The Waikato Businessman in a Sarong: Graham Hannah’s colourful memoir

The thirty-fifth Waikato Home and Garden Show, October 3-6, will see the release of a memoir from the former king of Home Shows, Graham Hannah.

Raglan local -Graham, who developed the inaugural Waikato Home Show in 1985, on the back of the success of his Building Display Centre in Anglesea Street, reveals much about what happens back-stage when orchestrating major public events and exhibitions.

What the Mind Can See is an insightful account about a veritable visionary who built his reputation on presenting the public with imaginative and memorable events and experiences. There was always an element of theatre to his productions and generally an arts component as well. What the Mind Can See, represents a great read for a wide audience, particularly those interested in event management, marketing and the exhibition industry in general.

Colourfully illustrated with photographs of his award-winning displays and visionary concepts, Graham explains with refreshing honesty, what worked and what didn’t in terms of the countless events he initiated.

The most visual of these -the Hamilton Hot Air Balloon Fiesta and Night Glow -was a veritable labour of love for him and fellow balloonists when established in 1993. In his memoir Graham tells, for the first time, why he felt compelled to eventually move this internationally acclaimed event, to Masterton. A decision he admits was the most painful of his life. Born in Yorkshire, Graham’s love of razzamatazz began when -as an eight-year old -he saw Liberace perform live in Harrogate.

‘The elaborately costumed star had me spellbound with his over-the-top showmanship and consummate skill at the piano,’ Graham explains in his memoir. In a blow by blow account of his youthful journey overland from the UK to Australia, Graham discloses much about the resourcefulness that would drive him to ever higher levels of achievement. His eye for an opportunity and sheer audacity was a winning formula. The backstory of Graham’s first independent business in Sydney’s Kings Cross was a case in point.

Observing lonely soldiers on leave from the war in Vietnam, he set up a tour company offering them day trips and beach parties at night. When the war ended Graham and his Hamilton fiancé, Colleen Lafferty, packed up their photos and dogs and bought a small farm in Whatawhata’s Bowman Road. Many of the photos they arrived in New Zealand with feature in Hannah’s generously illustrated memoir. In renovating the original farm cottage on the Bowman Road property, Graham recognised the need -and the potential -for a Building Display Centre in Hamilton. This he duly opened to much fanfare in 1979.

The Waikato Home Show grew out of construction industry contacts developed in the ten years he ran Hamilton’s Building Display Centre. What the Mind Can See, exposes the event-wizard’s ceaseless drive for innovation. The book’s back cover blurb tells us Graham ‘was a survivor, and an artist with a fine appreciation of aesthetics. He knew how to bring out the best in colleagues and associates.’ Hannah passed away suddenly in 2016 a few months into his retirement.

His legacy lives on in the Waikato Home & Garden Show, with his daughter Rebecca Hannah at the helm as Exhibition Director. Her appointment followed Auckland-based North Port Events’ purchase of the Home Show in 2015. What the Mind Can See is available at select independent Waikato booksellers.

Copies will also be sold at the Waikato Home & Garden Show at Claudelands Event Centre from October 3-6. On line purchases: For more information contact: Jessie Moon 027 667 8867

Please note that the print version of this story features an invitation to the book launch. This book launch is a private event and is by invitation only.