Sheila Natusch is a highly regarded and well-known New Zealand naturalist, illustrator, historian and author of "30 or 40" books; I'm embarrassed to admit I'd not heard of her before.

Which actually makes this documentary, charting Sheila's adventurous life from a childhood on Rakiura (Stewart Island) to the present day, even more rewarding. The film title is apt - Sheila is no ordinary woman - she's a national treasure.

No Ordinary Sheila, directed by Sheila's cousin Hugh Macdonald, is cleverly structured around a conversation about her life with another formidable New Zealand woman, Kim Hill. We learn about early life on Rakiura, where Shelia's love of flora and fauna and adventurous spirit was nurtured, the years at Teacher's College and Otago University where she befriended Janet Frame, and the later years in Owhiro Bay, Wellington, where she worked for the National Library and Correspondence School.

Adding to the mix is archival footage with images of Sheila's paintings and readings of her writing. Any holes are filled by a TV-esque voiceover, which feels jarring only because Sheila herself has such a wonderful way with words and telling stories - she says about Janet Frame, it's a "very precarious business surviving sometimes."


A bonus to No Ordinary Sheila's exploration of a no-nonsense trailblazer, is the snapshot it gives of life in New Zealand in the early and mid-20th Century; the footage and history of life on Rakiura is particularly fascinating.

But there's no escaping Shelia is the star of the show. The tenacity with which she's explored her many passions and interests, generous spirit and lovely sense of humour, will leave you inspired, uplifted and probably moved. If you enjoyed Jess Feast's Gardening With Soul, this will appeal.

Sheila died soon after the film premiered this year; she's been well celebrated.


Shelia Natusch


Hugh Macdonald

Running Time:


98 mins




A charming snapshot of New Zealand through the eyes of a remarkable woman.