• NZ Booklovers

Guardians of Aotearoa: Protecting New Zealand’s Legacies by Johanna Knox

Updated: Nov 15, 2018



Kiwis passionate about what they hold dear are celebrated in this beautiful hardcover book.


Johanna Knox spent over two years seeking out, meeting and talking to the 39 Kiwis featured. She documents the stories of everyday Kiwis restoring waterways, nurturing the arts or te reo, striving for equal access to resources, or saving the country’s birds of prey.


Knox has done a fantastic job in ensuring there is real diversity in the people interviewed. From a young group of fledging birders to a retired couple who can’t retire, Knox meets with people across generations.


There is diversity too in the cultures covered. Dr Kēpa Morgan, a civil and environmental engineer who developed a ‘Mauri Model’ was a fascinating read. Estella Hin Ling Lee infectious passion and dedication to the Chinese Conservation Education Trust will inspire any volunteer.


Every story is only about eight pages, but there is depth in the telling. Passions, hardships, motivations and inspirations are all shared.


Knox hasn’t shied away from the controversial figures either. Mike Joy, the Massey University freshwater ecologist that caused an uproar by daring to challenge our 100% Pure slogan, has a place within the book. So too does Josie Butler, a nurse who is perhaps better known for throwing a sex toy at Steven Joyce as a protest against the TPPA. The insight into Butler’s life was fascinating, proving that there is much more to a person than their 15 minutes of fame.


Each person’s story has been beautifully captured by photographer Jess Charlton. Her portraits are spectacular, and at times haunting. Her photographs really do tell a thousand words.


Knox has also done a great job finding people who might otherwise shy away from publicity or who fly under the radar. I learned about so many charities and groups that I had no idea about – Falconer Debbie Stewart, ‘bat lady’ Catriona Gower, and Shoe School founder Louise Clifton to name but a few.


It was also refreshing that the stories radiate beyond caring for the land. The book was a commission, and at first was meant to be solely about environmental heroes. However, Knox said that never felt right. As she says in the introduction, “how do you divorce they natural environment from people and culture? We’re part of a whole.”

It is this wholeness that makes the book so special. It’s a wonderful celebration of these Kiwi heroes, but also about our country, and our values, as a whole. It will inspire others to step forward, to teach, and to take action.


Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser

Bateman, RRP $59.99

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