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Death and dying – it’s not always easy to talk about

3 September 2019

MONDAY SEPTEMBER 2 – How should we deal with death and how can we prepare for our own?

These are some of the questions being delved into at this year’s No Barriers – Small Island, Big Ideas festival on Great Barrier Island.

“Death is part of life – it’s going to happen to us all, but it’s not always easy to talk about,” says event organiser Gendie Somerville-Ryan. “We’re pleased to create a platform for this important issue.”

The annual “festival for the brain”, now in its fifth year, brings world-leading experts to the remote Hauraki Gulf island to discuss the big issues of our time.

Panelists this year include palliative medicine specialist Dr Sinead Donnelly, who will talk about what happens to us as we die. Dr Donnelly spearheaded the joint doctors’ letter to the Government opposing the End of Life Choice Bill.

Sociologist, Associate Professor Ruth McManus, will look at how different cultures deal with death and touch on the growing trend of sustainability in death, including bio-burials.

Professor John Bishop, who teaches religious philosophy at Auckland University, will explore the relationship between faith and death.

And is it really possible to contact the dead? Craig Shearer, Chair of the Sceptics Society will make the case for “no”.

The panel will be moderated by broadcaster Eric Young, who himself had a recent brush with mortality. He’ll also speak about how the media covers death.

The event is free and open to locals and visitors, and usually attracts about 12% of the island’s permanent population.

“Great Barrier Island may be isolated and off the grid, but it’s a highly educated community, with a big appetite for expert knowledge and informed debate,” says Somerville Ryan.

Like much of New Zealand, Great Barrier has an ageing population. According to the last census 45% of islanders are over 55 and 22% are over 65 (compared with only 13% of Aucklanders who are over 65.) Death is felt keenly in the small community, where everybody knows everybody else.

“We are expecting a brave and (if you’ll excuse the pun) enlivening discussion.”

For more information on the event, visit:

Information on how to get to Great Barrier Island and where to stay can be found at


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