Wairio Trotting Club Ladies Mile Day Profile
Each year on Ladies Mile Day the Wairio Trotting Club selects a lady to profile who has made a valuable contribution to harness racing and this year that lady is Southern Harness Racing’s Office Manager, Nichola Hikawai.
Nichola is extremely reluctant to be the lady profiled by the club – she is a humble person and not one to seek the limelight – but we persisted as her contribution over many years is immense.
Nichola left school at the age of 16 in 1982 and went to work at Invercargill accountants Forrest, Burns & Ashby, then based in Gala Street.
Soon after the company moved to Spey Street and it was at that time that company partner, Peter Burns who was involved in harness racing, asked Nichola if she would like to work at the races. “In those days there were about nine meetings a year primarily spread over the summer months and you would have six months of racing and six months off from racing,” says Nichola. “Initially we were only dealing with Northern Southland, Wairio, Gore, Invercargill and Riverton, plus Roxburgh. Central Otago came along later.” Now of course Southern Harness Racing administers ten clubs.
When Peter Burns retired from Forrest Burns & Ashby, Nichola and Peter moved to the racecourse, initially occupying the area now used by the greyhound code under the North Stand. Nichola had resigned from Forrest Burns & Ashby but stayed working part-time on races with Peter. “Around that time Peter asked me if I wanted to work fulltime on racing but with a young family at that time I just couldn’t do it.”
As you would expect Nichola has witnessed massive change over 37 years. “I started as a stenographer doing stipes report with carbon paper for copies as well as helping in the front office. The changes have come mainly through technology. We used to enter horses by dialling up the operator, leaving the phone off the hook and typing all the information in, often losing the connection while we were at it. It was just all that we knew at the time. Committees used to come in and do the draws by marble in the office.”
Ironically, before she started working at the races Nichola had never been to a race meeting and working on the administration side of the business she seldom sees any racing when she is on course. “You just don’t see what’s going on.” These days she is based in the Southern Harness Office at Ascot Park Raceway in Invercargill working from around 9.00am until 2.00pm (but often longer) Monday to Friday and until recent years she worked in the race day office at virtually every race meeting. In this era that is over 40 race meetings a season over and above the normal weekly workload. However in more recent times she has stopped working at weekend meetings but is still often sighted working at mid-week events, “just to keep my hand in.” she jokes.
After Peter Burns retired Nichola worked with Russell Freeman who took over the reins and since Russell’s retirement Jason Broad leads the team.
In all those years of involvement she can only recall one or two meetings ever being abandoned “and they were due to power cuts” she says. After 37 years of service it is obvious that Nichola is happy in the job. “I enjoy the work. The hours are good and there are good people. It is pretty good to sit in an office and when you look out the window you are on a racecourse. If I didn’t enjoy it I wouldn’t still be here.”
In 2011 Nichola received a Contribution To Harness Racing Award at the Southland Harness Awards where again she was humbled to receive an accolade – I was a little embarrassed, getting up in front of a couple of hundred people.”
While reluctant to have a fuss made Nichola does admit that it is nice to be appreciated and acknowledged. “Thanks to Wairio for that,” she says.
Away from her work Nichola loves netball, describing herself as a netball fanatic, while socialising with friends and family and travel are important to her. She is married to Manu and has two children, Brayden (29) and Ahna who will be 27 in June.
Thirty-seven years in any role these days in rare and sports administration is very demanding at times so today we acknowledge and thank Nichola Hikawai for her outstanding contribution to our code.