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John "Bulldog" Street remembered on Sunday

by Richard Gladwell and Alan Sefton 16 Feb 18:01 PST 17 February 2024
John Street speaks at John Spencer - the Plywood Magician - Exhibition - November 2020 © Richard Gladwell /

A celebration of John "Bulldog" Street's life will be held on Sunday 18 February (03.00pm) at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.

It was standing room only, with the overflow outside in the pleasant summer late afternoon. On the water the MRX fleet of which Street was one of founder, were dressed in their Sunday best. Alongside the RNZYS Dinghy Locker bar, the icons of the the Classic Yacht Trust assembled - one of Street's contributions to create one of the best racing classic yacht fleets in the world.

And out the front, the RNZYS canon, normally only fired once a year, was fired a second in tribute to the life member, and former Sailor of the Year. Inside led by Peter Montgomery, members of the Street family spoke of the husband, father and grandfather they knew, friends - including Peter Harken and marine industry notables spoke of the Bulldog they knew.

Street who passed away in late December was the patriarch of the New Zealand marine and sailing industry. He covered a lot of ground detailed in his many achievements listed at the bottom of this memory of the man who was the king of the Auckland waterfront, and probably the last real link with Auckland's sailing history and heritage.

I last talked with John Street at Rick Dodson's book launch in the Dinghy Locker bar at Royal NZ Yacht Squadron.

That July evening, the floor of the Dinghy Locker was a mass of people trying to make themselves heard in a room with all the acoustic qualities of the inside of a snare drum.

John had wisely decided to hold court in the corner, as he perched on a bar stool, in dim light and with a beer to hand.

"What are you up to now, John?" I asked.

"I haven't got a project, Richard" The Bulldog growled out of the half-light. "I've always had a project. I've got to have a project."

That was a most unexpected answer from the man of many projects - always known as "the Bulldog".

"Bulldozer" was perhaps a more apt sobriquet. He was a man to whom it was very hard to say "no".

Usually, chats with the Bulldog very quickly spiralled onto his latest battle with the panjandrums of local government, or that citadel of bureaucracy – Wellington.

Having heard variants of these war stories for years, one always wondered how these inherently stupid public servants could keep crossing paths with this bulldozer of bureaucracy. And how, like a possum caught in a headlight, they never seemed to appreciate the inevitability of their outcome.

We talked for a few minutes. Others spotted the Bulldog holding court in the corner of the bar, and a queue soon formed to pay homage to the King of the Auckland Waterfront.

John Street's most famous scalp was one of this first. That political bulldog, Robert Muldoon, had an endearing habit of commandeering the national television channel, pushing the set-piece news out of his way to announce some draconian economic measure to his subjects.

In 1979, Muldoon took to the airwaves to announce a 20% Boat tax, along with a similar measure on caravans and boats. The Marine industry at the time was on its financial knees, and the Boat Tax was a fatal blow.

Long time associate Alan Sefton recalls: The story goes that, in the absence of any official statistics, John Street and Tony Bridget, of Fibreglass Moulders Ltd, carried out their own survey of the state of the boatbuilding industry in New Zealand and, armed with the results, went to Wellington to see the minister for customs, Hugh Templeton. They were not the bearers of glad tidings. The impact of the new tax had been immediate and bad. A horrific 83% of New Zealand's boatbuilders had gone out of business, and there had been two suicides.

A series of Wellington meetings followed, at the start of one of which the PM reportedly told John Street that, according to the PM's sources, he was a communist and political activist. In another meeting, the PM allegedly resorted to poking him in the chest with his index finger to stress his point of view.

Mr Street of course, didn't appreciate that and reportedly told the PM that if he poked him in the chest one more time, there would be physical repercussions.

The proceedings ended abruptly, and no more meetings between the pair were ever contemplated.

That is when the Bulldog legend was born.

Despite compelling evidence to the contrary, Muldoon was belligerently stubborn in his refusal to drop the Boat Tax. However, the ongoing broadsides from John Street and friends were sufficient to assist Muldoon and his government in being swept from power in the "Schnapps Election" of 1984.

