In her father’s footsteps . . .

Joanne Laing steps ashore at Tucker Cove on Campbell Island along with other passengers from Spirit of Enderby,which can be seen anchored in the background in Perseverance Harbour. PHOTO:KERRIE WATERWORTH
Joanne Laing steps ashore at Tucker Cove on Campbell Island along with other passengers from Spirit of Enderby,which can be seen anchored in the background in Perseverance Harbour. PHOTO:KERRIE WATERWORTH
Seventy years after her father lived and worked at the Campbell Island weather station Joanne Laing had the opportunity to visit the remote location. Robert Stanley died 20 years ago but finding his diaries and photographs of that time prompted a journey few people make to New Zealand’s southernmost subantarctic territory. Kerrie Waterworth reports.

 

Joanne Laing remembers a photograph of Tucker Cove base on Campbell Island always hung on a wall in the family home when she was a child.

She had heard the story of how her father had worked there before her parents were married, but she ‘‘hardly ever talked to him about it’’.

Robert Stanley gets up close to alight-mantled sooty albatross nestingon Campbell Island in the early 1950s.  PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Robert Stanley gets up close to alight-mantled sooty albatross nestingon Campbell Island in the early 1950s. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Although her father died 20 years ago, it was only last year when her mother became ill and she started sorting through paperwork that she found her father’s photos and diaries of the two years he lived and worked at the weather station.

Campbell Island is about 600km south of Stewart Island and has a cold, cloudy, wet and windy climate, with winds of over 63kmh on 280 days a year and rain falling 325 days a year on average.

The mean annual temperature is 6degC, rarely rising above 12degC, and snow can fall at any time of the year.

Robert Stanley stands in front of the spruce in the early 1950s. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Robert Stanley stands in front of the spruce in the early 1950s. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Tucker Cove off Perseverance Harbour was originally the site of an early farming adventure. During World War 2 teams of coast watchers were based there to look for Japanese and German shipping.

Most of New Zealand’s weather systems come from the south and west, and after the war ended the Tucker Cove base was kept open as a weather station.

In 1950, Robert Stanley, then 26 years old, started the first of his two 12-month stints working for the Civil Aviation Department as an ionosphere officer.

On December 9, 1950, he wrote in his diary: ‘‘very heavy rain during the night, creek almost up to the patio, bacon and tomatoes, no eggs that day [they had hens], scrambled eggs for lunch, chops and sago custard for tea, had a bath’’.

Almost to the day 70 years later, on the morning of December 6 last year, Ms Laing stepped ashore at Tucker Cove.

‘‘I had sort of prepared myself for this moment for the last few months, but it was very emotional.

Joanne Laing on the deck of the Spirit of Enderby in Perseverence Harbour opposite the now abandoned Beemer Hill weather station on Campbell island.
Joanne Laing on the deck of the Spirit of Enderby in Perseverence Harbour opposite the now abandoned Beemer Hill weather station on Campbell island.

‘‘Mum had died in May. I had asked her a few questions about it, but then she was gone.

‘‘I Google Earth-ed the topography and the vegetation and knew about the albatross there from the picture I have of Dad with an albatross chick, but I wanted to know more.’’

Mr Stanley had been a keen photographer during his time on Campbell Island and in his diaries he wrote about learning how to develop film.

He had ordered camera equipment and beer as part of the station supplies, which arrived every six months by ship.

In one of the photographs Mr Stanley can be seen standing in front of a spruce tree.

The spruce was planted in the early 1900s by New Zealand politician Lord Ranfurly and according to Guinness World Records is ‘‘the loneliest tree in the world’’ as its nearest companion is more than 222km away on the Auckland Islands.

The photograph ofthe Tucker Cove weather station which Joanne Laing remembers hanging in the family home.  PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The photograph ofthe Tucker Cove weather station which Joanne Laing remembers hanging in the family home. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The Tucker Cove weather station was relocated a short distance to Beeman Hill for better visibility in 1957 and in 1995, after the equipment was fully automated, it was no longer inhabited. Except for visits by Department of Conservation staff and MetService electronic engineers servicing the automatic weather station, very few people visit Campbell Island.

The island’s megaherbs, freshwater invertebrates and wildlife (including six species of albatross, sea lions, penguins and the Campbell Island teal, the world’s rarest duck), now have the island to themselves for most of the year.

During the 1970s and 1980s, feral sheep were systematically removed from the island and the small remaining herd of cattle was eradicated in 1987.

Cats, which had been introduced during the farming days, died for an unknown reason before the mid-1990s and in 2001 Norway rats were eradicated from the island in the world’s largest rat eradication project.

A leaf from ‘‘the loneliest tree in the world’’ found in Robert Stanley’s diary of his time on Campbell Island. PHOTO:KERRIE WATERWORTH
A leaf from ‘‘the loneliest tree in the world’’ found in Robert Stanley’s diary of his time on Campbell Island. PHOTO:KERRIE WATERWORTH

In December Ms Laing was one of the few dozen passengers from the Heritage Expeditions ‘‘Galapagos of the Southern Ocean’’ 13-night voyage on Spirit of Enderby to set foot on the Island.

As a marine pilot based in Lyttelton Ms Laing had guided the 72m vessel into port when it arrived from Russia on November 17.

She had booked to go as a passenger on the voyage to the subantarctic islands more than a year ago, but due to Covid-19 was never sure the trip would go ahead until it departed Bluff on December 1.

‘‘Dad was an unassuming sort of man and gentle but he guided us in lots of ways, so to have followed in his footsteps I think would have made him very happy.’’

Ms Laing said her father so enjoyed his time on Campbell Island he had applied for a third year, but with an impending marriage her mother ‘‘put an end to that’’.

Mr Stanley later went to the Antarctic three times, was fisheries inspector on the Chatham Islands for three years and did manage to return to Campbell Island in 1969, as part of a University of Canterbury expedition.

One of the many albatross that breed in the tussocks on the pest-free island reserve. PHOTO:KERRIE WATERWORTH
One of the many albatross that breed in the tussocks on the pest-free island reserve. PHOTO:KERRIE WATERWORTH

kerrie.waterworth@odt.co.nz 

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