If you haven’t already heard of Sheila Natusch, prepare to be inspired. The life story of this nonagenarian natural historian, illustrator and writer is a beautiful, truly Antipodean journey, made with love by her cousin and long-time Kiwi filmmaker, Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand).
Born in 1926 on Rakiura (Stewart Island) to the Traill family, Sheila’s early childhood memories include a near-drowning at the hands of schoolmates – this and other life misfortunes she shrugs off casually. Growing up in the deep south led to an adventurous resilience which saw her climb multiple mountains, cycle from Picton to Bluff and write dozens of groundbreaking natural history books, including her magnum opus, Animals of New Zealand.
Featuring beautiful historic footage of the lower south in the 30s and 40s, this film offers fascinating glimpses into life as one of few female students at Otago University, and covers Sheila’s friendship with Janet Frame and their subsequent and unsuccessful foray into teaching. Moving to Wellington in the 50s saw Sheila and husband Gilbert Natusch take up residence in Owhiro Bay, while she had professional stints at the National Library and Correspondence School.
Viewers will love this radiant, defiant and unconventional life story which ranges from the southern wilds to the rugged Wellington coastline, where Sheila still lived until very recently, without car, TV, lipstick or alcohol, planning to “get the last bit of fun out of life that there is.” — Jo Randerson