Driving along a deserted Jervois Quay in 2020 in his second hand Rolls-Royce, Mark Dunajtschik stopped, put his head in his hands and shed a tear.
The first lockdown had emptied the streets and Dunajtschik was suddenly struck by an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. Suddenly the city looked so similar to the Wellington he first came to in 1958, when he arrived as a young and adventurous 22-year-old.
Dunajtschik’s life has changed a lot since then, and so has the city. Less peaceful, perhaps, but Wellington can be proud of what it has become under the pressure of an increasing population, he says.
READ MORE: * Keys to Wellington Children's Hospital handed over to health board * Wellington children's hospital, Te Wao Nui, set to open by mid-2022 * What $50m buys you: Wellington's philanthropist-funded children's hospital out of the ground * Wellington children’s hospital gets $45 million funding boost from Government
He and Dorothy Spotswood, his partner in life and in business, are now multimillionaire property developers and philanthropists. They have supported causes around the capital, but none more generous than the new Wellington children’s hospital – to which they donated $50 million.
Dunajtschik and Spotswood officially handed ownership of the new building, which bears their names, over to the Capital & Coast District Health Board last week. Deputy prime minister and Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson hailed the couple’s “extraordinary generosity”.
The children’s hospital has been five years and more than $100 million in the making. The Government contributed $45.6 million and the Hospital Foundation is raising $10 million to fund the hospital's equipment and fitout.
The DHB will now fit out the hospital before it opens to the public at the end of this year or the beginning of 2023.
The DHB’s new child health service, Te Wao Nui, will bring child health services from across Wellington Regional Hospital under one roof.
After handing over the keys to the hospital, Spotswood and Dunajtschik say they feel like a weight has been lifted off their octogenarian shoulders.
The 86-year-old Dunajtschik, particularly, had looked spent at the ceremony at the Newtown site, a low-key event thanks to Covid restrictions.
A few days later in his office – the 26th storey penthouse in the HSBC Tower on Lambton Quay, which which he and Spotswood used to own – he’s a new man.
“You can see our house from here,” he says from this lofty perch, pointing to a green house with a white roof nestled into the hills in Oriental Bay.
There’s nothing flash about Dunajtschik’s digs. A couple of Welly Awards (he was Wellingtonian of the Year in 2017) lean askew unceremoniously on a sofa against the wall. A few paintings brighten up an otherwise beige living room. A photo of his beloved 1955 Maico 350 two-stroke motorbike he rode halfway around the world hangs at an angle. He still rides the bike now and again.
A set of keys dangle from his waist – Dunajtschik is what you call a hands-on developer.
He and Spotswood are a team of two. Millionaires many times over, they have no staff. Dunajtschik does much of the maintenance on their buildings himself. It’s usually easier to do the job yourself than wrangle contractors, he says.
Their own sweat has been put into many of their construction projects, says Spotswood.
“Up at Horner Street we had some builders [constructing] units, but I remember doing all the concrete spreading. I’m the best concrete spreader around.”
They lease their own properties, manage all their own tenants. “At one stage we had 434 tenants all over town in flats and buildings and between us we would go and fix the curtains, make this, do that, buy a washing machine off Trade Me for a tenant,” says Spotswood, who also looks after the books.
Sitting side by side the couple, who have been together for 60 years, say they are relieved to have done what they promised in 2017: to replace the outdated and unfit for purpose children’s hospital in Wellington.
There had been the inevitable delays. The hospital was originally due to open late 2021. They expected to receive a clear site, which they didn’t. They encountered asbestos. Covid lockdowns knocked things back. The project was a juggling act but not a stressful one on their part, they say.
Working with the DHB was a different matter. It was a “nerving” experience with the DHB because they had different ideas on a lot of things where their philosophies didn’t match, from the kind of flushing loos to which way the doors should swing, says Dunajtschik.
The latter took four months to decide – they ended up with doors swinging both ways.
They debated about a roof over the carpark – an extra $400,000. Dunajtschik advocated people using an umbrella. He lost that battle.
The couple has been moved by the reaction from New Zealanders since they announced their $50 million donation to build the hospital, named Te Wao Nui, The Great Forest of Tane.
“It’s been amazing, amazing,” says Spotswood, 83. “We have got letters from children, little notes. We had people get in contact from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South. One woman wrote to me regularly to see how it was going because she has a sick grandchild who would need the service.”
A chap in Nelson sent a box of peonies, she says.
“We got a letter from the Public Trust in Whanganui letting us know someone had bequeathed $30,000 in his will to the Hospital Trust,” Spotswood continues. “A family from Tawa whose children will be in and out of hospital for the rest of their lives wrote a note to say they are so looking forward to coming to our hospital. It was quite tear-jerking.”
They don’t have children themselves, but they have godchildren, nieces and nephews galore.
Quite often at family gatherings Dunajtschik will toss the keys of the Porsche to one of them for a blat around town. Uncle Mark is a popular fellow.
Funnily enough, it was The Evening Post, a precursor of this newspaper, that brought Dunajtschik and Spotswood together. Spotswood had done a wild overland trip around the world (she and her companions ended up in an Iraqi prison at one point, but that’s another story).
