Author Jane Robertson interviewed by The Press


Jane Robertson, author of the ‘spectacularly illustrated’ Living Between Land and Sea: The bays of Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour, has been interview on the Press:

The bays around Lyttelton Harbour are Christchurch’s backyard but there is a way in which they are also secretive and mysterious places. Those bays and their stories have been Jane Robertson’s project for more than a decade.

Without necessarily setting out to do so, Robertson has become the unofficial historian of the harbour. Her first book, Head of the Harbour, focused on Governors Bay, Ohinetahi, Allandale and Teddington. Her new one, Living Between Land and Sea, stretches further and covers all the bays of the harbour, excluding Lyttelton.

Robertson’s home among trees at Governors Bay has a view straight down the harbour, to the open sea beyond Adderley Head and Godley Head. It’s idyllic on a calm morning, silent but for the noise of nearby children and some birdsong.

She has lived here for 20 years, sharing a house full of books and art with her partner, artist Russ Harris. He is reading Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, which he chats about as he boils water for tea and apologises for not having good coffee. Then he makes himself scarce as Robertson quietly tells the story of how this historical work happened.

In a way, it began in childhood. Robertson grew up in the Christchurch suburb of Opawa but knew the harbour from summer holidays in rented baches at Church Bay. Years later, living at Governors Bay but commuting to Canterbury University, she reached a crossroads of sorts.

“I resigned my job there in some disillusion and weariness and various other things,” she says. “I thought, why am I living here and working in grey buildings out at Ilam and hardly seeing this environment.

“To cut a long story short, I resigned with no job in mind. I set up a little editing business, just to earn money. But some time after that, I realised I had research skills, I had an interest in the area, I could talk to local people, I could capture some of the stories of older people in particular. That initial beginning grew into this.”

When she says “this” she gestures towards a copy of Head of the Harbour, which appeared in 2016 thanks to the help of local publisher Philip King and the Governors Bay Heritage Trust.

She had no plans to write another, but after about a year she became curious again. She thought about the many jetties that once dotted the harbour. There were four at Governors Bay alone, and a long jetty at Teddington, “which nobody knows about”, although the piles are still there.

“What does it tell us that things like this can disappear completely?” she asks. “We talk about buildings in the Christchurch earthquake going, but at least they’re documented. There were sea structures all around the harbour that have disappeared and we don’t know they were ever there.”’

Read the interview in full here.