Ōrākei Volunteer Expo 2022

Ōrākei Volunteer Expo: Saturday, September 17, 2022

-story and photos by Jan Power

More than 420 members of the public visited over the four hours of the Expo, held at the Netball Centre in Allison Fergusson Drive, Stonefields. In addition, 120 community volunteers attended representing 44 participating organisations in the Ōrākei Local Board area, ranging from Age Concern Auckland to Youth of Ōrākei. The event was officially opened by Tama Davis, Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei. 

Pic 1 caption: Visitors to the  Õrākei Volunteer Expo crowd around the Eastern Bays Songbird Project table.  (Photo by Turfa Chowdhury)

Many of the volunteers managed to find time to visit one another’s exhibitions and discover the range of admirable and imaginative projects being undertaken in our area. As a committee member and communications person for the Eastern Bays Songbird Project/ Te Tï Oriori, I was especially interested in the organisations engaged in environmental work. Here are some of the energetic and enthusiastic people and groups I encountered:

Native-plant windbreak designer

Student Shannon Crowther has designed a native-plant windbreak for Ngāti Whātua’s mara kai as her project for her landscape design course at Unitec. Her design encompasses half of the mara kai’s perimeter, and she has used 20 different native species that will feed birds and provide shelter for the food garden, as well as continue Eastern Bays Songbird Project’s efforts to enhance the Eastern Bays Eco Corridors. Shannon selected the shrubs and trees used in her design from the EBSP’s website, so made a beeline for our table when she arrived at the Expo. 

As a resident of St Johns, Shannon is “stoked” to live so close to the mara kai, and to the adjacent Kepa Bush Reserve, which she explored and photographed  to familiarise herself with the trees that thrive in the area. While visiting the ESPB stall,   Shannon picked up a trap to do her bit towards Predator-free 2050.

PIC 2 Shannon Crowther

Songbird rat traps in demand

Michelle Brinsden, Songbird’s energetic and efficient Project Manager, and Edward Duff, our legendary predator trapper, were both on hand to demonstrate and assign traps to Eastern Bays residents keen to sign up for the war on back-yard rodents. On Expo day, Michelle and Edward loaned out 34 rat traps, and demonstrated how to use them whilst safeguarding human fingers and pet paws Inside the trap housings, which are made for EBSP by another Expo participant, Mens Shed Auckland East. There there were leaflets about how to report “kills” of rodents and other predators, what to plant instead of pest plants, and how to encourage lizards and other ground-dwelling native creatures that will thrive in our gardens once we get rid of predators.“Spring is the perfect time of  year to be putting out rodent traps and refreshing baits,” Edward said. “Birds are laying their eggs, so rats and other predators are looking for easy meals of both eggs and baby birds. It’s essential that we put in an extra effort to kill the predators before they kill the birds.”  He also suggest we plant a native tree instead of feeding birds with seeds or sugar. And if bird strike is a problem at your place, put decals on the windows.

PIC 3 TRAP: The Cavanagh family from Remuera pick up a trap and a native seedling from EBSP’s Michelle Brinsden. From left are Tui, Primrose and their mother Emma Cavanagh.

PIC 4 TRAP: Stephen George, from St Johns, getting a take-home trap from Edward Duff.

Hedgehogs are killers too

When we target rats, mice, stoats  and possums for elimination, we should heed Edward Duff’s plea: “Don’t forget about hedgehogs. They are killers too.”  He remembers, as a kid,  putting out saucers of milk for hedgehogs, so he has sympathy for those of us who were brought up on Beatrice Potter’s tales of Mrs Tiggy-Winky, the hedgehog washerwoman, Mrs Tikggy-Winky is credited with helping to bring British hedgehogs back from the brink of decline. However, like so many animals imported  to New Zealand by sentimental expats, the hedgehog has proved fatal for our native species of lizards and insects as well as for ground-dwelling birds, including the NZ Dotterel. They are also a host for fleas and a spill-over host (from possums) for bovine tuberculosis. So next time  you see a hedgehog, or hear it grunting in the underbrush, don’t coo “How cute!” Instead, pick up a sharp spade and despatch it. Your reward may be seeing lots of very cute lizards, geckos and skinks living safely and happily in your garden. 

Pourewa Restoration Group

Turfa Chowdhury, Field Officer for the Pourewa Valley Inegrated Plan, was at Expo representing one of a number of groups of volunteers who work extremely hard to eliminate pests and weeds from  Pourewa Valley. On display beside Turfa was a tub full of the weeds they are targeting, including Queen of the Night, Wattle, Eleagnus, Woolly Nightshade and Climbing Asparagus.  The Pourewa Restoration Group is one of the Community Guardians of Pourewa (Ngā Kaitiaki Hapori o Pourewa). The other Guardians work on various tasks across Pourewa Creek Recreation Reserve/Pourewa Nursery, Kepa Bush, St Johns Bush and Selwyn Bush. Those of us who have walked the recently-opened Shared Pathway (Te Ara Ki Uta Ki  Tai) traversing the Pourewa Valley from end to end, will have seen the results of the Guardian groups’ work. Turfa says more people are now getting involved, including one corporate group that wanted to do a session for their annual volunteer day. Anyone who’d like to put in some hard mahi helping one of these groups should contact Martyn Heffer: mmheffer@xtra.co.nz or phone 021 226 8045.

Pic 5: Turfa Chowdhury, Pourewa Valley Restoration Group Field Officer, with some of the weeds the group is committed to getting rid of.

Pic 5a: Selwyn Arbuckle chooses an Akeake and a Five Finger to plant at Selwyn Bush, where he is a veteran volunteer. His unusual headgear is the Songbird Project’s demonstration stuffed rat.

