The story of pioneering Conservationist & Author David Towns

We recently interviewed trailblazing conservation biologist Dr. David Towns, who authored the newly released book Ahuahu: a conservation journey in Aotearoa New Zealand. Situated largely on the stunning nature reserves of the Mercury Islands, located off the coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, Towns spent 40 years working on innovative conservation projects to eradicate mammalian pests on all seven islands. These team efforts have resulted in abundant wildlife havens, teeming with native species that now represent the closest pre-civilization examples of island ecosystems in Aotearoa.

Towns’s new book Ahuahu gives a behind-the-scenes peek into the triumphs, setbacks and ground-breaking bicultural teamwork that have allowed these islands to thrive, creating a spectacular example of Aotearoa’s world renown conservation work. The book features stunning photography of the picturesque landscapes and wildlife that make up the Mercury Islands, and documents how conservationists, iwi and volunteers alike banded together to restore these islands to their natural state.

Watch our Q&A interview with Dave below, as he walks us through the remarkable journey of the islands, his career and his hopes for Aotearoa’s conservation future.

We extend our warm appreciation to Dave for the interview and for providing the photographs used in the video. Reserve a copy of ‘Ahuahu’ from the Library today!

Ahuahu : a conservation journey in Aotearoa New Zealand / Towns, D. R.
“Aotearoa New Zealand is renowned among biologists worldwide for spectacular ecological restoration work over the last 50 years, through advances in pest eradication and native species translocation. This book documents the development of these world-leading technologies. It uses examples from throughout the country, but has a special focus on one island group – the Mercury Islands off Coromandel, of which Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island) is the largest. The story is told through the eyes of pioneer conservation biologist David Towns, who was there from the start. It is a story of triumphs and setbacks, of opportunity and innovation, of teamwork and emerging bicultural collaboration. Today, all seven islands of the Mercury group are free of mammalian pests, providing a haven to native plants and animals. This book is the story of how that was made possible.” (Catalogue)

Te Tiriti o Waitangi – 6th February events

Books about the Treaty, superimposed over the harbourHere in Wellington we’re far away from Waitangi where the official Waitangi Day commemorations happen every year. But did you know that we’re lucky enough to be able to visit the Treaty itself locally at the He Tohu exhibition at the National Library?

He Tohu is a permanent exhibition of three Aotearoa New Zealand constitutional documents, and preserves these powerful taonga for future generations. The three documents are:

  • He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni (1835)
    Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand
  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi (1840)
    Treaty of Waitangi
  • The Women’s Suffrage Petition (1893)
    Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine

On Waitangi Day this year you can visit the National Library for a 30-minute guided tour exploring this multi-award winning exhibition. Tours begin on the hour and half hour between 10am and 4pm, and there’s much more happening besides.

As part of the commemorations, our own He Matapihi Library (housed on-site at the National Library), will be open for the day for browsing, and will have two arts and crafts sessions open for children and their families:

  • Weaving: 10:30-11:15am
  • DIY Māori Treasure Box: 1:30-2:15 pm

Please note: He Matapihi will be the only Wellington City Libraries branch open on Waitangi Day — all other branches will be closed for the public holiday.

The National Library have a full day of activities planned so there will be lots more to see and do, including:

  • Arts and crafts activities for the whole whānau
  • Historical footage of Waitangi Day commemorations curated by Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision
  • Te reo Māori pronounciation and waiata workshops
  • View an installation of four giant banners featuring Treaty signatories, including local rangatira Te Wharepōuri

Waitangi Day 2023 at the National Library

Don’t forget you can find more information about Waitangi Day events happening across the city on the Wellington City Council website.

Browse our collection below:

The Treaty of Waitangi / Calman, Ross
“The best basic introduction to the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document; it summarizes the history of the Treaty and race relations in New Zealand/ Aotearoa How well do any of us know what the Treaty document means? In this easy-to-follow book, Ross Calman looks at what New Zealand was like before the Treaty and how this important document has effected the way we live now.” (Catalogue)

The Treaty of Waitangi / Orange, Claudia
“Today the Treaty has come to signify what both joins and divides the people of this country. It had different meanings also to those present at the 1840 signing -the new arrivals and the tangatawhenuathen occupying the land. To the British, it was the means by which they gained sovereignty over the country; for Maori, it represented something closer to partnership. That these distinct meanings were conveyed in texts written in different languages only added to the complexities now woven around this crucial agreement.Claudia Orange’s remarkable history was first published in 1987. ” (Catalogue)

