NZ Forest Native Birds
About the Author Laraine Anne Barker

Unlike most of the children’s writers whose work I admire, I don’t have a university degree. I don’t even have School Certificate. But I do have this medal. I have scanned it at 200% to make the inscription clearer. It is bronze in colour and could do with a good professional clean.

      Here, finally, is an up-to-date photograph of me, posing with Sanneke of Caprera, who is a long-haired miniature cream Dachshund. It was taken on 17 October 2005. If we didn’t have a digital camera it would have taken several rolls of film to get this one shot. All the others were unbelievably awful. Compare it with this, an advertisement for the Waikite Valley Thermal Pools that appeared in Rotorua’s Daily Post, and in which I’m described as “famous”! But then so are my sister Carolyn, my husband Roger and our two friends. June, Carolyn and I look curiously elongated but (strangely) the men look all right. The photo was taken in 2002.


      On 3 November 2008 (at 7.42 am, to be precise) I celebrated twenty-one years of writing. For more than ten of those years I’ve been trying to find a publisher and writing full-timethat is, I don’t have what you would call a job. As far as I’m concerned writing is my joband that’s the way I treat it in spite of the fact that not only has it not earned me any money but it has also drained away all my savings. Sending work out to publishers is very expensive, especially if you have to send it overseas. Many other writers out there, incidentally, are in the same situation.

     But one of the good things about today is the Internet. And one of the best things about the Internet is that it’s a great place to sell almost anything. It’s certainly a great place to set up a publishing company. After just over a year of submitting work to electronic publishers I have managed to find one who likes my work. Electronic publishers, by the way, now receive just as many manuscripts as print publishers and their rejection rate is just as high. The Obsidian Quest, the first book of the trilogy Quest for Earthlight was published by the now defunct CrossroadsPub but is now with Mundania Press’s Hard Shell imprint. See my Home Page for details.

      I live with my husband and four long-haired miniature Dachshunds in a dairy-farming community just south of Rotorua in New Zealand’s North Island. Rotorua means the second lake. Its full name is actually Roto-rua-nui-a-Kahu: roto, lake; rua, second; nui, big; a Kahu, of Kahu. So presumably that translates as The Second Big Lake of Kahu. It was the second lake to be discovered by Ihenga, who named it after his uncle. The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, which means The Land of the Long White Cloud, and Rotorua, with its wonderful thermal regions, is one of the North Island’s most important tourist centres. Our village consists of nothing but a small huddle of houses, a tiny church that serves all Christian denominations, a community hall, and of course that most important of all establishments, a school. There are no shops. Everybody shops in Rotorua, which is about a 20-minute drive away. Even by the standards of this country our village is a very small place.

      Our house is on five acres of land sandwiched between farms. About four acres is in grazing and the rest is our garden. At first we rented the grazing to our next-door-neighbour farmer but after a few years we decided to raise our own beef, so we’re now the proud owners of a small herd of cattle that varies with time between three and six. We are also making wrapped silage, half of which we keep for ourselves. The other half goes to pay the man who cuts, bales and wraps it. These are our 2003 calves.

      In our first year here we concentrated on planting out our garden, mostly in rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and ericas because, although the property has quite a few trees, including oaks, liquidambars, eucalypts and walnuts, we felt it was still rather bare. We chose the above plants because they all prefer acid soil and seem to do well around Rotorua. In Rotorua itself there are many rhododendrons that have grown so huge they tower above shops that are seldom more than two storeys in height.

      After planting all the rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, we felt the property would still be a little bare even after the plants had grown, so we have now filled the spaces with pittosporums and hebes, common native shrubs which are quick and easy growing. They are also much, much cheaper, especially from a nursery run by the IHC Society

      We have also planted a bank on the property with 200 Eucalyptus nitens (shining gums). We haven’t even been able to water them but they soon grew to good sized trees. Because these were so successful we bought another hundred or so, but these are so small at the moment they are only just beginning to look like bushes. The tiny peppermint gums (about sixty of them) that we planted along the drive are now looking like proper trees. They were lucky to be six inches tall when we planted them (far too small, really) and it was a considerable struggle keeping them alive, never mind making them grow. The previous owner planted a hundred or so daffodils down the drive and these have now grown into nice clumps that are bigger every year. In Spring 2000 we planted (also down the drive) about a thousand English bluebells (which were given to us) and these are also rapidly spreading. In May and June 2008 (far too late, but the autumn rains, breaking a horrendous summer drought, came late) I planted another 1200 daffodils and about half of these flowered in August/September.

      If you’d like to know more about Rotorua, try The Official Tourism Rotorua Site.