Alan Sefton recalls the Bulldog's beginnings on the Auckland waterfront, of which he grew to become a patriarchal figure in so many aspects.

John Robert Street was born in Hamilton in 1936 but grew up mainly in Auckland, where, in 1950, he started at Auckland Grammar School.

He enrolled at Auckland University in 1955 and studied accountancy, which included commercial law, trustee law and mercantile law, along with book-keeping and auditing. In 1957, he applied for a job in the accounts payable department of Mason Brothers Engineering – the biggest engineering firm in New Zealand at that time, and continuing his studies part-time, at night, as was the way in the pre-student loan era.

He completed his accountancy qualifications in 1959, with a costing degree at Auckland University and left Mason Brothers to join his father in the running and operation of A. Foster & Co. Ltd, engineering merchants and ships' chandlery.

Fosters was started in 1907 by Alexander Fraser Foster, a marine engineer on New Zealand's steam-run commercial cargo ships. Operating his part-time business while in port, Alex's shop was in a small building adjacent to the shipyards and repair slipways where the wooden trading scows were maintained. Apprentices walked across the road to buy copper nails, oakum, sheathing felt, pitch and wooden blocks etc.

After WWII, Alex Foster asked his bank manager Sydney Street to join the organization and in 1952 Syd Street purchased 25% of Foster's shares. After the deaths of Alex and his partner Bill Teixera, in 1956 and 1957 respectively, Syd, the bank manager acquired the remainder of the shares in the company which became a family business when he was joined by son John who took over the helm of the company in 1970.

These were boom times in the emerging marine industry of post-WWII New Zealand which developed in a typically Kiwi way with many larger than life characters involved in these enterprises.

John Street's Monday mornings would start early when, armed with order book, he would call to see all the marine-related businesses in Auckland, dotted along the water frontages of Beaumont and Hamer Streets in what is now known as the Wynyard Quarter.

His first call was Ship Builders, at the southern end of Beaumont Street.

Then it was next door to Chas Bailey, run by Gil Power and Harry Pope. The yard was owned by Ernest (later Sir Ernest) Davis who also owned the old Devonport Steam Ferry Company.

Next to Baileys was Arthur Cadell who was the storeman at the North Shore Ferries depot where they housed all the spares needed to keep the old ferries running. Fosters used to supply all the hardware that went into those ferries – bolts, big deck bolts, copper rod, bronze rod, portholes, door locks, port and starboard lights etc – the whole shooting box.

Then came Segar Brothers, which later became Mason Brothers Engineering Ltd, and then along the road to the Auckland Harbour Board's repairs slipways.

Next up was A&G Price who were building steel fishing boats including, a little later, 55 to 60-footers for the crayfish boom in the Chatham Islands.

Then on to the Allely Brothers, who were marine engineers.

After that it was the Percy Vos yard in Hamer Street. They were general boat builders and in the early 1960s built the A-Class keeler Kahurangi for Lawrence Nathan. The

And last, but by no means least, were the Lidgards, Vic and Roy, with a yard that was run by Roy's son Jimmy, making cold-moulded dinghies.

Sadly, the Beaumont Street/Hamer Street waterfront that John Street knew as he stepped out in the family business is now long gone with the property developers eager to remove all trace of this treasured and integral part of Auckland's heritage and replace it with higher-yield apartment blocks and hotels.

Fosters building, which still stands in its original state on Fanshawe Street, in Downtown Auckland, is one of the few original marine industry buildings still standing.

Back in the 70's getting taken on a search through the bowels of the Fosters building was a step back in time - full of nooks and crannies stained with the passage of time, and cluttered with rope, chain, blocks, anchors and other ships gear.

John Street was a visionary, importing the first sizeable RIB into New Zealand which soon became a feature on many major sailing events. Fosters held the Avon agency, but the RIB along with Street's larger than life presence, led to the development of a new branch of the New Zealand boat building industry. The Protector brand assumed world prominence - being the RIB of choice in the 2000 and 2003 America's Cups in New Zealand.