Treaty of Waitangi : questions and answers
” Covering many historical and contemporary issues, it is for people who want to gain a basic knowledge about the Treaty of Waitangi and its implications, as well as for those who want to refresh and update their understanding. It includes a summary of legislation and events since 1840 which have breached the Treaty, and a comprehensive reading list for further information. ” (Catalogue)

Treaty of Waitangi settlements
“The settlement of iwi claims under the Treaty of Waitangi has been a prominent feature of New Zealand’s political landscape over the last thirty years. In this timely book, leading scholars offer the first analysis of the economic and social impact of the settlement process.” (Catalogue)

Te Tiriti o Waitangi / Morris, Toby
“Ground-breaking full-colour graphic novel about Te Tiriti o Waitangi | The Treaty of Waitangi. Accessible, engaging, image-rich design. Dual-language flip book with Maori and Pakeha authors Ross Calman and Mark Derby. Text in te reo Maori version developed by Maori Language Commission-registered translator Piripi Walker. Reviewed by some of Aotearoas foremost Te Tiriti o Waitangi experts to reflect current scholarship. Includes a link to both versions of the treaty translated into thirty other languages and New Zealand Sign Language.” (Catalogue)

Treaty to Treaty : a history of early New Zealand from the Treaty of Tordesillas 1494 to the Treaty of Waitangi 1840 / Bennett, R. S.
“This book is a large & detailed history of early NZ and includes events elsewhere in the world that have had an effect on this country. The size of this project and the author’s wish to bring to the fore interesting and important material not covered in other historical work has necessitated the production of three volumes rather than the one as originally intended. Volume One contains essays on background topics.” (Catalogue)

Rugby, recipes and our history reflected : Recent New Zealand non-fiction

January NZ Nonfic

Back from holidays and looking to read more New Zealand books this year? If you’re looking to re-orient in 2023, now might be the perfect time to pick up Dr Hinemoa Elder’s latest book, ‘Wawata : moon dreaming’, full of insights to lead you through this (and any) month of reflection. Or, choose to explore New Zealand history through 100 objects in Jock Phillips’ latest — delve into and connect with items of quiet significance and great personal meaning. Plus, ‘The RNZ Cookbook’, Ruby Tui’s autobiography, queer history, poetry, parenting and more. Have a browse!

Straight up / Tui, Ruby
“After a childhood filled with neglect Ruby yearned for another path. Determined not to let her upbringing limit her, she survived abuse, drugs and tragedy to become one of the most successful women’s rugby players in the world. The explosion of women’s rugby on the global stage has matched the rise of Ruby’s stellar career, as she has grown with the game from amateur to professional. In Straight Up Ruby looks herself in the eye, understanding that she can turn pain into purpose. It’s time to be straight up.” (Catalogue)

The RNZ cookbook : a treasury of 180 recipes from New Zealand’s best-known chefs and food writers
“An authoritative and above all useful cookbook from New Zealand’s favourite broadcaster, featuring 180 trusted (and tested) recipes hand-picked from the thousands of delicious recipes that have featured on RNZ shows such as Nine to Noon, Afternoons, and Saturday Morning in recent decades. […] Featuring recipes from key personalities from down the years — from Alison Holst and Julie Biuso to Martin Bosley, Nadia Lim, and Peter Gordon — it’s a terrific way to track our food history. Afternoons host and foodie Jesse Mulligan provides the foreword.” (Catalogue)

Wawata : moon dreaming : daily wisdom guided by Hina, the Māori moon / Elder, Hinemoa
“Hina, the Maori moon goddess, has 30 different faces to help illuminate life’s lessons – a different face and a different energy for each day of the month. And with her changing light, new insights are revealed. This book gives us the chance to connect to the ancient wisdom of the old people, who reach forward into our lives, with each of the moon’s names as their offerings. Their reminders are a source of strength in our strange modern world, where we have been stripped of much of the connection and relationships we need for our wellbeing through successive lockdowns. We now see just how important these things are! This book leads you through a full cycle of the moon, to consider 30 aspects of life.” (Catalogue)

How to be a bad Muslim : and other essays / Hassan, Mohamed
“This is the breakout non-fiction book from award-winning New Zealand writer Mohamed Hassan. From Cairo to Takapuna, Athens to Istanbul, How To Be A Bad Muslim maps the personal and public experience of being Muslim through essays on identity, Islamophobia, surveillance, migration and language. Traversing storytelling, memoir, journalism and humour, Hassan speaks authentically and piercingly on mental health, grief and loss, while weaving memories of an Egyptian immigrant fighting childhood bullies, listening to life-saving ’90s grunge and auditioning for vaguely-ethnic roles in a certain pirate movie franchise. At once funny and chilling, elegiac and eye-opening, this is a must-read book from a powerfully talented writer.” (Catalogue)

