Seizing every opportunity

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Lloyd Esler

“GRAB educational and adventurous opportunities when they arise,” is one of Lloyd Esler’s main motivators.

The historian, author, teacher, ornithologist, botanist, taxidermist and local body councillor lives by this phrase and encourages others to also benefit by it.

“I encourage people, especially young people, to do stuff… when an opportunity arises, always put your hand up, rather than sit inside and watch the TV.”

Always keen to combine his love of the outdoors with others and the opportunity to share some of his extensive knowledge, he regularly leads groups of people of all ages on what he describes as “field trips”.

Some had been with the Southland Natural History Field Club throughout Southland and Fiordland, some were school trips, while other trips as a tour guide to the diverse parts of New Zealand including the sub-Antarctic Islands, Chatham Islands, around the North Island and other regions.

This year was his fourth time to the sub-Antarctic Islands of Campbell, Enderby and MacQuarrie recently, which may also be his last for a while due to the current Covid-19 situation, he said.

Curiosity may well be part of his motivation, as well as the continual thirst for learning and sharing of knowledge and ideas.

Having studied botany at the University of Otago, he then went on to work at the Otago Museum. A desire to enter the field of education led him to study education at the Otago Polytechnic, before he moved to Invercargill to teach at the former Tweedsmuir Intermediate School and then the Southland Museum & Art Gallery.

With a special interest in natural history and the environment, it was not surprising he chose to live in the bush-covered suburb of Otatara, near Invercargill, among the birdsong and native trees, and was a foundation member of the Otatara Landcare Group which aimed to protect wetland and bush areas in Otatara.

His concern for people and the environment melded into Mr Esler becoming a councillor on the Invercargill City Council (ICC) where he served for three terms (nine years), before becoming an elected Environment Southland (ES) councillor with a focus on Invercargill, Bluff and Rakiura (Stewart Island). He was the second-highest polling ICC councillor in 2016, and topped the polls when standing for ES.

Foveaux Strait history

An author of many books, ranging in topics from rabbits and whaling to local histories and Southland records, as well as various informative booklets, Mr Esler was working on a book about the early years of Maori and European settlement along Foveaux Strait, up to the time of settlement of Invercargill in he 1860s.

It would also also include information about the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi at Ruapuke Island, he said.

Another book, a novel, Jack, the Whale Boy, was also in the process of being published in England.

The work of fiction was based on a 10-year-old apprentice carpenter who had been based at a whaling station.

He had planned to produce a trilogy, with the first being set in 1830, the next in 1831 and the final one in 1832, he said.

As for the future, he has many projects planned.

After successfully co-ordinating the construction and installation of a statue of Alex Lithgow who composed the Invercargill March, Mr Esler was now keen for a statue of Captain William Cargill, who Invercargill was named after, to be erected in the town.

“It’s doable, but it may have to be put on hold for a while…It’s a lot of money for an extravagance.”

In the meantime, he was researching more into sculptors and various options.

“There is a foundry in Auckland which does fine art casting which may be an option.

“Or it may get cast in some form of resin, which could cost a few thousand dollars instead of a minimum of $50,000.”

Asked where he thought would be a good site for the statue, Mr Esler suggested Wachner Place.

“An angry Cargill with his fist raised, [as the then superintendent of Otago wasn’t a fan of establishing Invercargill]… it could be a little bit of light-hearted art.”

Future plans

As for when lockdown was over, Mr Esler had plans. Other than more biking, which he had enjoyed during lockdown, as an ES councillor he also planned to head over to Stewart Island as soon as he could to get a feel for their situation, he said.

Bluff was also on his radar, but he had confidence in the port town and its people.

“Bluff is resilient…it still has its fishing and the port is still operating. Tiwai and other products are still being exported…and the Stewart Island ferries are still operating.”

Mr Esler was confident local tourism would help relieve some of the pressure in places such as Stewart Island, Milford Sound and Queenstown.

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