Rotary has been part of Michael Robinson’s life for as long as he can remember.
Growing up, his family regularly hosted Rotary International exchange students at their Oamaru home; his father, Peter, has served as president of the Rotary Club of Oamaru, and been a member for more than two decades; and his sister, Lisa, served as president of the Dunedin club.
She also revived the Rotaract Club of Dunedin, the youth division of Rotary, for people aged from 18 to 30.
In July last year, Michael (33) took over as president of the Oamaru club – a chance to follow in his father and sister’s footsteps and to make club history as one of the youngest people to serve as president.
“It’s also one of the few times in our club’s history that we’ve had a father-son president,” he said.
“It’s a real family affair.”
Michael was approached about stepping into the role by former president Robert Gonzales.
“We try to plan ahead to make sure we’ve got some good leadership going forward and we can work about steering the club towards the future and being well prepared,” he said.
“Robert Gonzales, when he was president, asked me. I mulled it over – it was quite a big honour and a quite daunting idea at the time.
“But I had time to grow into the idea and definitely wanted to take it with both hands.”
Michael grew up in Oamaru. When he left Waitaki Boys’ High School 15 years ago, he moved to Wellington to study architecture at Victoria University and then Dunedin to study economics and accounting at Otago University.
During his university holidays, he worked at vineyards in Central Otago. But what started as a way to earn some money to cover fees and living costs turned into a real passion, and he ended up working in, and studying, viticulture full-time
“I basically worked my way through to vineyard management at an organic biodynamic vineyard in Cromwell, Burn Cottage Vineyard,” he said.
In winter, he started travelling overseas to work at other vineyards for the harvest and to get more experience wine-making.
“I could get more experience and exposure to different varieties, different techniques,” he said.
He worked at vineyards in Switzerland and Germany, and made a variety of different wines – from ice wine to methode traditionnelle and riesling.
“I pretty much gallivanted around the world for the best part of six or seven years – I barely came home.”
He moved back to Oamaru in 2014, planning to return to Germany, but was offered a job at Scotts Brewing Co, where he was eventually able to move into a brewing role.
He bought a house in his hometown, joined a local hockey team, then became involved in the family business as service manager at North Otago Motor Group, married and had a baby.
He never thought he would move back to Oamaru – but he is glad he did.
“I love it, I absolutely love it.”
He became involved in Rotary when he moved back because he wanted to get to know more people.
“Rotary is about helping communities, but it’s also about fellowship and meeting people,” he said.
“It’s a lot of fun. You have the opportunity to do some real good in the community, too.
Taking over as president during a global pandemic had presented him with a few challenges, but they were nothing compared with what other clubs around the world were dealing with.
“They can’t see each other, they can’t do all these things – everything’s postponed, everything’s cancelled, they’re not getting all their projects across the line – so we’re lucky here,” he said.
“We’re really lucky in New Zealand.”
There were about 34 members of the Rotary Club of Oamaru – and a lot more younger people were getting involved.
“We always like to grow and invite new people to come along.”
Rotary took up a “good chunk” of Michael’s time, but it had been hugely beneficial, giving him opportunities to develop his public speaking, management, organisational and event management skills.