Downfall : the destruction of Charles Mackay / Diamond, Paul
“In 1920 New Zealanders were shocked by the news that the brilliant, well-connected mayor of Whanganui had shot a young gay poet, D’Arcy Cresswell, who was blackmailing him. They were then riveted by the trial that followed. Mackay was sentenced to hard labour and later left the country, only to be shot by a police sniper during street unrest in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis. Mackay had married into Whanganui high society, and the story has long been the town’s dark secret. The outcome of years of digging by historian Paul Diamond, ‘Downfall: The destruction of Charles Mackay‘ shines a clear light on the vengeful impulses behind the blackmail and Mackay’s ruination.” (Catalogue)

A history of New Zealand in 100 objects / Phillips, Jock
“The sewing kete of an unknown 18th-century Māori woman; the Endeavour cannons that fired on waka in 1769; the bagpipes of an Irish publican Paddy Galvin; the school uniform of Harold Pond, a Napier Tech pupil in the Hawke’s Bay quake; the Biko shields that tried to protect protestors during the Springbok tour in 1981; Winston Reynolds’ remarkable home-made Hokitika television set, the oldest working TV in the country; the soccer ball that was a tribute to Tariq Omar, a victim of the Christchurch Mosque shootings, and so many more – these are items of quiet significance and great personal meaning, taonga carrying stories that together represent a dramatic, full-of-life history for everyday New Zealanders.” (Catalogue)

Needs adult supervision : lessons in growing up / Emily
Needs Adult Supervision is Emily Writes’ take on growing up and feeling like a real adult. This book looks at the growing pains of kids and their parents and their attempts to navigate a world that’s changing by the minute. Emily paints a vivid picture of all the feelings, fortunes and failures that come with trying to parent when you don’t always feel up for the task. What it feels like to be learning at the same time your kids are. What happens when we get radically honest about the challenges parents are facing. In Emily’s inimitable way it’s incredibly insightful and hilarious, and leads to the odd tear being shed along the way.” (Catalogue)

Houseplants and design : a New Zealand guide / Carlson, Liz
“Houseplants have never been hotter. They have the power to instantly turn a house into a home and to create a feeling of peace and calm, transforming both your physical space and your headspace. Bringing nature inside is a simple way to maintain a connection to the outdoors. To nurture an indoor garden is to nurture ourselves. Award-winning lifestyle and travel writer Liz Carlson of Young Adventuress and NODE has created the complete guide to growing, propagating and caring for indoor plants. Offering a comprehensive catalogue of our most beloved and rare species, along with unique ways to style houseplants and troubleshoot common issues – and showcasing some of the most stylish indoor spaces in New Zealand – Houseplants and Design is the ultimate modern guide to tending a thriving indoor space.” (Catalogue)

The life of Kathleen Hall

Kathleen Hall (1896-1970) was born in Napier and moved to Auckland where she trained as a nurse after completing secondary school. In 1922 she was accepted by the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to undertake missionary work in China. She arrived there in 1923 and spent the next two years in Peking studying China’s language, culture and history. She was given a teaching position in Peking Union Medical College (Xiehe), a highly advanced institution with modern facilities which was funded by the American Rockefeller Foundation and operated by British & American Protestant missions.

Hall began working in missionary hospitals in Hejian in Hebei, Datong and Anguo in Shanxi where she became the ‘sister-in-charge’ of its base hospital. By 1933 she recognised the need for medical services in rural areas and applied to the bishop for permission to establish a ‘cottage hospital’ in Songjiazhuang in western Hebei.  She returned briefly to New Zealand to study midwifery but by 1934 was back in Songjiazhuang. She developed a reputation for providing medical care to rural peasants regardless of their ability to pay and worked long hours to assist them. She became known as “Dr Hall” among locals who remarked how “she was a good person who did numerous good things here”. In addition to her provision of medical care, she trained over 60 local nurses, taught literacy, donated food to the poor and provided funds to help build a new hospital.

“In this world of deep division, Kathleen Hall is a shining example of devotion, loyalty, and tenacity.”

