Knock knock. Hugh’s there?

I just learned about a local hero and can’t believe I’d never heard of him before now.

Hugh Wilson, self-proclaimed “Fool and Dreamer”.

He’s a botanist who took over a farm on Banks Peninsula in 1987, ceased all farming activities and basically just let the weeds grow. Somewhat unintuitively, most of the weeds that grew back were native plants and trees. The introduced weeds, like gorse, are being crowded out by the larger native trees and are all dying off. 36 years later, Hinewai Reserve is now 1,500 Hectares of bush full of “native birds, bugs, lizards and fish”, dozens of waterfalls, and all open to the public with 40km of walking tracks maintained by Hugh.

The whole things’s actually been documented pretty well, I’m still not sure how I missed all this (here, here and great free 30 minute movie here).

I can justify writing about him here because he has some great thoughts on transport. He hasn’t owned a car for 45 years and gets around solely by walking, cycling and public transport. This is what he says about it (all taken from the three links above):

On cars:

A car is an unmitigated disaster. And yet, to say that in our modern, Western society, is like going into a pub where everyone’s having a lovely time drinking, and preaching total abstinence from alcohol. Almost the entire community is addicted to private car transport.

On technology:

Some of the things that technology produces, I’d be the first to praise. I mean the bicycle for example, I regard as the peak of transport technology.

His colleague says this about his travel patterns:

Hugh doesn’t use a vehicle. He’ll cycle or he’ll walk. He doesn’t believe we should be using fossil fuels, and instead of saying “don’t use fossil fuels” he just rides his bike. And he’ll use public transport.

On climate change:

Even covering every dry inch of land in the world with forest wouldn’t sequestre enough, if we keep on burning the fossil fuels that have been sequestred for millions of years. So forests are definitely part of the solution but not the whole part. We have to change the way we use energy as well, in a big way. We have to do it very quickly or we’re really stuffed.

On life in general:

“I am fairly pessimistic, but far from being without hope. The way I sort of philosophically see it, all of us are only here for such a short time, and we never see the whole picture. So the very least we can do is live as though there’s hope in the future and just do our best. Do our honest, really serious best.”

I thought that was quite poignant.

If you have a spare 30 minutes have a watch here. Be careful though, by the end of it you may have an intense urge to chuck in your job and go and live as a bush hermit for the next three decades. If my blog suddenly goes quiet, you’ll know what I’m up to.

2 thoughts on “Knock knock. Hugh’s there?

  1. A biannual highlight for me is to receive Hugh’s newsletter, pīpipi. He’s a brilliant writer; dead funny. I’ve dug out one of the best laughs I’ve ever had, when Hugh reported on his interaction with the newly appointed constable for not wearing a helmet. Find it in the newsletter archive; open volume 31 and the story starts on page 5 titled “Poor role modelling”. Well worth a read.

    “Returning home from the c*r-infested swamp in May, Hugh was pulled over below Hilltop by the freshly appointed Little River Police Officer, and interrogated; why was Hugh’s helmet on his carrier instead of on his head? …”


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