Dave Gunson’s childhood was spent on the side of the Mersey River. He and his friends would play happily on its oil-clogged sands as Liverpool’s sewage oozed sluggishly past on its way to the sea.
It was the sort of river, he recalls, where “if you fell into it you’d have to go to hospital for a tetanus check.”
Strange then, coming from that environment, that he should have become an astute observer and recorder of nature in New Zealand. Gunson is an artist, an amateur naturalist, an author. One of his books, Collins Guide to the New Zealand Seashore, has become a popular text for New Zealand family seashore explorations. The meticulously crafted posters which he creates for this magazine—on subjects such as spiders, mangroves and deep sea fish—have become one of the hallmarks of New Zealand Geographic.
His search for the information can take him on tortuous routes.
Take, for instance, his drawing of the internal organs of the tuatara (Issue 6). One can’t dissect a tuatara to acquire this knowledge—they are protected animals And photographs from those few scientists who have had a legitimate reason to do so were not taken with illustration in mind. To piece the picture together, Gunson spent hours with those scientists, poring over all available material until, gradually, they had together recreated the tuatara’s internal landscape.
Gunson’s illustrations of New Zealand’s dinosaurs and marine reptiles for this issue presented another set of problems. When pterosaurs flew over our mountaintops and elephant-sized sauropods stalked our plains, there were no scientists, no cameras—no one to record visual impressions.
And, because of New Zealand’s violent geological upheavals over the last 65 million years, there are no complete skeletons, just scattered fragments of bone. Yet, with careful extrapolation based on similar finds in other countries, whole animals can eventually be deduced.
But how does one decide, for instance, what colour these creatures were? Were they the dull greys and browns of elephant and rhinoceros, or—consider this—might they have been as vividly coloured as their living relatives, the birds?
Gunson, whose paintings appear in the article, and Geoffrey Cox, who created the poster, approached their subjects independently of each other. Look for the differences.
“When I got home, the late afternoon sun was making the land glow and wayward river glitter. Riverbed gorse blooms scented the air. Quail were calling. Clouds radiating from the mountaintop prepared to turn sunset gold . . .”
Ted Reynolds is writing of his Marlborough home. Formerly with the New Zealand Herald, Reynolds now delivers a weekly column for that paper about his new life as a vineyard owner in Dashwood, near Blenheim.
Those of us who worked with Reynolds in Auckland recall a man who lived his life by following his heart. When daily obstacles bleared our vision, it was Reynolds who showed us that a prison was of one’s own making. His gentle humour reminded us that our world, too, was of our own making, and could be full of possibility and wonder.
When you read his story on earth houses you are glimpsing a dream that formed and flowered slowly in his head during his Herald years. Now, the sculptured curve of his own rammed-earth house sits gracefully among the rolling McCahon hills of Marlborough.
Last year, Reynolds’ vineyard produced its first crop. But life in the country is not all “Hey Nonny Nonny”—not all birdsong in the air and sun on the back. As this magazine went to press, Reynolds was battling with authorities to deal with “the wayward river” which is wandering dangerously close to his home, threatening to cut away the river terrace on which it stands.
Thousands of his regular Herald readers anxiously await the outcome. We wait with the familiar concern we have for someone who, by his blend of compassion and laconic wit, has touched our lives and fed our dreams with his own.