A Garden Reception and a Kōkako Poster Competition
In 1995, I was part of a project team at State Insurance working in partnership with the Department of Conservation to help save the endangered bird, the kōkako. A prime objective of our Kōkako Recovery Plan was to raise awareness of this rare bird and the conservation strategies needed to save the species from extinction.
One of our first actions was to run a poster competition in primary schools throughout New Zealand with a focus on Save the Kōkako to increase awareness of the bird. We had a huge response with 507 schools participating and an estimated 35,000 entries.
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh were attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) in November 1995. Knowing of his interest in the environment and wildlife, we wrote to the Duke via the Department of Internal Affairs office that organised the Royal Tour, asking if he could present the poster winner’s prize at a function in Auckland on 10 November. He accepted!
Consequently, I received an invitation to a Garden Reception at Government House in Wellington on 3 November.
Leanne (who also worked on the poster competition) and I set off on a stunning Wellington day to enjoy an afternoon of fine refreshments with a chance to meet the Queen or Duke.
They appeared on the lawn in front of Government House, then went separate ways to meet as many people as possible. We were the first people the Duke spoke to. He asked why we were at the Reception and we talked about helping to save the kōkako through our recovery plan programme and how we’d see him on the 10th in Auckland at the prizegiving for the winner of a nationwide children’s poster competition. He replied “he’d look forward to seeing us there”.
We also had a close-up view of the Queen chatting to guests in the next row to us. She was easy to spot in her trademark bright colours – this time pink!
We reached the pinnacle of our Save the Kōkako poster competition 10 November when the Duke of Edinburgh presented the national winner with her prizes in Auckland. We decorated The National Maritime Museum on Hobson Wharf with our beautiful Kōkako Recovery Plan posters and 63 wonderful regional winning posters. The room was packed with excited regional winners and their parents.
Following his arrival and welcome from VIPs, the Duke chatted to the children and looked at their posters. One of the children was very keen to meet the Duke and he said “I was feeling so nervous I had to go off and be sick.”
In a short speech, the Duke expressed his wish that children should treasure bird species as they are, in sense, the making of New Zealand. “If you have not taken up bird watching yet, well I hope you do,” he said. The Duke then presented Melissa, a 10-year-old from Nelson with her prizes.
We later received a letter from Sir Brian McGrath GCVO, a key member of Prince Philip’s Household, saying “The Duke of Edinburgh has asked me to write to thank you so much for all the support you are giving to the conservation of an endangered species in New Zealand. His Royal Highness hopes that the Kokako initiative will lead to more general appreciation of what can be done with a bit of determination.”
15 September 2022