Column – Gord Stewart
A bit of advice: When organising your summer reading, put Project Kiwi on the list. In fact, you should move it right to the top.Submitted to Scoop, 5 December 2016
Taking the Long View: Books for Summer Reading
A bit of advice: When organising your summer reading, put Project Kiwi on the list. In fact, you should move it right to the top.
Project Kiwi: How one man’s passion for the land hatched New Zealand’s first community kiwi sanctuary is a great read and wonderful book on three levels. Along with a compelling main story, there are informative short bits (sidebars) sprinkled along the way and stunning photographs appearing throughout.
Author Sue Hoffart, well-known for her fine writing in the likes of North & South, NZ House & Garden and Kia Ora, has woven together a wonderful account of a man, his land, and inspiring efforts to protect the North Island brown kiwi.
At the centre of the story is Warwick ‘Waz’ Wilson and the ruggedly beautiful 450-hectare property he purchased in the 1960s at Waitaia Bay on the Coromandel’s Kuaotuna Peninsula. It’s been a long and bumpy road, but ‘Waitaia’ is now in trust and protected for as long as the law will allow. This is one special spot that won’t be sold off for development.
Reading about Wilson, who is now in his 80s, I thought this is one interesting, inspiring, admirable man. A close friend of Wilson’s and regular summer resident, put it more personally. “It is the place that has shaped my boys,” she said, “With Waz, there is old-fashioned respect. He has a mana that can’t completely be put into words.”
Over three decades, Wilson evolved, as one of his son’s friends put it, from a sheep farmer to a kiwi farmer. Building on earlier local efforts, Project Kiwi Trust (projectkiwi.org.nz) was formally established in 2002.
With effective trapping of pest predators, supplemented by captive rearing, survival rates of brown kiwi are vastly improved. Trapping is now done on some 4,000 hectares, thanks to the cooperative efforts of Wilson, 21 other private landowners, a commercial forestry company, and the Department of Conservation. Volunteers and scientists have played their part, too, in this unfolding kiwi (and Kiwi) success story.
Project Kiwi would be a perfect Christmas gift. It should be on a table in the lounge of every Kiwi bach this summer for family and friends to read and enjoy.
You’ll need more than one good book to get through the summer, so here are some other suggestions. These brief comments can hardly do them justice, but they are also highly recommended.
Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, recounts adventures from her childhood in rural Minnesota through to the University of Hawai’i at Manoa where she studies trees and plants as an award-winning scientist.
The book’s dust jacket describes it accurately and without overstatement: “An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a longtime friendship; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see the natural world.”
Chapters on her scientist life are interspersed with shorter ones that rightly serve as an ode to trees and plants. I was particularly moved by this book as I read it at a time when we were in a struggle with our local council aiming to change (read weaken) the district’s tree protection rules.
Back to a Kiwi focus, there’s The New Zealand Land & Food Annual edited by Claire Massey. I’ll have a closer look at this one in a future column, but just to alert you to it now. The book’s 22 chapters, written by experts and commentators in the field, cover trends and key issues in agriculture. Farmers and others interested in our biggest export earner who are getting a bit of a summer break ought to take this book along with them.
Finally, may I suggest The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016? Each year’s edition of this annual publication includes 25 or so ‘best’ pieces, chosen from an array of print and online magazines. Some of them I have seen in the original, but it’s always a pleasure to read them again.
Other books in the series include The Best American … Essays, Travel Writing and Sports Writing. I read all four of them – have done for years – during the lazy days of summer. Which reminds me, I better put in my order.
Hope you enjoy your summer – and happy reading!
Gord Stewart is an environmental sustainability consultant. He does project work for government, industry, and non-profit organisations.
Project Kiwi: How one man’s passion for the land hatched New Zealand’s first community kiwi sanctuary, by Sue Hoffart, Penguin Books, 2016
Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016
The New Zealand Land & Food Annual: Why waste a good crisis? The end of ‘white gold fever’, and rethinking agribusiness, edited by Clair Massey, Massey University Press, 2016
The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2016, guest editor Amy Stewart, series editor Tim Folger, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016