Penny Bright, 60, has been an activist since she was 18 and is in the midst of a battle over her refusal to pay rates while demanding more transparency from Auckland Council. She was an adult apprentice welder and self-funds her campaigns.

1. Are you misunderstood, do you think?

People think I'm a tree hugger but I've actually done other things in my life. And I think some people don't understand that when you're an anti-corruption, whistle-blower that you need to make a fuss to get folks to focus on the issues.

Some people, in my view, mistake that for personal attention-seeking, as opposed to political attention-seeking.

Do I worry what people think of me? If I did, I'd do bugger all. And I actually do quite a lot.


2. Were you always a fighter?
When I was a little kid I was a goody two shoes. There are reports where I was this lovely child so where the rot started to set in, I guess, was in my seventh form year, at Kuranui College, Greytown. I'd done well at school, got the prize for history, then my boyfriend at the time would pass on books that he'd read and I started to think about things myself. I started to question. I became politically involved through the anti-apartheid movement. It was 1972 and the Vietnam War was still on, and I'd go to meetings and stay at student flats. I was this little wide-eyed 7th former listening to everyone.

3. What did your parents think?
They knew I was very independent. I was described as a "wilful child". Ha! I'd say my family are people of good character. My mother was a strong-minded, outspoken woman. Dad was a good mixer, with a chirpy disposition. With the name Bright we are hardwired to look on the positive side.

4. Did your family have much money?
Middle class I'd say. We had about six acres so it was a country childhood. I remember being a bit commercial as a small child. Mum would say 'go and get the cows' and I'd say, 'how much will you pay me?'. It would be 'just go and get the cows!' Was I capitalist? Oh no, I wouldn't go that far.

5. You've been an activist for decades: has it been a hard life?
I love my life and would never swap it, apart from a little bit more money and a working car. Everyday I'm completely my own boss. I've been doing this fulltime for 15 years and it's my choice. I run on the smell of an oily rag - I'm not on a benefit. I live off flatmate income from my freehold house. I have great friends, family. I'm in a relationship with the perfect partner for me. We've been together nine years. How did we meet? Through the social justice movement. He's a lot like my dad. Cheerful with a positive disposition. And he never tells me what to do.

6. How many court appearances have you had?
More than I can remember. In my life I've been arrested over 40 times - all political - but not all have gone to court. In the days of Auckland City Council I was arrested 22 times but it ended up 21-1 to me. Not bad for a tradie who has never been to university.

7. How did you get into welding?
I think I was the oldest apprentice in the history of the world. I was 34 and I'd been working in an engineering factory, just on the line and I thought I'd do welding. Yeah, it was a male environment but most of the guys were lovely, and I'm used to sticking up for myself. I have Advanced Trade in Sheetmetal Engineering, was New Zealand's first ticketed female welding inspector, and was a welding tutor for nine years. I've also done quality assurance so I know systems and I'm a good organiser from my political background. If I can organise the big black hole of an engineering workshop, I can organise anything.

8. What philosophies do you live by?
I hate lies and I detest liars. I don't do gossip or personal comments. I don't do political dirt. I don't hate anyone, it's just behaviours I dislike. Am I tough? Yeah. Vulnerable? Not particularly. I'm not a spiritual person, I'm a character person. Integrity is really important to me. An ex-Cabinet minister once described me as "pathologically honest" but what's wrong with that? I'm consistent and persistent more than most and I don't back down.

9. Where are you happiest?
I really enjoy court. I enjoy the opportunity to skewer those who have got me into court when they're in the witness box. I believe in seeking truth through facts. I've become a bit of an expert in this narrow area of local government law and trespass because I spend so much bloody time in it. Would I have been a good lawyer? Arguably.

10. How do you feel about turning 60?
I'm not yet in my prime! My parents both died within a year of each other in their mid-60s. It was pretty unexpected and both of cancer. My grandparents lived longer than they did so that's part of the reason I give it heaps every day.

11. Do you ever get tired?
Yes. Then I have a sleep, recharge and I'm off again!

Some people think I have this incredible energy but I believe it's all about being effective in how you spend your limited time to achieve maximum effect. So when I strike, it's like a 40-tonne cobra, as it were. I think it's about focus, really focusing on an issue and going for it.

12. The council is threatening to sell your house because of your rates protest: what would be the most difficult thing about losing it?
I won't be losing my house - so it's not an issue. Having my freehold house on the line to make a stand to get the council to follow the law [on transparency of spending] is quite a stand. I don't take it lightly ... but I [have learned] that you don't need a cast of thousands to make a difference. It's the depth of the stand, not the breadth that counts. Thousands of people can sign a petition and it's used for political toilet paper. But a one-person rates revolt? Watch this space ...