Thank You

I have met and dealt with politicians across the political spectrum and, without exception, I have found they all want to make New Zealand a better place. They may differ on the route by which they want to get us there and sometimes their party’s actions don’t align as well as they could with an individual politician’s views, but that is the nature of politics where compromise is invariably the only way forward.

I was thus delighted to learn that Ruth Dyson was made a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order in the Queen’s Birthday Royal Honours. I visited her during a time when I had become President of FMC and felt we needed to re-establish our presence in Wellington. Ruth was very generous to share her insight and time. She was the Opposition spokesperson on Environment and Conservation at the time. In the process, I was astounded to discover the extent of her remarkable memory. She could even recall some trivial details about me from some 30 years earlier.

The next politician I met that day was Nick Smith, then Minister of Conservation. He glowered at me, clearly remembering the last time he had dealt with FMC, last century when we had a president who was not in step with history and he was Minister of Conservation for the first time. We talked engineer-to-engineer and soon established a warm rapport. I can truly say that I have always enjoyed meeting with Nick.

One of the three reasons Nick gave for entering politics was to champion the environment and I think he deserves huge credit for doing so. Indeed, even my staunchest left-leaning friends assert Nick was one of the best Ministers of Conservation we have had, and there is no doubt he has done a lot of good work to that end. His efforts to have Kahurangi recognised as a National Park alone deserve much praise, and he made important in-roads towards creating a number of marine reserves. In my time he made the right decisions for the right reasons to give the thumbs-down to the Milford tunnel and the Milford monorail proposals. Nick has now left Parliament, but it is not too late for me to thank him here.

I was terribly saddened — much more saddened than I would have expected — to learn of Kiri Allen’s diagnosis of cancer earlier this year. I had only met Kiri twice since she left the backbench to become Minister of Conservation and I decided that she has a rare mix of  passion, warmth, staunchness and intellect. As I write, she has returned to Parliament and there is no doubt in my mind that she is going to be an impressive Minister of Conservation.

Tramping Politicians

Nick Smith mentioned in his valedictory speech that he hoped there would be more diversity in Parliament. I understood he meant that with the widest possible ambit; I’d like to see more politicians go tramping to balance those who play for the Parliamentary Rugby Team. Nick seems more happy mountain biking with his family than tramping (I could be wrong and his childrens’ ages may have had some bearing) and some of the Labour MPs do get into the Hills: Acting Minister of Conservation, Ayesha Verrall, grew up with Fiordland as her backyard and I understand Duncan Webb dons tramping boots from time to time. David Parker is a tramper from way back and is known to tackle demanding off-track travel from time to time. Jim Bolger and the then Finance Minister Bill Birch used to knock off the Milford Track each summer back in the day. We need more trampers in Parliament, in all parties!

Lou Sanson

As this UJCC gets printed, DOC Director-General Lou Sanson will be closing the door to his office in Wellington as he takes up retirement. Lou took over from a predecessor who inadvertently crippled DOC and set it back 15 years in both its capacity and capability. Taking up the reins, Lou knew the Department couldn’t survive any further and needed restructure, so he did his best with what he inherited. Lou has a tremendous ability to network and he genuinely cares for people (and in particular, his staff). He has done a huge amount of good.

Actually, Lou and I go back to the mid 1970s when we tramped together in the Canterbury University Tramping Club. We have crossed paths time and again since then, from the early 1980s when Lou and a few other miscreants had a notorious flat in Invercargill from which the subsequent DOC ‘Invercargill Mafia’ emerged. I circled him when he was the Conservator for Southland in the late 1990s and afterwards when he headed Antarctic New Zealand. Thank you, Lou.

Fellow Travelers

I’ve been enjoying reading Brian Turner’s 2008 minor masterpiece, Into the Wider World. I thought it would be nice to quote a few of his pertinent, perceptive observations here, but that is an impossibility given the enormous choice of quotes, let alone pithy observations from which to choose. Brian is possibly better known as a poet than an essay writer, but I found this collection of essays hit the mark with me. The poet shows through: ‘sandflies descended like soot’! If you are illiterate, or would like to hear Brian’s laconic voice, you can listen to him read some of the essay-chapters, slightly abbreviated, in podcasts posted on the RNZ website that were recorded in 2011. Start by searching for ‘Into the Wider World by Brian Turner – Part 6’ for a nicely told, wry story about a hunting-fishing trip to Poison Bay in Fiordland. I hunted in Poison Bay a few years ago and I can vouch for the authenticity.

Wrong End of the Road

Randall Goldfinch tells me that the Heretaunga Tramping Club has some recommendations for easing things along when things go bad. Recognising that everyone on the trip should have a personal first-aid kit, they recommend you keep in it a record of your:  name, address, phone numbers, email, car registration, doctor’s details, National Health Indicator (NHI), any medication you are taking, along with who is your next-of-kin with their address, phone numbers and email address. Randall keeps three copies in his first-aid kit in case he gets medivaced; the hospital staff quickly know exactly who he is and his medical history. Randall also stores his car key in the first aid kit because it has a battery and can’t handle any wet conditions without ceasing to work.

Sounding like there may be some recent experience to draw from, Randall also recommends you take your credit card, some cash in notes and your charged up cell phone with you into the Hills in case the rescue helicopter off-loads you into a hospital that is far from your local city. So armed, if the hospital pushes him out on a wet night, Randall can pay for medication, taxis, meals, accommodation and a bus fare to get home . . . or, given that he still may have the car key in his first-aid kit, back to the car. I was advised by another tramper that you may like to protect your PLB so that should you inadvertently sit on it, you don’t accidently set it off. I gather this knowledge was hard-earned also.

Ka kite,

Robin McNeill

This article was re-published from the August 2021 issue of FMC’s Backcountry magazine. To subscribe to the print version, please visit We will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Uncle Jacko’s Cookery Column here on Wilderlife.