Renaissance man Turner’s 80th time to spin yarns

Former professional road cycling champion Julian Dean (left) enjoys a story told by his...
Former professional road cycling champion Julian Dean (left) enjoys a story told by his occasional training partner Brian Turner — also known for his writing and conservation work — at Turner’s 80th birthday celebration in Oturehua yesterday. PHOTO: JULIE ASHER
A poet, conservationist and former top hockey player walked into the Oturehua tavern.

It was not the beginning of a single story but the start of multiple yarns spun to celebrate the 80th birthday of one of New Zealand’s foremost writers and passionate conservationists, Brian Turner.

Turner, who has lived in the Maniototo village since 1999, was variously described as a counterpart of Keats, possibly the oldest training partner ever for the Tour de France, and a kind man.

Born in Dunedin, Turner is one of three brothers who all had remarkable sporting ability. He, the eldest, played hockey for New Zealand in the 1960s, senior cricket in Dunedin and Wellington and was a veteran road cyclist of note who still enjoys riding. His mountaineering experience includes an ascent of a number of major peaks including Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Next down, Glenn played cricket for New Zealand and youngest brother Greg, who was MC at the birthday bash, is a professional golfer-turned-course designer.

Speeches were made by a diverse range of people, reflecting Turner’s true stature as a genuine Renaissance man.

Protecting Central Otago’s landscape from a 176-turbine wind farm in the early 2000s was recounted by former St Bathans resident Graye Shattkey.

Turner’s ability to know when to say nothing and allow the atmosphere to build, ensuring when he did speak all were listening, was eloquently described.

Mr Shattkey co-ordinated the pushback on Meridian Energy’s plan with the help of painter Grahame Sydney, then All Black Anton Oliver and Turner, all of whom had homes in the Maniototo at the time.

"My biggest contribution was to shepherd a poet, a painter and a rugby player towards the goal."

Turner’s partner of more than 11 years, author and editor Jillian Sullivan, said only twice in all their time together had he been at all critical.

Once was when, in a howling wind, they were attempting to cover hay bales with a tarpaulin.

"You’re being a bit instructional", was Turner’s concise comment to Ms Sullivan.

Turner was a good, kind man, she said,

"He just goes about doing good things."

Cyclist Julian Dean, who rode seven times in the Tour de France, came down from Rotorua for the celebrations and spoke highly of his former training mate.

Other speakers at the lunch included mountaineer Philip Temple, poet Michael Harlow and Matt Sole from the Central Otago Environmental Society, which presented its inaugural honorary life membership to Turner last year.