Risk-taking role models inspire celebration of southern spirit

I mostly read electronically these days, but given my birthday is close to Christmas, at this time of year, I am given presents of multiple hardback books - my favourite type of gifts!

Last Christmas season, I was given Annabel Langbein’s memoir Bella and this Christmas season, I was given Desiree Whitaker’s The Spirit of Cardrona.

I have long been a fan of Annabel Langbein, her “Essential” volumes taking pride of place (and use) in my kitchen - as previous summertime gifts. I am not a whisky drinker, so was less familiar with Desiree Whitaker.

Desiree Reid. Photo: supplied
Desiree Reid. Photo: supplied
Anyway, both books were treasure troves for dreaming and imagining as I holidayed with my feet up. Last summer, I was blown away by Annabel Langbein’s gutsy life path from possum trapping in the Poverty Bay, around areas where I used to holiday with my grandparents, to travelling and food stories in Brazil at times my eyebrows were raised in complete wonder and admiration at her audacity.

This summer, reading about the Spirit of Cardrona, I was in awe of Desiree Whitaker’s dreams and drive - a truly, wonderful, sensory read I can highly recommend.

Both these women came from outside the Otago region to call this region home and with it they brought their indomitable spirit, determination and zest for life. It made me think about how little we know about people’s stories.

You see, I have never met Annabel Langbein I have only seen her on TV. Yes, I loved her recipes, but I kind of wrote her off as a slightly uppity Aucklander (sorry) who got in trouble for planting the wrong type of trees in Wanaka. Don’t we miss out on so much by judging people who dare to stand out — why do we do it?

Annabel Langbein. Photo: supplied
Annabel Langbein. Photo: supplied
Do we do it to justify our own vanilla lives and lack of risk-taking? Living a big life requires the forfeit of many things that many won’t choose to give up. It comes across clearly how much both these women have worked to get to where they are, what they have given up and how many risks they have taken along the way. As the sun beamed on and I read on, I mentally celebrated their audacity and I wondered how many other wonderful stories there were out there, particularly about women’s endeavours, which we have missed in our patriarchal, increasingly corporatised world?

The books also made me think about how we might do more to celebrate and acknowledge our southern spirit and how, by doing that, we might evoke a new generation of entrepreneurs.

What does southern inspiration look like?

Think of all the activities we fit into our days while those in larger cities are stuck in traffic. Think about the creativity which can be inspired by our magnificent mountains and our wild shores. I swam in the ocean this weekend and nearly had a heart attack when a massive seal popped up beside me!

Think about the lack of corporate structures here which means people look for alternative paths to build a life. Think about our children who can still wander their neighbourhoods, exploring areas like Ross Creek, Outram Glen and Glenorchy.

Think about the fact that our community still looks out for each other on a daily basis. I am reminded of when I got a phone call from a stranger in Mosgiel to say that my son had crashed his BMX, she was looking after him and cleaning up his grazes. The tears were gone by the time I arrived.

Our landscape can inspire greatness, but sometimes our small community inspires small-mindedness. I am so saddened by the anger and confusion reigning all over the world right now. Perhaps, here in Otago, we can be an outlier, a community that welcomes diversity of thought, a community that celebrates outstanding people, a community that lives in harmony with our magnificent landscape. Is that too big a dream?

Happy new year everyone!

Anna Campbell is a co-founder of Zestt Wellness, a nutraceutical company, and a partner in AbacusBio Ltd, an agri-technology company.

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