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Liam Butler speaks to Mike Ward, Artist, Adventurer

Eldernet Gazette
Liam Butler speaks to Mike Ward, Artist, Adventurer, City Councillor and much more...
30 December 2013

You are involved in governance. What do you see the benefits for older people serving on boards etc?

If they are totally set in their ways, can see no further than the size of their rates bill and can only focus on the problems I would probably rather they stuck to making the tea and holding the stop watches but if they are vision focussed, capable of listening and thinking and really want to make their communities more gorgeous and more fun and friendlier, wiser, safer, healthier and more generous, inclusive and sustainable, then they are just the kinds of folk that communities need to create the kind of future our children and grandchildren deserve and they will probably feel pretty good about doing it.

You are celebrated for your artistic and sporting achievements. What makes you so focussed?

I am grateful for the fact that my life is fun and interesting and purposeful and has had its share of opportunities and successes but I take little credit for the things I have done, I am the way I am because of my choice of parents and as a consequence of all of the experiences I have been subjected to but I suspect it is my optimism and my creativity that keeps me going. I wake up most mornings with the next or latest projects buzzing around the brain and can only see the positive outcomes.... so I get up and get on with it.

I know from experience that there are few activities that come without effort and no little grief but no matter how many times I Coast to Coast or start a Wearable Art entry or an election campaign or any other project it is the good memories of previous experiences that are most vivid and while I occasionally remember being scared or overwhelmed or frustrated before the event, I only know about how scared or frustrated or overwhelmed during the experience and by the day after an event I can no longer recall the intensity of the negative emotions. Once started any thoughts of giving up are fleeting. I seem always to have had the ability to push myself, sometimes for very long periods on minimal preparation... and the process of making good things happen and making lovely stuff or preparing for and participating in big sporting events is just a really good feeling... confident and contented and energised and the bigger the event the bigger the buzz.

The projects never seem particularly difficult when I begin them although there are many occasions the day after I have agreed to do something new when I realise I really have no experience in a particular field and am going to have to bluff my way through. I suspect my creativity helps. I know that I don't have to do things the way other people do them and have this, frequently unwarranted, confidence that lets me take on things that looking back appear quite ambitious... At the end of the summer break before I began my third form year at Nelson college an older friend and I hitched to Christchurch and back... with my parents permission. I began my working life as a window dresser and as an eighteen year old cycled to Auckland and back during my first two weeks annual leave. Sixteen hundred kilometres in fourteen days complete with camping gear etc. Still a little unusual but in 1961 cycle touring was virtually unheard of and half of the highway between Napier and Taupo was unsealed, unfenced, populated by wild horses and much hillier than now. No project has ever seems particularly ambitious at the time. I was making Mardi Gras costumes for my friends as teenager. later In spite of an appalling academic record at Nelson College... (my art teacher found me a job window dressing and talked into leaving school by at the beginning of my sixth form year) I applied for and was accepted for teachers college, graduated, taught for a year and then spent four years at Canterbury University studying fine arts.

How does it feel when you help out younger people and you see them bloom?

It is thirty-six years since I retired from Tokoroa High School and teaching and from time to time people tell me I made a difference to their lives but I suspect the bloomers would have bloomed with or without me but occasionally I learn of youngsters and the not so young whose lives have taken a particular direction because of things I have said and done and if my politics and life are about anything it is about enabling and persuading folk to live deliberately, to be aware of the consequences of the choices they make... for themselves and for the other communities, species and generations with which we share our planet.

What can you suggest to older people who would like to get themselves having fun playing sport again but are afraid they may look silly or get injured?

One of the good things about getting old is that you no longer have to worry about how you look but it might help to find someone else to look silly with and get active together. I also avoid looking in shop windows when I am running... if I can't see how slow I look I am less likely to worry about it... wear some really cool gear as well and know that dramatically more people die from not being active than ever die from injuries sustained from being active.

I was born in Hawkes Bay in 1942, moved to Nelson with family in the late forties went to Auckland Point School, Nelson Intermediate and Nelson college 1956-59, Christchurch Teachers College, 1962-63, Canterbury University 1965-68 ( Dip Fine Arts and Dip Tchg, Taught Tokoroa High 1969- 71 and 1973- 77. Retired to Nelson in 1978 to be an artist and adventurer and eventually a politician. I Contested the Nelson Seat for the Values Party, the Greens or the Alliance from 1981-2005, Co-leader of the Values Party from 83-88. MP from 2002-2005. I was first elected to the Nelson City Council in 1983 and am currently in my sixth term. I have been an artist and doing adventurous stuff all of my life but I largely supported my family from my creative activities from my return to Nelson. I began entering the World of Wearable Art in 2001 and won the man unleashed section in that year with "Sir Edmonds " and the Supreme Award six days after losing my seat in Parliament in 2005 with "The Emperor's Entourage".

I have been running pretty well continuously for forty years and completed my thirtieth New Zealand Coast to Coast this year (sixteen one day, thirteen two day and one teams event) and one in Scotland in 1995.

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