Poet, sportsman, friend of the environment, Brian Turner, talks about turning 75, the shape we're in and the art of keeping on keeping on.
Before the rail tracks were pulled up, before pink-faced city types came pedalling and puffing along the Otago Central Rail Trail in search of a latte, Oturehua was a farm hamlet pure and simple.
The locals of the tiny township in the Ida Valley knew all about graft; docking and tailing and fencing and haymaking. When Brian Turner arrived with his pencil and his thoughts two decades ago, writers were an alien species.
A period of adjustment was to be expected.
Pinned on the back door of his little brick house is one of his poems from that time. It's called "Keep It Up".
A farmer asked me
if I was working
he didn't mean
I was sawing
and stacking wood,
tidying the shed,
pruning the hedge.
'Is that work?'
'Yes,' he said,
'keep it up.'
If local folk suspected the new resident was an odd fish, that opinion must surely have been cemented when Turner asked a neighbour to tuck his wine up in bed.
Turner laughs at the recollection. Part of the prize for Turner being named New Zealand Poet Laureate in 2003 was a supply of wine from sponsor Te Mata Estate. From time to time a case of fine reds would arrive from the Hawke's Bay.
Turner knew they should be stored at a fairly consistent temperature. He was off to caddy for his brother Greg on the European professional golf circuit, and seeing as hoar frosts are common where he lives, he knew he and the bottles of Coleraine needed assistance.
Hence the instruction to take the box inside when it was delivered, lie it in his bed and be sure to tuck the bedding tight around it.
A change in personal circumstances, a limited budget and a particular love for the quiet spots in the south of the South Island saw him settle in Oturehua (population 30 and thriving thanks) in 1999.
"People would say where the bloody hell is Oturehua?" recalls Turner. "I quite like people saying that because if everybody knows where a place is then it's probably a place I don't want to be.
"I thought I've just got to get my head down and arse up and box on. So I've stayed here because the climate is challenging and I like it. You've got to be able to put up with a bit of cold weather.
"I love the skyscapes and the landscapes [and] there's a really interesting mix of people. The light changes through the day. Sometimes I go out at night and I'm just open-mouthed at the sunsets over the far mountains."
In the country you need to be seen to be prepared to pitch in, he says, and so just about everyone does, with things such as catering and setting up and taking down for the likes of the annual Brass Monkey Motorcycle Rally at the Idaburn dam.
Turner says he always felt fairly comfortable and welcomed. "Possibly because all three brothers. having travelled and lived elsewhere. had come 'home'." Glenn is in Wanaka and Greg in Queenstown. "We all see ourselves as southerners and Otagoites."
Sports pedigree, too, counts for a lot in the Maniototo. Brian played hockey for New Zealand, Glenn was one of world cricket's best batsmen and Greg was one of the best golfers this country has produced.
The region's landscapes feature in Brian Turner's writing and a selection of his books are for sale at Gilchrist's, the local store that first opened in 1902.
"I think," reflects Turner, " I've got some runs on the board.
75 and busy as hell
When the Herald called, Turner was writing an essay about Central Otago. "What's taken place over the years in the name of progress. What the place used to be like and how it is now. What can be said in favour of what exists now and what used to be.
"We have transformed our landscapes in ways that have resulted in all sorts of losses, of natural values and of species. Oh, you know what I'm talking about."
Turner has stepped down as chairman of the Central Otago Environmental Society but remains on the committee. He was part of Save Central, a group that included his friend, the painter Grahame Sydney, who successfully opposed - on grounds of visual pollution and environmental damage - Meridian's plan for a 176-turbine wind farm across 92 square kilometres of the Lammermoor Range.
Turner has a word to sum up his reaction to the tendency to measure everything in dollars and label it progress.
"Disgust, really. It's a depletion of the sorts of feelings and empathy I think people need to have if we are not to continue to destroy this bloody wonderful planet we are on. [People] don't have any reverence for the diversity that's out there."
His work, his art, is not entirely about that sort of thing. There are plenty of personal poems. "Some you'd call love poems," he says. "I tend to have been labelled an outdoorsy bugger, which I am, but there's a lot else been going on."
His life, family, the land and sport and sportspeople have been the subjects of his many books. He has "hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of unpublished poems" besides 12 published volumes, with a collection of "selected poems" out soon.
That last book was due last year but the Hong Kong warehouse the books were stored in burned down. "The entire edition of my selected poems went up in smoke." He's laughing as he says, "so I had to take that one on the chin".
Seventy five is the stage of an innings when a batsman has well and truly found the sweet spot. Is that how it is for the writer?
