Zealandia has been a great part of my life, and a very satisfying one. I just live over the other side of the hill, and I have as many kākā in my backyard as here. I have to say though, there are advantages and disadvantages of living so close to work. My son asked me once, how come you now saved one hour everyday in driving to work, and yet you come home much later. That’s the problem when you live so close! It also means for 10 years I’ve been first on the call list if somebody forgets to set the alarm or is locked inside the sanctuary. That perhaps, I won’t miss!
When I was recruited as a founding Trustee in 1995, I knew little about conservation. And I am sure some would still say the same thing, but to the average Joe Bloggs I can now call myself an expert, and I am proud of that, given the environment of high rises I grew up in.
I am honoured to have been involved and contributed to such an inspirational and worthwhile cause. I have to say that it is the most interesting place I have ever worked. It’s going to be hard to beat.
In January 2003, I took over the role as Chief Executive to lead the next phase of Jim Lynch’s vision – what was then called the Gateway Project. The Gateway Project is not just about the Visitor and Education Centre, but the development of an integrated visitor experience including both the Visitor and Education Centre and the sanctuary valley, that tells a NZ conservation story with a live example of conservation in action. The aim was, and is still, to provide a centre of conservation education, and to create an international tourism attraction so as to assist us to be financially sustaining.
There is no doubt Zealandia is a success as a community based conservation organisation, leading its field in urban ecological restoration. Many re-introduced species are now growing in numbers, and native birds, such as kākā are often seen in the gardens around Wellington homes. Many people are part of these successes. You should never forget that.
I cannot claim that I have directly contributed to the conservation successes of the sanctuary, but I hope I can say that I have provided an enabling environment where those successes were achieved and the community could be involved.
I am also pleased that over the years we have forged strong relationships with industry partners and community leaders, including our collaboration with Victoria University six years ago, when we secured funding from the Innovation Development Fund to develop a master degree in ecological restoration, with Zealandia being a living laboratory for Victoria University. Our relationships are growing stronger and I am pleased to know that this will continue and broaden.
It is no doubt disappointing that we did not achieve the visitor numbers in the original business plan, but I am proud that we have achieved recognition in the tourism industry, both in New Zealand and internationally with a number of tourism awards.
If there is one legacy I would like, it would be that Zealandia is now a place, not only for the wildlife, but for people, all ages, who can come and experience, enjoy and learn about New Zealand ecology and biodiversity. I personally still believe, this is the key role for Zealandia.
Zealandia is a complex organisation with many diverse objectives and many stakeholders. The challenge has always been the balancing of the various objectives – conservation/research, education, community involvement, tourism and to be financially sustainable.
Thanks to the enhanced partnership with the Council, Zealandia’s future is now secured with base funding to move forward. Few people realise that fundraising has already been a core activity for us, with or without the Visitor Centre. While the Trust has been successful in raising $16m to-date excluding council funding and volunteer efforts, these are primarily for projects and capital expenditure, it would be more challenging to fundraise for operations. However, with your continued support and the Council support, I am now confident that Zealandia will continue to prosper and will play a significant role in the City’s 2040 eco-city vision.
So what are my plans? I am going to take some time to get fit. Skinny does not mean fit. I will enjoy my summer and my time with my husband. Then I am going to look for a new challenge. In the last two decades I have worked in computing, mining, housing, education and tourism/conservation. There are still plenty of industries I have to tackle.
To my staff and ex staff, I thank you for putting up with all my demands and the tremendous support you’ve given me over the last 10 years.
To my chairs and trustees, past and current, you were great to work with, thank you for believing in me and providing me with the guidance and direction. And more importantly, supporting me all the way.
To my colleagues from the conservation industry, the tourism industry, the education and research industry, the community organisations, our sponsors, donors and those who were involved in the development of the Visitor Centre, I thoroughly enjoyed working with you all, and thanks for your support and I am sure our paths will cross in the future.
To the volunteers, I want to thank you for your passion, commitment and your support for Zealandia and me personally. I will miss you all, especially seeing you guys on a day to day basis and having a good natter when I come into the valley at the weekend.
To the Councillors and officials, whom I have worked with for ten years, I also thank you for the support both personally and for Zealandia. Your support has been crucial along Zealandia’s journey to-date and also in the future.
The successes of Zealandia truly, could not be accomplished, without the work of a lot of people pulling in the same direction.
And lastly, to my husband Iain. I was asked a long time ago how I have lasted in this job for so long. And there’s no doubt that this could only have happened because of the support of my husband.
So thank you all.
I may see you next time I’m volunteering in here with the kākā team!