Conservation Volunteers

Gemma England is in charge of Volunteer Engagement for Conservation Volunteers. The group is open to members of any age and area of experience. “We try to match people’s interest in specific areas of conservation with an appropriate group or project,” Gemma says. For example, she’s referred “quite a few” people interested in predator control to the Songbird group. Tree planting is popular with family groups. Gemma says some parents have asked about getting their children involved in a conservation project, “which is always great to see”. 

Pic 6: Gemma England, of Conservation Volunteers, with her partner and fellow volunteer Ellis Nimick.

Gift the Garden

Amanda Warren,  founder of Gift the Garden, wears two hats: one as a passionate gardener and the other as an experienced project manager in the construction industry. In an imaginative leap of faith she has managed to combine the two, designing and building gardens that feed both birds and people and also recycle construction waste. Originally from the UK (Cheshire), Amanda came to New Zealand 18  years ago to work in the construction industry. Three  years ago, after realising there was “more bio-diversity in building rubble than on the berms of New Zealand suburbs”, she decided to have a go at creating beautiful gardens with and for the community using building materials that would otherwise go to landfill as waste. 

A resident of St Heliers, Amanda has chosen to make her current project the transformation of  “an ugly wall” in front of a row of takeaway shops on the east end of St Heliers waterfront. The low walled planter boundary is at present filled with a few salvageable plants and some soil, but mainly weeds (see photo). It will be brought to life within its 26-metre-long 700cm-wide dimensions but with higher walls.  The new garden, built on permaculture principles, will incorporate a volume of crushed concrete as “hard landscaping” to accommodate four or five fruit trees as well as habitats for birds and insects. An artist will paint a mural along the front of the wall. 

The project is being funded by the Eastern Bays Wildlink Network, but community involvement is key, especially from the St Heliers Garden Club team of Rosy Devereux, Rody Davies and Miriama Toms (from Flowers for Felix).  Three  days — Friday through Sunday, October 28-30 — have been scheduled for clearance of rubble and old soil, then hard landscaping and artwork and, on the final day, planting, children’s events and a celebration. It’s ambitious, but Amanda is infectiously optimistic, and says she has the support of the site’s owner and the shops on the site, as well as other local shops, including Sandii McDonald’s Babylon garden plant shop, which is providing a planting plan and some plants. To go by Amanda’s printed programme, children will have the most fun, getting involved on Day 3 in planting and in making insect hotels and painting pebbles.  Watch This Space: 49 Tamaki Drive.  www.giftthegarden.org.nz

Anyone who’d like to help should contact Amanda Warren:

adwarren@constructing.co.nz or phone 021 892 124

Pic 7: Amanda Warren, founder and chief mover and shaker of Gift the Garden.

Pic 8: Before the transformation. This is what the garden next to Tamaki Drive looks like now. 

IMAgEN8 - encouraging kids with cameras

Tushar Sharma founded IMAgEN8 in 2019 with the aim of introducing children to nature photography to enhance mental wellbeing, develop skills and foster kaitiakitanga. Since then, using funding from Õrākei Local Board and from private donations,  he’s taught more than 500 children in the eastern Bays how to use an SLR camera to capture the wonders of the natural world from artistic angles and in fine detail. The wall behind the IMAGEn* stall at Expo was covered with prints of photographs of plants, birds and insects taken by his students, aged nine and over. 

Three schools in our area —Churchill Park Primary, Glendowie School and Selwyn College — have so far participated in IMAgEN8’s nature photography workshops co-taught by Hina Patel, who was a professional photographer specialising in weddings until Covid came along. Now she loves teaching the kids, developing their prints and putting them on Facebook and Instagram. 

Each workshop is held in a specific nature reserve in the OLB’s area — this year they have been held at Tahuna Torea, Churchill Park, Kepa Bush, Dingle Dell and St John’s Bush. IMAgEN8 has more workshops coming up this year in Kohi Valley Forest, Kepa Bush and Tahuna Torea. Next year, they are looking for students to “adopt” a nature reserve and use a camera on loan from IMAgEN8, funded by the OLB, to capture their visual stories.  

“Kids just love it,” Tushar says. “And parents are happy that their kids are engaging with nature as well as learning how to use a camera.” Workshop numbers are limited to 10, both because that’s a practical number to be able to teach and because IMAgEN8 has 10 high-quality SLR cameras that the students can learn to use. Parents sometimes own expensive cameras but aren’t willing to let their kids use them, or have one of their own, until they’ve done the IMAgEN8 workshop. 

Camera phones are all very well, Tushar says, “but it’s different seeing nature through an SLR lens. The reality of holding a camera connects you with what you’re looking at. And you can take a really good picture of a bird using a long lens.” 

Born in India, Tushar had a love for photography from an early age. But it wasn’t until he went to work in a technology job in the US that he could afford one. “I bought a camera with my first paycheck,” he says. He has lived in New Zealand for the last seven years and hopes to spread the photography “bug” to as many children as possible.

IMAgEN8 Contact: Tushar Sharma: tushar@imagen8.co.nz

Pic 9: IMAgEN8 founder Tushar Sharma and co-teacher Hina Patel with samples of their students’ prints on the wall behind.

Pic 10: Leaf and grove captured in Dingle Dell by Max Candy, aged 11, Churchill Park School

Pic 11: Fungi on tree captured in Kepa Bush by Jonah Patel, aged 12, Manurewa Intermediate School

Pic 12: Koru captured in Churchill Park by George Grove, aged 9, Churchill Park School