Politics, wizardry mix for mayoral hopeful

Bluff "green wizard" Noel Peterson hopes to be the next mayor of Invercargill. PHOTOS: MATTHEW...
Bluff "green wizard" Noel Peterson hopes to be the next mayor of Invercargill. PHOTOS: MATTHEW ROSENBERG
In an inconspicuous house at the bottom of the world lives a man immersed in green.

Noel Peterson likes to talk, but it is his colourful attire which speaks the loudest.

Adorned in a dazzling display of medieval-style dress, Mr Peterson is the self-proclaimed "green wizard" of Bluff, a man on a mission to raise the profile of environmental issues in his pocket of the world. Wearing the mayoral chains is also the aim.

"The attire makes no difference. It’s rather impractical. It’s very hot. It tends to freak a lot of people out a bit," Mr Peterson says, referring to the eccentric uniform he reserves for special occasions.

On one such special day, a sunny Wednesday afternoon in Bluff, Mr Peterson is dripping in green. From head to toe.

When he steps into his garden, he is camouflaged among the plants.

It is a far cry from the Invercargill City Council chambers — where he can be found at most public meetings — but the garden is where he feels most at home.

He is farming worms and generally just letting the plants go for it.

"I’m into natural," he says of the organic chaos, which would give most green thumbs a headache.

But Mr Peterson is not most gardeners, or people, for that matter. The 68-year-old is a wizard, and one who has a knack for inserting himself into local political landscapes.

Before arriving in Bluff four years ago, he went up against Winston Peters with the Green Party and even had a crack at the Tauranga mayoralty in 2016.

Both runs were unsuccessful, but when Mr Peterson shifted south, he found a new home on the Bluff Community Board.

In keeping with his passion for looking after the environment, Mr Peterson drives a small...
In keeping with his passion for looking after the environment, Mr Peterson drives a small electric vehicle.
At most Invercargill City Council meetings, he can be seen reclining in the public seating area, absorbing dense political jargon like a civic sponge.

It is not without some motive, considering he hopes to be the next Invercargill mayor.

"I think that it’s firstly a matter of listening to what the people want. I have lots of ideas for caring about the environment. I’m into green technology," he says.

"I’m very much the kind of person if something is wrong with your street, I actually contact the council and say ‘hey, this needs fixing’."

Politics and wizardry is an interesting mix, and over a cup of herbal tea, Mr Peterson is keen to unpack his journey into the latter.

"When I got to 30, I realised that I was like a green man. Green man is like the emanation of Mother Nature, of the natural order of things. And the green man warns mankind about caring for the whenua, caring for the earth, caring for Mother Nature.

"So when I was about 30, I realised that was my mahi in life."

It was not until about 2010 that Mr Peterson would gain the moniker of wizard, a designation that came about while working with children with disabilities.

One day the children asked the programme co-ordinator, "who is that fella?", Mr Peterson recalls, to which they were told "oh, he’s the wizard".

It stuck, and when the same group of children went up the Motu River in the Bay of Plenty for a class trip, they brought Mr Peterson back a staff, which sealed the deal.

He has been the green wizard ever since.

Mr Peterson had called Tauranga home his whole life before shifting south, and it was a big move considering he had spent a total of only one day in the South Island prior.

"I decided that the South Island was a totally unexplored area for me, so I started looking ... Bluff ticked more of the boxes than anywhere else."

Some of those boxes include the history of the place (Bluff is one of the earliest ports in New Zealand) and the potential for the town to become an eco-village.

Despite being a self-confessed extrovert who’s not afraid to put himself out there, Peterson is also introspective.

He lives alone, and has felt alone for most of his life, he says.

As a child, he felt distanced from people and more closely connected to plants and animals.

Some of his earliest memories are being alone as a toddler exploring the long grasses, which felt like a forest at the time. Love has often ended in loss — his wife and previous two partners have died. His surviving family — three daughters, 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren — all live in Australia.

But Mr Peterson says he does not feel isolated because he is connected to the world through his computer.

Mr Peterson says he is a green wizard, and has always felt at home in nature.
Mr Peterson says he is a green wizard, and has always felt at home in nature.
"A lot of what I do these days contacting the community, I do through the magic of the internet. I do it online from the wizard’s lair."

Will he cast a spell to make his mayoral dream become reality? Anything feels possible with Mr Peterson at this point.

Mid-conversation, he gets up from the table and leaves the room, re-emerging moments later with a collection of small cloth bags containing four wooden utensils — his wands.

They are custom-made in the United States by a company named Magical Alley, and Mr Peterson says he casts spells when he "feels the need".

"I’ve got this perfect alignment to the north ... ptshhh! To the east ... ptshhh!

"If I want to cast one to the south, I have to go to the top of the hill."

Fortunately, it’s within walking distance, or he can take his car — a 2014 Smart Fortwo, which is something of an electric cocoon for the green-minded wizard.

Mr Peterson bought the vehicle in Christchurch during a trip, which ultimately connected him with the wizard of New Zealand, Ian Brackenbury Channell.

After bumping into Mr Channell (more commonly known as Jack) in Cathedral Square, the pair linked up in Oamaru for a three-day wizard gathering, joined by other wizards from around the country.

Things turned sour, Mr Peterson recounts.

"Wizards often argue with each other, and don’t get along. We had a gathering for three days, and on the third day in the morning, Jack actually started telling all the other wizards what they had to do. And that didn’t go down well, and the argument went on for about eight hours.

"Anyway, they had this great big row, and the Otago wizard actually resigned."

Mr Peterson says the guild has not gone much further, and communication with leader Mr Channell is limited these days.

Regardless, Mr Peterson pushes on with his own agendas: raising the profile of environmental issues through his online presence and gearing up for his next run at mayoralty.

Through all the ups and downs, he chooses to remain positive.

"I’m the good wizard, the kind wizard and the happy wizard. The outgoing wizard.

"I’m forever the optimist. Doom and gloom doesn’t sort of register."



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