Gloria Hurst is one of Waitaki’s foremost renaissance women.
The Papakaio philanthropist is well known in many circles, not least for helping to restore the Willow Park homestead and expanding its gardens with plantings and ponds. She and her husband Ian, who met on her first day at primary school, raised their three children there.
Now, they welcome people to “play” in their garden, which includes a kitchen garden where she grows vegetables and herbs amid fairy houses and a fountain.
Mrs Hurst describes herself as “a teacher by trade”. Fifteen years ago, she was concerned by the number of young people she saw outside the Oamaru Courthouse.
“I could tell by their eyes they were not bad people. I made time to listen to them.”
Armed with a dictaphone, Mrs Hurst approached people aged 5 to 30, asking them to talk to her about their imagination, passion, and frustration. The only rule was that they had to tell the truth. Rather than shying away from her, people were “open and totally honest”.
Mrs Hurst grew to realise that society and the education system were not meeting the needs of many people, and not recognising their talents. Learning conditions such as dyslexia were not recognised back then.
She could not change the system, “so I opened up our home and garden for kids, so they could come and play”.
When “kids with issues” had climbed trees and done some gardening and cooking, they “charged their batteries and downloaded their own answers”.
Nature, fresh air, and playfulness are vital ingredients to wellness, Mrs Hurst believes.
To that end, she was instrumental in establishing the Waitaki Community Gardens eight years ago. It was now a “grandparent garden” to 12 local schools, with input varying from once a week to as required.
Each school garden had to be sustainable – “so they don’t fall over when a parent or a teacher leaves”, Mrs Hurst said.
The next step was brewing, creating a model that could be rolled out across the district and much further afield. It involved a garden as a hub for activities.
“We as elders support the garden with a pearl of wisdom – we might grow potatoes or make soup or knit a scarf.”
The process would be documented and showcased to schools and communities.
Mrs Hurst envisaged “the whole district pulsating with playfulness” as people participated as and when they wished with the abilities they already possessed. They might read a book to a group of children, or take a child for a walk.
“It’s basic life skills; they’re not lost,” Mrs Hurst said. “It’s a window of opportunity.”
Eventually, she would like to see the Alps2Ocean Cycle Trail carving its way through an outdoor classroom, helping to restore our “awe and wonderment” in the natural world. That was closely aligned to the philosophy of the Waitaha iwi, she said.
“Nature is the key. We’re living in a world where it’s a challenge to tell what’s real.”
The garden projects would be “led by kids for kids”.
“It’s not about money. We can pay it forward. It makes us all think what we can contribute.
“You get what you give. Society will be healthier and happier.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: “A strong believer in nature, fresh air and play for recharging batteries, Gloria is a driving force behind the Waitaki Community Gardens, and has opened her heart and home to local children.” – Melanie Tavendale