Blithley telling us she doesn't fit into any box came far too late in our conversation with Jill Walker to come as a surprise, we'd figured that out a couple of hours earlier.

So we pass the buck and say if we can't categorise her, how would she?

"I guess I'm a bit of everything, I have to be able to contribute to what I'm good at."
Jill Walker's good at a great number of things, but it's her link with the arts, the performing variety included, for which she's best known; think Lantern Festival, Street Art - Kete Rotorua, the Wind Sock Workshop, Night Magic, Tales by Torchlight, Music Month etc.

She was one of those instrumental in setting up RAVE, now the Rotorua Arts Village, is presently involved in establishing the Children's Art House, is one half of the Travelling Tuataras - the other's long-time partner, Brian Potiki - and a sitting member of Creative Communities, the partnership between Creative NZ and the district council.


Arts aside, Jill's what some would describe as being on the alternative side - that's no bad thing, alternative people are colourful people, she's a walking, talking pallet of colour.
"From primary school on, I've been a thirsty person who wants to learn new things, always passionate about the arts, I wanted to make my career out of them, go out and do something arty."

Initially that wasn't to be. Her headmaster dad wanted her to conform to family tradition and become a teacher, but when she acquired a boyfriend studying accountancy she too chose to become a number cruncher, teaching and art were shelved.
We have to admit to a laugh-out-loud moment here. Jill Walker's the last person in the world we'd pinpoint as an accountant. She agrees it could be funny to some but it's a career choice she's never rued, she's tutored the topic and travelled the country taking courses for small business operators.

"I've also set up courses for women wanting to go back to work when that was quite new, trailblazing, I learned a lot of people didn't understand what accountants were talking about so I dissected it into simple language."

Odd as it may sound, it was accountancy that sparked her ongoing passion for social responsibility and the environment. That led to an invitation to work at Waikato Polytechnic's general studies department, developing work co-operative initiatives with gangs.

"But I still had this love of art; from when I was little I had a sketchbook in my hand, when I was about 8 I got a picture of a butcher's shop with sawdust on the floor on TV. I was 10 when my brother was born and another of my pictures was screened of him in the bath. It was such a kick; that's why I've always pushed for a range of artists out on the street, not all art hangs on walls."

Was it art or accountancy that brought Jill Walker to Rotorua? It was actually a 1981 hui for tutors attached to polytechs wanting to be involved with the young unemployed.

"It was at Waiariki. They invited this guy to perform for us, it was Brian, I met him and it was like 'oooooh', he was a musician, poet, an actor involved in Maori theatre."
A couple of years earlier Jill had dipped into her super and instead of heading off on her OE as she'd first intended, bought a cottage at Rotoehu "close to the hot pools". She and Brian still live there, they've never married.
"It hasn't entered our heads, we're happy just as we are."

Combining their talents to form The Travelling Tuataras was a natural fit for both.
"I've been a singer since I was little, when I left school I did the folk clubs, singing in places like Te Awamutu's Cobb & Co."


The Travelling Tuataras began when the couple were providing public programmes at the museum.
"We were some of the first people to work in the upstairs space."
They hadn't been together long when they headed north and lived beside the Hokianga Harbour. Jill worked at Kaikohe's polytech co-ordinating training courses and using her theatre skills to benefit those on what was then known as the PEP scheme for unemployed youngsters.

She and Brian have worked on a range of similar schemes since, covering the country's geographic compass points, becoming involved with the Norman Kirk government's controversial Ohu scheme and assisting young people to live off deserted land.
Jill decries our suggestion this is what others might brand a commune.

"What I call it is alternative living, it taught me the importance of working for communities, not just for your own end."
Interspersed with this, Jill spent time with the UK's Welfare State International Theatre, an outdoor troupe brought to New Zealand to create multi-faceted arts projects.

"That totally changed my life; these people were thinkers, their method inclusion. What I learnt I've continued to use over the years, I discovered my love of working with 3D arts."
The couple returned to Rotorua 26 years ago. Jill tutored business courses at Waiariki, sparking involvement with the Women's Studies Department.

She was in on the ground floor when the Waiariki Art Workers in the Community Trust (WACO) was formed.

"We formulated an arts and cultural policy, a lot of it's just coming in now."
With so much achieved in so many fields we're still left pondering who is Jill Walker?
"I don't really know, I'm just someone who's passionate about creating opportunities for people to shine their strengths, their talents and contribute in this fast world."

Born: Westport, 1954
Education: "Throughout the country, my father was a headmaster", Waikato Polytech ."My education's continued on a daily basis."
Family: One daughter, two grandsons, one recently-arrived granddaughter.
Interests: Family, gardening, sewing, the lakes, movies, "I love dancing, I love life."
Personal Philosophy: "Inspiring the creative spark.