16 Feb 2016

A special boat trip for a Wellington icon

From Checkpoint, 6:21 pm on 16 February 2016

Sheila Natusch - noted natural historian and icon of Wellington's Owhiro Bay - has celebrated her 90th birthday with one last boat trip.

The prolific writer and illustrator, who was born and raised on Stewart Island, has over 30 publications to her name and counted Janet Frame as a personal friend.

Her legendary status on the South Coast inspired a documentary by filmmaker Hugh McDonald - No Ordinary Sheila.

The film had its first screening on her birthday on Sunday to celebrate Sheila’s long and illustrious life.

Sheila and her late husband, Gilbert Natusch, lived by the sea in the same cottage for almost 70 years, during which time she was a regular sight in the bay swimming or running along the beach.

She counts marrying Gilbert among the best times of her life: “I’ve had lots of good moments, but that one was special.”

A 1967 Listener comic shows Sheila in her little rubber dinghy Patiki, which she took out onto the bay every day for 60 years: its rudder was made out of an old biscuit tin, its mast out of a mop and its sail out of a sheet.

"Good luck" was, she said, the principal reason for her long life, along with “lots of exercise, and going out in boats”.

Sheila has been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, which has prevented her from going out on the water in recent years.

To give her one special final boat trip, the Wellington Police Maritime Unit took her out on the Lady Elizabeth IV for a grand tour of Wellington Harbour, with Senior Sergeant David Houston.

Sheila was so moved by her last boat trip with the Maritime Unit, she wrote this poem in their honour:

"We are the Maritime Policemen
Of the Lady Lizbeth Four
We're familiar with the tidal rips
And with every breaker's roar.
We run them in, we fish them out,
We chase them round and round about
From harbour mouth to Eastbourne shore.
So give three cheers and one cheer more