Winter 2009:

Two photos of possible interest:

Snow on surrounding hills, 21 May 2009, 8.40 am. Some winters we get a dusting of snow on the Paeroa Ranges, but this is the first time in twelve years that we saw snow on every hill around us! A sign of global warming in action, perhaps?

Moonset on 9 July 2009at 7.20 am. Sorry about what looks like an overhead phone or electricity supply cable. It’s actually a radio aerial. It wasn’t so much the moon itself that was fascinating in this scene (it would have been much bigger if we had been able to hang around waiting for it to get closer to the horizon) but the sky and the frost. See the pasture just behind the two liquidambers and the hills adjacent to our neighbour’s house. This month (September 2009 just after 6am) I watched the moon looking as though it came to rest on top of our neighbour’s house. Unfortunately, with my husband in bed I wasn’t able to get a photograph. Next time I will have my own camera. It is so frustrating having to rely on someone else for a photograph!

Moon set

Winter 2011 (15 August):

Cattle “enjoying” their first taste of snow. This is the first time most residents of our little village have seen snow falling here. It’s actually my first experience of falling snow anywhere.


      Here is a panorama (three photos joined) of the back of our house as it was before we bought it. And here is the same view as it was a few years later. Finally, the back of the house after it was painted in summer 2003 . This picture was taken on 23 August 2004 (late winter) and doesn’ include the dovecote. I hope to upgrade the original view again some time. Please be patient: the first two images are 844 and 1178 pixels wide respectively. Also, if you have a small screen you won’t be able to see the whole picture without scrolling to the right. On a web site I consider this just plain bad web design, which is why I haven’t included the pictures as part of the web page.

     Here is the room where I work, viewed from the doorway. Since it is so ugly, despite the fact that I recently spent days putting it in order, I thought it might be a good idea to show a beautiful picture on my monitor. It's a photograph of Sanneke that Roger took with our digital camera. The bookshelves, installed on 7 July 2003, are unpainted MDF held up with rows of bricks left over from the laying of a short pathway—64 in all. I’m not sure whether such a construction is a good idea in an earthquake-prone area—not to mention whether a Keith Hay house is capable of withstanding the load—but at the time it was either this or nothing. I have since purchased three second-hand bookcases to replace them.

      (Well, it’s now February 2010 and my office looks nothing like this. It’s been done up (just needs new drapes) and sports a more updated computer (though that’s still over five years old) but it looks worse than it ever did there is so much clutter. Some of it doesn’t even belong to me!)


      We acquired the dovecote in November 1999 and had a long search before we found what we wanted. We even searched the Web, where all we found was a UK supplier of beautiful wooden dovecotes (although I was surprised that none of them had platforms right around the structure; just a landing stage at each doorway). They were also too large and too expensive. Eventually we traced a manufacturer much closer to home, in Wellington. This particular dovecote is manufactured from the same plastic used to make water tanks so it will never need painting. The basic dovecote (a single storey) will house two pairs of birds and if you want more birds you can add more storeys to the dovecote—well you could once. Unfortunately the manufacturer has since gone out of business. As you can see, ours is a two-storey one. While we call our birds doves, they are strictly speaking white fan-tailed pigeons, which is what most people are thinking of when they talk about doves. Read about the surprising shenanigans of our birds over the past year—not what we were led to expect!

      We have since added a finial to the dovecote to stop the birds perching on top of it. Pigeon droppings on the roof are not only unsightly but also add unnecessarily to the job of cleaning the dovecote.

      We came here from Auckland on 30 January 1997 because we didn’t like city suburban life any more: it had become too noisy, too crowded and too smelly (petrol fumes). Also, my husband has started suffering from asthma and the chemical fumes from the factory at the printing place where he worked were making it worse.

     Here, finally, is the front of the house , though it shows very little of the house itself. The camera is focused on a small lucerne tree. On the right is one of the smaller of the four liquidambars, starting to show its glorious autumn colour. Directly behind the lucerne tree is a tortured, or twisted, willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’) and to the right of that a gum tree (Eucalyptus), though I have no idea what variety. The small upright oak (Quercus robur) on the right is already bare and the purple akeake (Dodonaea viscosa ‘Purpurea’) is virtually invisible.

Here is our scarlet oak in Spring 2002 and in Autumn 2003. We hope to try for a better Spring photograph shortly.

      I’m sure some of you must live on farms or on similar properties to ours. If so, please tell me about it. Although our dogs are small (no bigger than a cat) they love all the space and are much happier than they were in the city with all its restrictions, even though we don’t allow them onto the pasture or the neighbouring farms unless we are with them

This is New Zealand.
You will find it on your
atlas just right of, and a
little down from, Australia. My marking for Rotorua is only approximate. Return
to reading about
where we live.
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go to My dogs.

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