Jana Beer, Artist and Writer, muses on finding a new path
My fella and I first moved to Te Atatū Peninsula in 2013, after falling for the one-road-in, one-road-out feeling that reminded us of our favourite spots in the Coromandel. It seems to make for a stronger community somehow; people aren’t passing through on their way to somewhere else.
I have a background in art – I trained as an artist and ended up working in an art school and galleries because it seemed the logical path. However, my inspiration was always nature. I was the kid that dawdled, caught up in little worlds found in hedges or the bush or the garden. A habit annoying for parents, friends, and later, teachers (and husbands!).
Looking for a job after my first child, I managed to clinch a job at DOC. I’ve always loved writing and this segued into communications work, telling the stories of our nature and the people out there doing their bit for it. Somewhere along the line, no doubt in some earnest new year’s reflection, I decided I would take the first opportunity to join a community group to do some good in my neighbourhood. Weeks later I found a flyer in my letterbox informing me of a hui put on by Rivercare Group Te Wai o Pareira. I took the sign and came along, offering my comms skills. After helping out at an event, I was later asked to join the governance group.
To be honest, I had no connection to Te Wai o Pareira. I don’t see it where I live and it’s not really near anything I visit. Not that it’s a matter of one or the other, but I’m a beach girl, not a river one. The point being, I didn’t have that gravitational pull to rivers as I do to the sea, which is familiar and comforting, full of childhood memories. That said, I’m a cheerleader of anything-nature, and this awa was in desperate need of help. Don’t tell the sea, but two years down the line I’m also a river-girl.
Besides being on the governance group, I manage the social media for our FB community page, am developing a newsletter and do other odd jobs related to comms. Some people are understandably suspicious of marketing and comms, and from a wellbeing perspective, I’m careful about how much I engage with social media. However, I strongly believe in the marketing mantra that "people don't care about what they don't know about" and social media is an incredibly powerful channel to share your conservation kaupapa. It has also been an excellent tool to quickly advise our community when there has been a sewage overflow.
As for being part of a community group, I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve learnt more about the intricacies of our sewerage network and financial reports than I care to know, but I’ve also learnt the importance of listening, contributing and robust discussion, and that what motivates us towards the same goal may be different and that’s awesome. More recently, I’ve discovered the power of the BBQ in thanking people for their time and energy!
I won’t lie, it’s hard to shoe-horn this kind of mahi around family, work and social commitments. But it’s incredibly rewarding when you start to see progress. While the dream of Te Wai o Pareira returning to full health is a generational project, our team have made some real progress within just two years. This includes initiating and maintaining a good working relationship with Watercare, mapping out the sewerage network and its weaknesses, and hosting our very first community event to boost the biodiversity of one of our river’s tributaries.
It feels good to give back and the good news is that it doesn’t have to be hard. Keep your ear to the ground and do a one-off event like a planting day. Or, play Russian roulette and promise yourself that you’ll commit to the next opportunity that arises… it could take you down a whole new path you never imagined.