It’s not often I can look back on a year’s photos and choose my favourite without even having to think about it.
In 2019 I photographed festivals, funerals, concerts, illegal rubbish dumps, birthdays, a young pony poo entrepreneur, freak weather, a royal visit and more.
But the image that stands out for me was taken at Waitangi on February 4 when one of Northland’s most revered Māori leaders, Hekenukumai Busby, was knighted for a lifetime’s contribution to his people.
In particular Sir Hek is credited with reviving the lost arts of Māori celestial navigation and ocean voyaging in traditional double-hulled canoes, or waka hourua. By doing so he finally put to bed the myth that Māori landed on these shores by accident.
Once you’ve chosen your spot when you’re photographing an event like that, you’re stuck with it. If you realise you’re in a bad position you can’t just get up and move somewhere else.
This time (for once!) I’d chosen well or maybe I just got lucky. I’d crouched among the lesser dignitaries directly opposite Sir Hek’s seat where my view of the actual knighting — when the Governor General tapped him on each shoulder with a sword — was obscured, but I had a clear view of him during the lead-up to the ceremony.
The bond between Sir Hek and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who was seated next to him, was obvious. She held his hand at times; at other times she leant in close to whisper to him or, as in the photo, looked into his eyes with a warmth that was palpable.
Professional photographers, including from the New Zealand Herald, captured images which are technically better than mine but, I think, lack the warmth of my photo. It captures a very human moment between two New Zealanders who could hardly be further apart in age and background yet seem to be joined in mutual admiration.
Sir Hek died three months after this photo was taken. He was 86.
The other photos capture a wide range of news events around Northland.
The standout breaking news event was a tornado that ripped through Coopers Beach in June. Fifteen houses were damaged with three left uninhabitable — including one which had its corrugated iron roof peeled open like a can of sardines.
Another photographic highlight of 2019 was Tuia 250, which started as commemoration of the 250th anniversary of British explorer Captain James Cook’s arrival in New Zealand but morphed into a wider celebration of Māori and European voyaging traditions.
The centrepiece of Tuia 250 was a voyage by three tall ships, including a replica of Cook’s Endeavour, and three waka hourua from New Zealand and Tahiti. I’ve picked out just a few images here but the whole event was a visual and cultural feast.
Lighter moments from 2019 included the 107th birthday party for Lena Walker, then Northland’s oldest person; and bumping into two policemen wearing their stab-proof vests over wet togs (that’s swim shorts to non-New Zealand readers) and jandals (or flip-flops). It turned out they’d been taking part in a mid-winter swim when they spotted a wanted man on the beach, so they threw on their vests and gave chase. They got their man.
The story about nine-year-old Skye Stevenson, whose roadside pony poo stand was trashed by vandals, triggered a flood of offers of help. A local business built her a new and more durable stand.