Never backward in coming forward, John moved quickly when he learned, in the late 1980s, that the club was about to do a deal with the French boatbuilding giant Beneteau for the supply of 11 new 36-footers, to be launched in time for the 1990 Match Racing worlds in Auckland. He went to the Squadron with an alternative proposition that would result in the creation of a new, home-grown match racing fleet based on the already successful Farr 1020 that was being built exclusively by McDell Marine.

Kim McDell was recruited to the initiative bringing the Farr design office to the table, to generate a modified version of the Farr 1020 design with a new deck and cockpit layout specifically for match racing.

And, so, the first one-design match-racing fleet in the world was born.

There were, understandably, concerns about costs and about where the money would come from. These were addressed by John Street who asked Kim McDell to provide him with a list of all the suppliers that would be involved in the building programme, plus any potential benefactors. The pair then stitched together a package that involved extended credit arrangements with the suppliers who would defer payments until sponsorships were achieved or other funding sources were secured. The late Peter Walker was enlisted as project manager.

"We didn't get one knock-back," Street told long-time friend Alan Sefton. "Everyone bought in and the outcome was a one-design fleet that was the envy of the rest of the match-racing world."

It was a similar story with the origins of the Squadron's youth training scheme which also has become an object of envy throughout the rest of the sailing world.

Street found a never-ending series of projects after he sold out of the Fosters business in 2002, forming the Classic Yacht Charitable Trust in that year so that yachts which had a significant link with yachting could be acquired, often returned to New Zealand, restored and returned to sailing condition, so they could be seen and appreciated sailing/racing as they did in their prime.

There are now seven vessels in the Trust's ownership.

The first was Waitangi (built 1894 by Robert Logan Snr), she was purchased by John Street via the Classic Yacht Trust and returned to Auckland in 2003.

The second, and major project was Thelma (1897 Logan), which was retrieved from St Tropez in 2007.

Then followed:

  • Frances (1906 - Logan)
  • Ethel (1896 - Logan)
  • Gloriana (1892 - Logan)
  • Ida (1895 - Bailey)
  • Rainbow II (1966 Sparkman & Stephens)

John Street tells the story of Ida's recovery and restoration here

Alan Sefton tells the story of Rainbow II's recovery and restoration in Auckland

The story of the can be read here restoration of Gloriana and Thelma

Alan Sefton tells the story of Waitangi's restoration and christening

John Street's ongoing project was the recovery and restoration of one of New Zealand's earliest vessels "Daring" constructed in 1853. She plied her trade on the New Zealand coast, until she was caught in a storm and 1865 and driven up onto South Head of Kaipara Harbour. Her Master believed that was the best measure to save the boat and crew, however she was unable to be refloated and Daring was reclaimed by the Tasman Sea and the sands of South Head.

Nothing more was seen or heard of the Daring until 153 years later when, on Wednesday 30 May 2018, the New Zealand Herald reported: "The remains of a ship which ran aground 153 years ago have been discovered on an Auckland beach.

Alan Sefton picks up the story: The skeleton of the Daring, a 16m two-masted schooner, has been exposed at the entrance to Kaipara Harbour on NZ Defence Force land at South Head and has already attracted much attention with people making the trip out just to get a glimpse of it.

There have been elevated high tides recently which explains why such a substantial wreck that has been buried for many years has become exposed like this. It may well get covered up again."

"Racing the clock before that could happen, Auckland waterfront personality John Street, MNZM, and maritime author Baden Pascoe formed the Daring Rescue Group to save what they immediately recognized as an invaluable example of early ship building in New Zealand.

Time was now of the essence! The remains of the Daring, for most of 150-odd years, had been buried in and protected by wet sand so that she re-emerged in a new century in a state of preservation that astonished all that surveyed her. But she was now completely exposed to the elements and there was no knowing how much more punishment she would take before breaking up and being lost forever.

