Hāwera is not often associated with the Texas oil boom of the early 20th century, but tiny O’Callaghan Drive commemorates a Hawera man who was instrumental in the early importation of petrol to New Zealand over this period, which helped to fuel New Zealander’s newfound desire to drive.

Both Ethel and William (known as OK) O’Callaghan were born in Canterbury but arrived in Hāwera soon after their marriage in 1901 when William took a job as an accountant with the well-known auction business, Nolan and Tonks. In the 1920s he opened a Buick car dealership in Hāwera and New Plymouth and was elected president of the North Island Motor Union (a body formed from the many local North Island Automobile Associations).

In William’s role with the North Island Motor Union, he was prominent in lobbying for safer roads, better signage and vehicle insurance and was concerned with the ability of New Zealand motorists to obtain petrol at a reasonable price instead of prices being set by foreign companies, like Texaco, Plume and Shell.

In response to this concern, O’Callaghan, along with fellow Hāwera accountant William Gaston Walkley (later knighted by the Australian Government) and Charles Todd of Dunedin (of Todd Motors) and others, formed the Associated Motorists Petrol Company. It set up petrol pumps at service stations around the country and sold cheap imported petrol from the Soviet Union under the name Europa. Europa was eventually bought by BP New Zealand in 1989.

In the 1930s O’Callaghan, along with several of his counterparts including Walkley, set up a similar successful operation in Australia, which was later known as Ampol Petroleum Ltd. He remained as a director of this company and Europa.

Apart from his business pursuits O’Callaghan was also an avid golfer, taking out many local competitions in the 1920s and 30s, leading to him having the 16th hole at Hāwera’s Fairfield links named after him.

Ethel was noted gardener and involved in many community groups, particularly the Hāwera Women’s Club. In 1908 the couple employed notable Hāwera builder Arthur Brown to build their beautiful home at 7 Dives Ave. They did not have any children.

In an ironic twist of fate for someone involved in motoring for many years, in May 1964 while out for a Sunday drive, Ethel and William, both in their late 80s, collided with a train on the Turuturu railway crossing, resulting in the death of Ethel the following day. William survived for another year, living out his last days at Calvary Hospital, now known as Trinity Home and Hospital. The couple left a large bequest to Calvary after their death so the small access road behind the hospital was named in their honour.



Visionary became motorist's friend Taranaki Daily News 14 January 2013

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