprano Angela Parselles, pianist Lettie Keyes, and singers Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth. He wrote a musical and played a major part in establishing the Dunedin Civic Orchestra. He was a Rotarian, a life member of the Dunedin Operatic and Dramatic Society, and an accomplished raconteur and after-dinner speaker.
Walter Sinton died at Dunedin on 2 December 1980, two years after the death of his wife. A man of impressive bearing and always immaculately dressed, he was a southerner through and through and used his talents generously to enhance Dunedin’s business and musical life.