For the full story and images of the Daring and her connection with NZ's Deputy Prime Minister click here

John Street, along with Trevor Geldard and Sir Tom Clark were awarded the Yachtsman of the Year in 2004 for their contributions to the sport over an extended period of time. In 1996 he was awarded Membership of the NZ Order of Merit for services to yachting and maritime affairs. Street was also a Past President on NZ Marine Industry Association, and in 2023 was awarded a Life Membership of NZMIA in recognition of his drive and achievements.

A celebration of John "Bulldog" Street's life will be held on Sunday 18 February (03.00pm) at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.

Citation - John Robert Street, MNZM

Born Hamilton, 9 June 1936; Died Auckland, 21 December 2023


  • 1959: Joined family ship’s chandlery A Foster & Co Ltd
  • 1975: Took over from father as Managing Director of A. Foster & Co Ltd
  • 2006: Sold Fosters to American Principals - Harken International, USA
  • 2006: Appointed Chairman of Directors, Harken NZ Ltd


  • NZ Yachting Federation Honour Award, 1994
  • Member of the NZ Order of Merit (MNZM), June 1996
  • Life Member, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, 2001 (joined in 1978)
  • Life Member: Yachting New Zealand, 2004
  • “Yachtsman of Year”, 2003/04 (Yachting NZ’s Sir Bernard Fergusson Trophy) - in conjunction with Sir Tom Clark and Trevor Geldard)

  • Director of joint venture company Foster McDell Ltd - builders of the MRX Match Racing fleet of yachts in Auckland
  • Past committee member of MAREX (now NZ Marine Industry Association)
  • Past president and committee member of Boating Industry Association (now New Zealand Marine)
  • Past member of Yachting New Zealand’s High Performance Committee - approving grants for top Olympic yachtsmen and women

  • NZ International Yachting Trust: Founding member, trustee and former chairman, 1997 to 2011. Trust objective: To assist with funding for New Zealand’s Olympic yachtsmen & women
  • Auckland Volcanic Cones Soc Inc: Chairman and founding member, 1997 to 2013
  • America’s Cup: Former director of America’s Cup Village Ltd (1998 to 2000), official supplier to Team New Zealand (1994 to 2013)
  • Classic Yacht Charitable Trust: Co-founder and chairman, 2002 to 2013. Trust objectives: Sourcing, acquiring and restoring the classic vessels built (in kauri) in New Zealand in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The trust, to date, has acquired and restored seven such vessels which now enjoy pride of place in the Auckland classic yacht fleet that is fast becoming one of the most important in the world
  • Marsden Cross Trust: Trustee (2003 to 2013). Project to acquire the land on which stands the Marsden Cross at Oihi, Bay of Islands, in order to establish a tourist destination and a memorial and pilgrimage centre to mark the arrival of Christianity in New Zealand
  • Auckland Anniversary Regatta: Patron (2006 to 2013)
  • Heritage Marina Working Group: Committee member (2006 to 2012). Group objective: to establish the Heritage Marina at Silo Park in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter
  • Auckland Traditional Boatbuilding School: Patron (2006 to 2013)
  • NZ National Maritime Museum: Original trustee, ambassador & advisory Trustee (2008 to 2013)
  • Percy Vos Charitable Trust: Trustee (2011 to 2013). Trust objective: To revive preserve traditional wooden boat building in the soon-to-be remodeled iconic P. Vos Ltd Boatshed in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter
  • Sir Peter Blake Memorial: “Blue Water/Black Magic” exhibit at the NZ National Maritime Museum” – major role achieving the $12 million funding target 2009/11
  • Maritime Museum Foundation: Ambassador & Advisory Trustee (2012)
  • The “Gypsy” Restoration Trust: Chairman (2012 to 2013)
  • Kiwi Gold Sailing Charitable Trust: Advisor and contributor, 2013. Trust objective: To provide equipment and funding support for two of New Zealand’s top sailors (now MS sufferers) David Barnes and Rick Dodson in their campaign to represent New Zealand in sailing at the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil
  • Mangawhai Daring Trust: Founding trustee of the organization established to achieve the restoration and museum presentation of the early 1800s 16m trading schooner Daring, the remarkably intact remains of which he was largely instrumental in rescuing from the shifting sands of northern Muriwai beach in December 2018

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