Volunteer Des is a Local Hero

November 28, 2012

Des Smith Local Hero

Des Smith shows off his well-deserved medal. Photo: Lauren Schaer

Congratulations to Des Smith, one of our Zealandia volunteers, for receiving a Local Hero award as part of the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards on Monday.

Des is a gay rights advocate and dedicated conservationist, he co-ordinated the native forest restoration of Bell’s Track in Ngaio and has been volunteering as a guide here at the sanctuary for many years.

The full letter of nomination from Karori Sanctuary Trustee (and previous Local Hero award winner herself) Pam Fuller.

I am writing to nominate Des Smith for a local Hero and Senior New Zealander of the Year Awards.

My name is Pam Fuller and I have been associated with Zealandia since its inception in 1993 as a Volunteer; Volunteer Co-ordinator; Guide, Host and Skipper Convenor and more recently interim Trust Board member.

Des has been active in the Wellington community for many years as a member and guide at Zealandia, undertaking conservation work in his neighbourhood and on Bell’s Track, and an active member of the local Gay community assisting with fundraising and furthering Gay Rights.

Zealandia: Des joined the Karori Sanctuary Trust in September 1995.
He completed his guide training in Sept 2002 and from that date has been a regular on the weekend rosters, assisting with our many cruise ship and nocturnal tours.

With his fluency in French Des has developed a tour script for delivery in French and is frequently on call to help with French-speaking groups.

He has a particular interest in the uses of native plants and has at times offered special tours focusing on these.

He is always up for a challenge, one of the more unusual taking a group of naturists for an early morning tour of the valley.

As part of the city’s Springtime programme Des has taken our special 2-hour “Bursting with Life” tours on 6 and 7 October providing visitors with the opportunity to learn more about spring flora and fauna activity in the Zealandia valley.

Des was appointed Lead Guide at Zealandia in 2006, a role which sees him in the valley at least two mornings or afternoons a month organising and supporting the guide team for that session.

On my retirement this year I asked that any contributions to a leaving gift be used to produce plant signage for the valley, a need close to Des and my hearts. To ensure we had sufficient funds to cover the costs for a range of signs Des and John agreed to run an Open Garden.

It was a great event with many of their friends and sanctuary members and volunteers turning up with their donations and in many cases a plate to share for afternoon tea. Despite an overcast and showery afternoon they raised a princely sum of $1040 which enables us to double the number of signs planned.


Des moved into Fox Street Ngaio in 1949 and since then has worked tirelessly to bring back the natives and bird song to the area, planting first his own property, now resplendent with native and other flowering trees and subsequently the roadside in Fox Street.

This work has involved weeding and planting the road reserve and frontages in Fox Street to the extent that John’s grandson was heard telling a visitor that Des’ garden began there – at No 1 Fox Street!

Over the years he has been on hand to help his neighbours with their gardens in whatever he can whether it be advice or the gift of cuttings and seedlings he has propagated.


Des first got involved with the restoration of Bells Track, in Ngaio in 2002 and since then has taken on the role of convenor, organising a group of volunteers who visit regularly to help with weeding and planting this area.

I understand his latest initiative has been to encourage volunteers to adopt an area so they have a sense of ownership for the work they do.

With surplus plants from his Bells Track work Des has recently begun clearing and planting around the local Awarua (Ngaio) Railway Station.


He and his partner John Jolliffe have also been active on the Gay Rights front over many years working in the 1980’s for Homosexual Law Reform, Human Rights, Civil Union and currently the Gay Marriage Bills.

In support of this work Des initiated and organised “A Fair for a Fair Law,” in Newtown, Wellington in 1986 the first annual Lesbian and Gay Fair in the city and the first of 10 organised by him.  Its purpose originally was to assist such organizations as the Wellington Gay Task-force to do fund-raising, and to raise visibility for the Law Reform cause. The fair has since given birth to “Out in the Square.” See Appendix 1.

Among other fundraising efforts Des and John ran an Open Garden at 24 Fox Street in February 2011 to raise funds for the 2nd Asia-Pacific Outgames held in Wellington in March of that year.