– Miao Fan, NZ China Friendship Society


Kathleen Hall, 1896-1970. Hall, Mary :Photographs of Kathleen Hall. Ref: 1/2-181983-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23114625


Continue reading “The life of Kathleen Hall”

Gung Ho: The life of Rewi Alley

Rewi Alley (1897-1987) was born in the Canterbury town of Springfield and grew up in Amberly and Christchurch. He moved to China in 1926 and, over the following decade, worked in a number of different professions including: a firefighter, a factory inspector and a relief worker. He witnessed severe poverty and inequalities of wealth in his adopted country. In 1937, he founded the Association of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives known as Gung Ho (“Work together”) with the American journalist Edgar Snow and several other associates. Gung Ho organised small-scale, self-supporting, cooperatives which created employment for workers and also provided resistance during the Japanese occupation.

Rewi Alley. Burt, Gordon Onslow Hilbury, 1893-1968 :Negatives. Ref: 1/2-036405-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22548741

China gave me an aim to life, a cause to fight for, each year more richly; a place in the ranks of the advancing millions; how great a thing has this been, what bigger reward could one imagine than that which has come to me, and now sustains!
– Rewi Alley

By 1940, he began establishing schools in various parts of China. One of his associates was the British adventurer George Hogg, who revitalised a school in the small village of Shuangshipu (Feng Xi’an). Alley joined Hogg and, in 1942, helped him move the school to the northern county of Shandan after it was threatened by Japanese troops. Following Hogg’s death from tetanus in 1945, Alley took over as headmaster, with administration gradually transferring to local officials following the Communist victory in 1949. By 1953 Alley had settled in Beijing and became a spokesperson for various international peace agencies, such as the World Peace Council. He immersed himself in writing about China and was well-known for his contribution to Chinese literature, writing and translating over 60 books — including the work of Bai Juyi, often regarded as being the finest poet of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907). Several of Alley’s books and biographies are held in our collection and can be found through the Wellington City Libraries catalogue.

Rewi Alley teaching, Shandan School, Gansu, China. Alley, Rewi, 1897-1987 :Photographs. Ref: PA1-q-664-14-4. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23021115



‘China’s cause is my own cause’.

– Rewi Alley




Later in life he revived the Gung Ho organisation with other veterans of the movement and also conceived a plan for a new school in Shandan. He also met and often got to know many of China’s most influential government officials: including Song Qingling, Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Alley dedicated 60 years of his life in China and founded the NZ China Friendship Association. In 1987, both the New Zealand and Chinese governments honoured Alley for his work in Chin,a where he continues to hold the special status of being one of ‘China’s Top 10 international friends of all time’.

‘Eternal Glory to the Great Internationalist Fighter’.

– Deng Xiaoping, Chairman of China

Rewi Alley 60 years in China. Rewi Alley with his Chinese family. Alley, Rewi, 1897-1987 :Photographs. Ref: PA1-q-655-07-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/2318543
Rewi Alley speaking from a podium, China. Alley, Rewi, 1897-1987 :Photographs. Ref: PA1-q-642-07-4. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23029371









2022 marks the 125th anniversary of Rewi Alley’s birth and his life and work to inspire people in both China and New Zealand.

Text sourced from

Rewi Alley resources

‘Wild Weather’ Author Talk at Johnsonville this Thursday

Author photo of Lisa Murray, linked to Facebook event

Join us at Waitohi Johnsonville Library on Thursday November 3rd, 5:30pm for a talk with meteorologist Lisa Murray of MetService NZ, co-author of the new book New Zealand’s Wild Weather.

Cyclones, heatwaves, snow and drought… as a long, narrow group of islands Aotearoa New Zealand has always found itself at the mercy of wild weather, and that’s before accounting for the mounting impacts of climate change.

Come hear meteorologist Lisa Murray of MetService NZ present an invigorating hour, delving into the fascinating facts behind some of this country’s most dramatic weather.

What: ‘Wild Weather’ talk with Lisa Murray
When: Thursday 3 November, 5:30pm
Where: Waitohi Johnsonville Library

Event on Facebook

About Lisa

Meteorologist Lisa Murray is MetService NZ’s Head of Weather Communication. Lisa specialises in science communication and education, to ensure people’s safety during severe weather events. She recently enjoyed success as a speaker at the Auckland Writers Festival.

New Zealand’s wild weather
“This book explores the drama of New Zealand’s changeable weather, explained by a range of MetService experts. A compelling, informative and highly illustrated series of investigations into the different types of weather events that occur in New Zealand. MetService has compiled the scientific expertise, insight and weather data across New Zealand and the globe, to communicate the intricacies of our extreme weather events.New Zealand’s Wild Weather weaves meteorology with dramatic stories of everyday people impacted by the country’s mercurial climate.” (Adapted from Catalogue)