"You would get better comment out of Glenn than me," says Turner. "He'd say you are not going to get me out easily.
"I'll just keep writing prose and poetry until I can't anymore."
A talented cyclist and a mountaineer, Turner knows all about enduring. "On the bike when the pressure really went on and the hill was coming up or someone was attacking or when I was feeling stuffed, I'd just say to myself, 'one more time'."
All the Turners have resolve. Brian credits his late father, Alf, for that along with a willingness to speak their mind - something he says Kiwis are not good at.
There was also the example of a cousin, Alan Larkins, a national champion cyclist. "The cyclists were the people who drew me into sport with deep conviction. I knew how much work cyclists had to put in if they were to be even quite good.
"Dad would say of Alan Larkins or someone else like him that one of the reasons they were good was that they were prepared to suffer.
"It's a bit like climbing mountains. You get into places where you have just got to hang on …"
Tour de France cyclist Julian Dean is a friend and Turner cuts a dash on the roads of Central wearing the Kiwi's hand-me-down professional kit.
There is no substitute for skill, Alf Turner would tell his sons. And skill had to be instilled.
"He would get us out in the backyard and bowl to us up against this concrete wall at the bottom of the section in the state housing development up in Corstorphine [southwest Dunedin].
"Alf pushed us and pushed us and pushed us. He wouldn't let us play cross-bat. He'd say the first thing you have to do is learn to stay at the wicket and you need to be able to play straight."
Turner senior became a first-class cricket umpire. He had a sharp mind but was taken out of school aged about 14. "I think my father could have gone somewhere but he ended up being a taxi driver and driving the bread van and so on. He was wounded by that in many ways."
Turner's love of the back country and his passion for trout fishing came of family trips with Alf and his mother, Audrey, now 95.
"We had an old caravan and a tent and off we'd go: Fiordland, the Eglinton Valley, the Hollyford, all over Central Otago, Lake Ohau. The Ohau River was a great brawling muscular river. The fly life in the evenings! And the fish going after them was amazing.
"Our rivers and streams now are as unhealthy as hell compared to what they used to be."
Turner is uncertain where his love of words came from. He recalls being whacked with a tea towel by his paternal grandmother for sitting in a corner reading.
"She thought I was a bookworm. I don't think I read that much more than anyone else but I was greatly interested in a variety of both fiction and nonfiction."
In his teens he began to "scrawl in a notebook".
"I think with poetry there is no finer way of saying things. And there is poetry in prose and prose in poetry. It's a fine line. Growing up, most people believed it wasn't poetry unless it end-rhymed."
Writing, he says, helps you know not only the world but your own mind. "I find that one doesn't know what one thinks until one's seen what one's said. Then you have to see if it can be better said, whether it will hold up."
The talented Turner brothers
• Brian Turner is a writer, a fisher, mountaineer, sportsman and friend of the environment. He represented New Zealand in hockey in the 1960s, was a road cyclist of note and has climbed a number of mountains including Mt Cook/Aoraki.
He has won numerous awards for his writing, including the Commonwealth Prize for Poetry and the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement and been named New Zealand Poet Laureate.
He has written 12 volumes of poetry and countless books about sport and sportspeople, the outdoors and his life. At 75 his writing is keeping him as busy as ever. "I'll just keep writing prose and poetry until I can't anymore."
He lives in Oturehua in the Maniototo.
• Glenn Turner , 71, is one of the best cricketers New Zealand has produced. He played for New Zealand in 41 tests, and achieved an average of 44.64, including seven centuries. He had a long career in the English county cricket championship and overall achieved a century of centuries.
In 1982, he became the first batsman in 33 years to score 300 runs in a single day in England. His many records included becoming the first to score an ODI 150 as well as World Cup 150.
He had two stints as coach of the New Zealand side, including during the team's only series victory in Australia, and has served on the selection panel..
He is married to Dame Sukhi Turner, a former mayor of Dunedin. They met in 1967 while he was touring with the national team in India. They live in Wanaka.
• Greg Turner , 56, is one of the best professional golfers New Zealand has produced. He won 12 times including four on the European Tour. His best ranking was 18th on the European Tour Order of Merit in 1997.
He represented New Zealand many times and was a member of the winning International Team in the 1998 President's Cup.
The tallest of the brothers at 1.88 metres, he was also a talented hockey player and cricketer.
Since retiring he has worked in golf course design, event management and corporate hospitality. He lives in Queenstown.
• Brian Turner was interviewed for this article before the Christchurch terror attack occurred.