On her return, one of her travel buddies interviewed her for the newspaper, which spawned an invitation for her to share her story with the Overland Club, to which Dunajtschik belonged.
Dunajtschik had done his own overland trip on his motorbike and when the pair met they found much in common. Both loved adventure. Both craved outdoor pursuits.
They never married. Living “in sin” – as it was referred to – was a bit of a scandal back in the early 70s. They didn’t care. Everyone just had to deal with it, they say.
They both come from very simple backgrounds, Spotswood adds.
Despite their huge wealth, they prefer to go camping and have BBQs rather than eating at flash restaurants and staying in hotels. That said, Dunajtschik has nine cars, including three Rolls-Royces, albeit second hand.
“We’re not fussy,” says Spotswood. “Mark will eat anything I put in front of him. He never minds what it is as long as it’s food.”
That philosophy comes from the difficulties in Dunajtschik’s early life.
He was born in the former Yugoslavia. His father, who was later taken prisoner of war, was a contract farmer and his mother a homemaker.
Between the ages of nine and 12 he spent three years in a concentration camp in Knicanin with his mother and sister. “For a long time in my life I was starving. There were about nine years in my life when I was constantly hungry. I had a very lean time. That’s why I appreciate food,” he says.
He and his mother and sister eventually made it to Austria, later moving to Germany in 1949, where they settled in the Black Forest. A year later they were joined by his father. At 15 he started his apprenticeship as a tool-maker and three years later emigrated to Canada.
Spotswood had a very different childhood. She grew up with her brother and two sisters, first in the King Country where her father worked in forestry, and later in Tawa. Her mother worked in a haberdashery and as a homemaker. She left school at 15 after getting school certificate and worked in insurance administration.
She travelled. A lot. “We went away with not much money but plenty of clues,” she says.
Dunajtschik also continued travelling – but for fun, and mostly on his motorbike. He first landed in Aotearoa in 1958. When he arrived he got off the boat, got The Dominion and found a job which he started that same afternoon.
After travelling back to Germany, he researched what country would offer him the best in outdoor pursuits and a good opportunity to earn decent money. “I looked for the country that would give me the best possible advancement without any education. I had no education at all. At 13 I couldn't even write my name. My chances of advancement in Germany were very low.”
New Zealand turned out to be the best fit and back he came in the early 1960s, where he met Spotswood and started his business, Precision Grinders. They ran the company for 28 years before retiring into the property developing business with no discernible experience apart from a few real estate investments.
They had encountered so many shonky contractors in their limited experience they thought, why not start their own property business and “make a mint”, Dunajtschik says.
And make a mint they did. At the height of their portfolio the couple had more than 40 properties, both residential and commercial. They even had a few motels on the go.
They started in October 1987 just weeks out from the crash. The timing couldn’t have been worse. It was the closest they had come to bankruptcy. “You are faced with a situation and you have to find a solution,” says a clearly pragmatic Dunajtschik.
Over the years the couple made plenty of money and gave plenty away. They started the helicopter rescue service Life Flight Trust in 1975, funding it for a decade before a commercial sponsor came on board. Wellington Free Ambulance and the Graeme Dingle Foundation have been beneficiaries of their philanthropy, among many other charities.
Dunajtschik has come under fire at times for his uncompromising stance on heritage buildings. He's tried to pull a few down. His belief is if heritage is affordable then save it – but if you can’t afford it, then be practical.
The practicalities of certain heritage buildings are “totally out of kilter,” he says, name checking the Town Hall.
Their next project is a mental health hospital in the Hutt Valley. Spotswood is working on developing Hōhepa House in Paraparaumu, a service for people with intellectual disabilities.
They have arranged for all of their assets to be administrated after their death by the Nikau Foundation. They have directed where their wealth should be distributed. Fifteen per cent of the income that is created by their wealth will go to develop Hōhepa.
It’s especially important ot Spotswood, who has a niece with down syndrome.
Dunajtschik had a particular empathy for people who had mental or physical disabilities having lived in a home for intellectually disabled while he was doing his apprenticeship in tool-making at the end of the Second World War.
“People who are born with disadvantages in life need help. But healthy people, they need a kick in the backside. I said that once at a function and Grant Robertson said ‘Mark, your philosophy is politically not acceptable!’”
There’s much more to be done with their wealth and neither look set to retire. But there’s life outside of work, and they sure do live it. They have a deer farm with around 35-40 deer (“count the legs and divide by four,” Dunajtschik jokes).
They eat a lot of venison. They’ve shot their fair share over the years in deepest Fiordland. They like to spend time in their pad on the slopes above Ohakune. They’ve been avid skiers for years.
Spotswood’s bones won’t tolerate the sport any more. Dunajtschik is still on the slopes, which is good going considering he was knocked out by a snowboarder on Mr Ruapehu in 2017.
Both are hard of hearing these days. Anyone walking by their home might think they're in an argument, but they’re just shouting to hear one another. They have a good loud laugh at that.
Te Wao Nui – The detail
The 7,200m² hospital, spread over three floors, will include:
151 beds – in bedrooms, consult rooms and clinical rooms
50 inpatient hospital beds, as well as social and family/whānau areas
Outpatient and clinical consultation rooms