Shirley Sparks rarely puts her feet up. She’s not one to sit still, nor is she one to give up. Shirley is a hands-on type of gal.
Even standing knee-deep in overgrown weeds, gorse and wattle, the 85-year-old wasn’t giving up on her mission to transform a run-down 82-acre quarry into a garden wonderland.
“I never once thought of giving up,” says Shirley, the founder of Te Puna Quarry Park. “But I also never thought that it was going to be the success that it’s turned out to be.”
That success has led her to become a nominee in the Pride of New Zealand 2015 Awards for her efforts to the environment. It’s at this point that Shirley blushes and insists that it wouldn’t have been for the help of the many volunteers and organisations that have helped along the way.
In 17 years, volunteers including Rotary and Lions groups, schools, and individuals have contributed to making the park a “community-driven” attraction full of environmental arts, including fun sculptures, plantings, a butterfly garden, walking tracks, abseiling and views of Mount Maunganui in the distance.
Shirley’s seen the park’s developments since its beginnings in 1997 while living on a neighbouring farm.
“Because it had been closed for 20 years and all the mining of rock had ceased, it got completely overgrown with weeds and all the creepers of the world, as well as goats and possums,” says Shirley.
“The idea came to the family and they said to me: ‘What’s the use of 82 acres of wasteland just sitting there? Can’t we do something mum’?
“It was a wonderful inspiration for my older age after retiring from milking cows, feeding hundreds chooks, collecting millions of eggs and developing kiwifruit. It was a lovely change to get in there and make something worthwhile out a piece of rubbish land.”
So Shirley and a few residents got stuck in.
“A neighbour of mine and I got in there with loppers and secateurs, and we started cutting our way through just to encourage people to make use of it until we got management of it.
“We were having so much fun.”
The Pride of New Zealand 2015 Awards recognise individuals who make extraordinary personal sacrifices for the benefit of their community.
The regional award winners will be judged by a national judging panel, including Judy Bailey and Willie Apiata, and will be recognised at the national award ceremony on September 16.
Katikati’s Sue Tukaki is nominated for the Lifetime Achievement Award for her efforts in bringing positive change to children’s lives, including enrolling them into life-changing Outward Bound courses.
The Maori warden has gained the trust of many children in the Katikati community and youth. “You can’t do anything with them unless you have their trust.”
Every morning she opens the doors to a centre in Katikati for children aged 11-16 to come for breakfast before school, do their homework after school or hang out at the weekends.
“Give our kids a chance, see where they’re coming from,” says Susan. “Take a moment to go and talk to them.”