Graham Falla

A quiet but steadfast worker – anyone who has had the opportunity to work on restoration projects with Graham will know that his will to keep “at the job” until the plants are planted sees him still putting “spade to the ground “ long after the younger more energetic but less experienced “hole diggers” have retired for a “breather”.

 Graham’s interest in nature was evident at an early age. His mother a keen painter, thus observant by nature, had a lively interest in things “alive”. She nurtured the inquiring mind of her son and encouraged the foraging into the “duff” in the back yard. His childhood home in Christchurch was this boy’s dream, a large section with areas of undisturbed understorey in a “garden” of native trees. It was in this “fun” garden that Graham became interested in the flora and fauna of New Zealand. The vege patch at the back became Graham’s “transplantation” patch. Here seedlings were fostered until big enough to be planted out. Friends with rather bleak gardens (to Graham’s eye) were the recipients of the natives.

 In his teenage years the family moved to Wellington. The house here was surrounded by bush on three sides, beech and rata forest growing on the hills above Eastbourne (Williams Bush). Here the denseness and variety of species opened up a whole new experience for Graham. His father recognizing this growing talent, presented him with, “Kirk’s Forest Flora” (a pre 1900’s edition located in a second hand book shop). This rather large volume, written as a guide to the value of the timbers of NZ for forestry on the late 1800’s, extended Graham’s understanding of things “flora”. Today this book is still a valued reference.  His home also boasted a good library of books. It was from studying these books that Graham developed an impression of how NZ used to be.

 Another love of Graham’s  was adventure stories including history, and it is of little surprise that he went on to VictoriaUniversity to study in this field, his botanical interests being kept as a hobby. From university, a life in the teaching profession followed.

The war years were lean but Graham’s father realized that the army’s need for Coast Watchers on offshore islands provided a very good opportunity for biologists to spend some time studying the flora and fauna on these remote islands. After years on the Auckland and CampbellIslands his Dad brought home lots of film to be enthusiastically viewed by the family.

 Graham in his turn ventured south. Military training saw him join the navy. This period of service saw him leave Dunedin as part of the escort with Prince Phillip to the Chatham Islands and then on to the ice edge, as part of the expedition taking Edmund Hillary to the Antarctic. It was on ScottIsland that the expedition was able to collect rock, but saw little evidence of life.

 When asked what changes in attitude he has noticed over his lifetime he spoke of the pioneering attitude prominent in his youth of “who cares?”  This attitude has subtly changed to today where the remnants of bush are valued. “People assume that the bush is protected and think that that is right but the predominant attitude is still indifference. Natural scenes are still viewed as something to be utilized, almost a form of real estate. There is little appreciation that remnants need to be cared for adequately, more of a bland assumption that some government agency will look after them.  People still see trees as objects, either useful or a nuisance, not as something as of living significance but rather as features of a landscape.  The concept of each plant being a living organism, part of a living network, and an attitude of “respect for life”. Plants are ‘life’; such ideas have yet to take root in our society.” The urge to foster them explains Graham’s long-term activity with Forest and Bird, and through that with the Friends of Mangemangeroa.

 Much of his remaining  time is given to music.  His ‘cello is a part of three orchestras that perform in public and is involved in a variety of chamber music ensembles with friends.

Golden Spade Award