HOW A COUNTRY-WIDE LOCKDOWN HELPED ISOLATED KIWIS COME TOGETHER Article cover photo
19 June 2020

HOW A COUNTRY-WIDE LOCKDOWN HELPED ISOLATED KIWIS COME TOGETHER

With the recent ease of lockdown across New Zealand, three remarkable Kiwis recount their stay-in days doing what they love

New Zealand is one of the first countries to report no known cases for 24 days straight since the virus emerged late last year, thanks to the remarkable effort of all Kiwis nationwide.

The Rakiura photographer

Nature used to be photographer Laire Purik’s muse. For four years she found it all around her, living at the bottom of Aotearoa on Rakiura, Stewart Island. In her mind, the island is New Zealand like it used to be – unspoiled and extreme. Laire, who is originally from Estonia, had never really taken photos of people, but the four-week lockdown in New Zealand changed her perspective.

Laire Purik with her dog Carlos (image: supplied)

She recalls saying goodbye to a friend whom she knew she wouldn’t see for a while. There was something about the way that friend was lit by the afternoon sun and framed by striped glass, so she took a photo – the first in what would soon become a recurring photoseries shot with her iPhone. She didn’t have big plans, but that first photo soon evolved into a project documenting the lives of Stewart Island during lockdown. She called it “Copeisolation.”

Jules, Matt and dog Nonu (image: Laire Purik)


Stewart Islanders started sharing them all around their community. On an island where tourism and fishing are the main industries, where there is only one shop and a pub, Copeisolation became a historical project capturing a remote part of the world during unprecedented times.

The project helped get her out the door and appreciate the island even more. She wasn’t used to going up to strangers and asking to take their picture. “It changed my attitude to people,” she says. “Everyone had a story with how they were coping. That tiny island opened up even more to me.”

Bonnie and Fluff with their dog (image: Laire Purik)


At night, she often sees kiwi birds running free through the bush and can’t sleep because the stars are so bright above her head. She has fallen in love with the remoteness and that fact they don’t need anything there. Most of all, she has found a new muse. “Every person I photographed was individual, like their own storylines,” she says. “It made me feel even more connected.”


The Christchurch choirmaster

Choirmaster Nikki Berry spent two weeks before lockdown began getting her elderly students to come into rehearsals with their electronic devices. Many had computers or smartphones but had never used them to video call, let alone join a singing practice. So, Nikki and her partner Gary Easterbrook went methodically through each one, showing them what they needed to do.

The choirs started after the Christchurch earthquakes, as a way to foster community in uncertain times. “We noticed that, in general, older people are really in danger of being socially isolated,” Nikki says.

The Rockers of Ages choir brought together dozens of older Christchurch residents to join in song over Zoom during the lockdown. Photo: Supplied


With no intention of doing “old fashioned music”, Nikki got her students, the average of whom is aged in their 70s, to work on their “rock voices”. Now the Rockers of Ages, as the choir call themselves, belt everything from David Bowie to the Rolling Stones, and even songs in other languages. The choir members were hesitant at first, but quickly warmed up to it.

Nikki thinks that creating a place where they are focused on belonging and connecting with each other helped create an optimal learning and collaborative environment. “We do the hard stuff and aim high, but we don’t blame or attack. We are all learning.”

Delays in rendering the conference call made actually singing together impossible, so instead, Nikki and Gary pre-recorded all the parts themselves. Then they told the students to mute their microphones, and then the teachers just played the track. So while, to the student, it felt like they were signing with a choir, really they were just singing with themselves, alongside a gallery view of their peers all doing the same thing.

“It’s an amazing illusion.” As the students had muted their microphones, it also meant that Nikki and Gary had no idea what they sounded like. “That wasn’t really the point though,” she says. “It was about the process rather than the product.”

Nikki says that the experiment also offered a chance for each member to see inside other people’s homes. They would share tours of their living rooms via video and do ‘show and tells.’

“Normally, people would be too shy but there was something about the situation that made us feel less intimidated,” Nikki says. “It developed an intimacy we didn’t have before.”

That is something that has stayed, even when they went back to physical practices last week.

“Just that connection we felt has remained. We all feel that.”


The Waiheke volunteer vet

Over his 40-year career as a vet, Bryan Gartrell has helped rehabilitate everything from Siberian tigers to snow leopards. He has worked in government departments, zoos, and circuses. But over lockdown he found himself on his deck on Waiheke Island, as a volunteer, tending to a kāruhiruhi, or native shag, with a hole in its beak – nicknamed ‘Holey.’

Holey arrived via Native Bird Rescue, a volunteer-run centre on the island, but the organisation’s centre itself was closed during lockdown, so Bryan, his neighbour Lorraine, and his son Sam, set about turning that deck into a makeshift clinic.

“There was virtually no stress there. In a real clinic, there can be noises but there it was just us and the bird. During lockdown, the work does not stop. We can’t just say ‘we aren’t working’.”

So, they carried on through, helping everything from shags, like Holey, to kererū which had run into windows. The role is a culmination of a passion that still runs deep today.

“We have a duty of care to look after our native species that are vital for our whole biosphere.”

Bryan Gartrell, his neighbour Lorraine and son Sam, help stitch up ‘Holey’ the kāruhiruhi, or native shag, with a hole in its beak. Photo: Supplied

During lockdown Bryan would sit on his deck with a cup of coffee and look out at the bush surrounding his home. In one day, he saw 17 different types of native species. It was a vision of a future he has long hoped for.

“It was almost this Galapagos-type scene,” he says. “We have to look after these species because if we don’t, they will disappear.”

It’s that risk which drives Bryan’s passion for education.

“You have to consider beyond our lifetime. What is going to happen when I am not around anymore? Someone else has to be there with the same passion. So, by educating, you fill that void.”

Bryan Gartrell has worked on thousands of animals throughout his career. Photo: Supplied

Bryan says he was buoyed by the number of people who started seeing native birds all around them during lockdown. He says those four weeks gave people time to slow down and observe.

“It’s a starting point. I hope that appreciation remains.”