I Lieu of a Plaque

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

A young woman saw a need but wasn't appreciated.

Submitted: January 12, 2018

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Submitted: January 12, 2018



A young woman called at the nursery and told Henry that she had a few dollars to spend on some coastal plants. To be helpful he asked where she was going to plant them because as he explained, coastal plantings are exposed to harsh conditions, usually sandy soils which dry quickly, even after heavy rain. All coastal areas are exposed to very strong, off-shore winds, and not many plants tolerate the salt laden air.

The woman told Henry that she was giving a helping hand to the Little Blue Penguin population living and nesting along the town’s foreshore. She had started walking down there and noticed a lot of dead penguins and that the ones that were alive had nowhere to shelter other than amongst industrial rubbish. Nobody was taking an interest in the small birds and for sure nobody was taking any responsibility to keep those areas tidy. She told me she had even seen some penguins nesting under the derelict buildings.

At the time, catchment boards were encouraging farmers to remove gorse hedges and replant with suitable trees for livestock shelter, some of the areas were coastal, so he had all sorts of species available and the woman  bought as many as her dollars could stretch. He liked the idea she was promoting, so donated some more plants that were in need of repotting. He showed her how to cut the spiralled roots rather than to tease them out, because most native plants don’t like their roots disturbed. He also demonstrated the best method to plant in dry conditions.

He dubbed her The Penguin Woman, and noticed that she had started writing letters to the editor of the local paper, trying to put pressure on the council to tidy up the foreshore and she supplied some embarrassing photos. She was rubbished as a silly young woman with a bee in her bonnet! It’s a typical reaction when businesses and civic leaders are embarrassed and the snide remarks directed at her persisted for years. But she was unbending. Her letters also put pressure on the various industries that were tipping their rubbish and effluent onto the foreshore.  

A bane for The Penguin Woman was dogs; dogs patrolled the foreshore for carrion and when they came upon a penguin, they tore it to pieces leaving only a few feathers. Sometimes she found carcasses that dogs had left half-eaten and she wrote that the penguins were victims preyed on not by feral dogs, but by domestic dogs that had been allowed to roam free at night. Letters and photos to the paper followed and she continued to embarrass the civic leaders as well as the dog owners. So there were a bunch of replies to her letters that targeted her, dog owners especially weren’t happy about being embarrassed into keeping their dogs on a leash when walking along the beach, and tied up at night!

Support for her cause was mute, but somehow she managed to keep raising some funds, or using her own to regularly buy plants for her foreshore plantings. Henry usually discounted the price, which allowed her to buy extra plants or he donated some. She carried out the planting work on her own and cared for them well, witnessed by Henry who, from time to time went to have check on them. The survivals were good, which is always and encouragement to anyone planting trees and shrubs. .

The Penguin Woman’s campaign eventually had an effect, the townspeople became aware of the penguins, because of the shelter and improved environment she had provided allowed the birds to multiply. The businesses were embarrassed into cleaning up their act on the foreshore, and the civic leaders began to see that the protection of the derelict Victorian buildings could boost the tourism potential for the town, therefore income! Civic leaders like spending other people’s money. Dog owners at last took responsibility for their pooches.

The Department of Conservation arrived, ‘the protectors of all things indigenous’, said in a deep, official voice! These were the big boys, with university-implanted knowledge – far more than The Penguin Woman could possibly know from practical experience! So she was unceremoniously elbowed out of the picture. She wasn’t welcome even to offer an opinion on the foreshore and penguins anymore!

A joint effort between the Department of Conservation, civic leaders, and a new breed of volunteers set up a new enterprise utilizing the area The Penguin Woman had planted. They saw the business potential of the now trendy small seabirds. They built a visitor centre and a Little Blue Penguin viewing stadium, which is now a leading business enterprise in the town. Bringing those tourists to the town and their dollars.

No commendation or thanks has ever been directed towards The Penguin Woman. She deserves a brass plaque with a ruby light erected in a prominent place within the flash visitor centre! It won’t happen, her efforts have already been forgotten – almost.

© Copyright 2018 moa rider. All rights reserved.

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