Woollaston’s parents were fundamentalist Christian sharemilking dairy farmers, and he was born in rural Huinga near Toko in Taranaki. In his book Sage Tea he reveals the repressiveness of his upbringing – the beverage of the title was administered to him as his mother’s cure for adolescent sexual impulses. In 1928 at the age of 18 years he escaped to pick fruit on a Nelson orchard and took art lessons from Hugh Scott. Travelling to Dunedin to benefit from the enlightened modernist approach of Robert Nettleton Field at the art school there, he developed his signature expressionist technique alongside Colin McCahon and Doris Lusk. Marrying fellow artist Edith Alexander, he settled into art and orchard work in the Nelson region until a young family precipitated the move to Greymouth and a more stable income. Selling 325 pounds worth of work in his Barry Lett Gallery exhibition that year, he continued his exploration of the region until he reached a culmination point with the solo exhibition “Woollaston: A Taranaki Excursion” at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth in 1977.