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Island Notes - Finding my place on Aotea Great Barrier Island by Tim Higham


Tim Higham and his wife, Julie-Anne, bought a small house on Aotea Great Barrier Island some thirty years ago and there it sat while they went off to achieve some remarkable feats. Tim became an award winning science writer and advocate for the wilderness, worked for the United Nations Environment Programme and spent a significant amount of time travelling to some remote parts of our world - including 13 trips to Antarctica. Now, Tim works for ‘Predator Free 2050’ and, among other things, still promotes the culture of writing on Aotea Great Barrier Island including the writer’s festival.


This book Island Notes - Finding my place on Aotea Great Barrier Island captures a bit of that magic of living off-the-grid and making a home within a remote area of the Island. He describes the process of moving into the house and the struggles and tests it placed on him personally, and his marriage. Nothing ever seems to be a straightforward approach as he takes the reader on a journey which acts a little like a history of the island as much as a biographical insight into the story of his home.


Great Barrier is an island that is becoming more and more popular for tourists and for residents. In this increase in tourism, much of what the island could be through native vegetation and sustainable processes has the potential to be lost. Tim has managed to carve out some of that wilderness with the intention of being closer to the natural order of things and responding to the return of the bird life and the flourishing of the natural environment.


The house is approximately a kilometre from the road and has a European feel to it that gave it a familiarity that captivated the couple. He acknowledges that it was a difficult time and a testing time for their marriage, which eventually broke down - but they maintain a very amicable relationship.


A major message throughout the book is the pace of life. With constant environmental change around us, Tim believes that humans have fallen into the deep trap of trying to speed up in order to respond to what is happening. He says the pace of this response is commensurate with the trouble we feel in observing such change in our world. Certainly, it is not difficult to see how the media use such tactics with global summits and targets, and time frames. The message in the media is action! Now! However, Tim advocates that we need to do the complete opposite to that message, which is to fundamentally stop and investigate a new way to respond adequately. He recognises that it is a personal thing as much as a global one.


Overally, throughout Island Notes - Finding my place on Aotea Great Barrier Island the sense of admiration towards the island and the meditative quality of being surrounded, as Tim is, is so profound. He tackles some challenging ideas through the presentation of off-the-grid living. He champions being up on the cliffs at midnight to see the birds returning from long migratory flights, or being surrounded by the work-ups of fish and dolphins and birds in the waters that surround the island. It is a fascinating read and wonderfully illustrated by Tim’s son.


It is a poignant and timely reminder of the importance of reconnecting with the natural world around us and slowing down to meet it, rather than expecting it to hurry up to our pace.


Reviewer: Chris Reed

The Cuba Press