WELLINGTON MEDICAL HISTORY SOCIETY

Dianne Buchan

Di Buchan is a Central Otago girl who although a committed Otakian retains close connections to her home turf. She has morphed from being a social researcher to writer with her first book released in September, 2017.
She came to Otaki via Whangarei and Wellington and a life filled with activism. On marriage she and her first husband lived in Whangarei where she had two children and found herself as the Town Clerk of Hikurangi Town Council before deciding to stand for election herself. She topped polled, as a councillor chaired the Town Planning Committee , became President of the Whangarei Women's Electoral Lobby (WEL) and set forth to change the lives of women and the environment for the better.
Under her leadership WEL ran seminars and workshops, wrote numerous submissions, set up the first Women's Refuge, rape crisis centre and women's centre in Whangarei.
Following on from that she turned her attention to her own education and while bringing up two children and working full time for the town planning division of the Ministry of Works in Whangarei she completed a BA in Sociology by correspondence working in the evening when the kids were asleep and weekends.
At the end of her marriage she transferred to the Social Policy Unit of the Town Planning Division in Ministry of Works head office, Wellington undertaking social impact assessments of major projects around New Zealand. This was followed by a period in the State Services Commission's social impact unit set up to manage the effects of the state sector restructuring of the 1980s. She has been doing impact assessment work ever since. But by 1989 she was fed up with working in government and since the government was closing down all its in-house impact assessment capacity she together with a colleague started her own company (Rivers Buchan and Associates) and found herself busy to exhaustion. She was involved in almost every major project - governmental, both local and national, as well as projects in the private sector.

Exhausted and with the opportunity to work in Switzerland for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) she and her partner agreed to close the business and go their separate ways. She spent a year abroad working for IUCN and Ramsar (an organisation established to protect wetlands of national importance) and editing a manual (2 Volumes) on how to involve communities in the conservation of nature (titled Beyond Fences). It was translated from the English into French and Spanish.
She came back to work on the Tuapeka Dam project on her home turf in Central Otago. Fortunately for the environment, Contact Energy decided not to proceed with the dam. Now with no firm contracts she and her son who had an environmental degree decided set up their own social and environmental assessment company and Corydon Consultants was created in 1997. Her work initially focused on work in the Pacific but she commuted regularly back to New Zealand to undertake work on a wide range of social and environmental projects in her own country.

It was in the Pacific that she met her second husband Michael who was also working as a consultant in the Pacificand, married him in 2000. Her Otaki connection started then with their holiday home by the sea and they commuted at weekends to develop two paddocks into a two acre garden.
During this period she obtained a Master in Public Policy through part-time study at Victoria University. She also joined the Wellington Civic Trust and served for seven years as its Chair. She continues to retain close ties with the Trust, for the past 12 years, hosting their Christmas lunch in her garden.
When Michael retired in 2010 they moved to Otaki to live but Di continued to work commuting to Wellington and other far flung places.
It was Michael's influence which got her interested in the Historical Society and the Museum Trust but with Michael's sudden death in 2014, and Di reaching retirement age she and her son decided to wind the company up.
But never one to be idle, Di turned herself into a writer while at the same time pursuing her environmental interests with the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand as well as her own personal foundation, the DB Environmental Trust which provides funding for school projects designed to teach students about environmental issues and to landowner initiatives designed to foster knowledge of and develop ways to address environmental issues.
Her book, Sun Sea and Substance - The story of the Otaki Children's Health Camp (published by Steel Roberts) contains 48 stories from the children (some now quite elderly) who spent time there along with stories from staff members. It provides details of life in the camp and factors leading up the children being 'sent' away to improve their health, along with many vivid colourful memories of life at the camp from 1931 to the present day. The memories add depth and colour to the overall picture and give us a window into our social history. Otaki has much to thank the original benefactor, Byron Brown, who donated 70 acres for the camp, and to the staunch support from local people who enabled this valuable addition to our town's wellbeing to thrive for 85 years.

"Will she write again?" I ask. "No - it is not anywhere on my radar. The garden is crying out for some concerted attention and I am thinking I might try having a good, long holiday sometime soon." We'll see - you just can't keep a busy woman down.

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