Conservation projects rich legacy of a life full of achievement

ROY BURKE
Last updated 09:00 17/11/2012

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Jim Swindells was never one to muck around. If something needed to be done he'd be into it, knocking the job off while others were still thinking about it.

An example is his courtship and capture of Te Kawa land girl Jean Reilly. He met her ("Love at first sight," Jim claimed), wrote to her, met her again, more letters, met her a third time - and the fourth time they met was their wedding day.

That was on September 30, 1947.

Jim and Jean did things together, even getting two Queen's Service Medals in tandem in 2008.

The QSMs were recognition of two lifetimes of community service, especially in native forest conservation and regeneration.

It's a rich story, but Jean now gardens alone; Jim died on Friday, October 26, aged 92. There are four daughters and five grandchildren.

Jim was one of four children of Piopio farmers Catherine and Sutton Swindells.

He attended Piopio School. In those Great Depression years secondary schooling was a rare thing for a farmer's son; Jim's schooling ended to help on the farm.

At 22 he worked preparing farms for returning soldiers.

Jim and Jean married and set up home in Te Kuiti. Jim worked as a driver for local builder Claude Haines before deciding to become a carpenter, following up the woodwork talent he had shown at school.

In 1959 he built the Swindells family home in Ailsa St and in 1960 entered business as a builder on his own account. He designed and built homes for clients, often building lifelong friendships on the way. With four daughters, Jim was a supporter at school sports days and was elected to the Te Kuiti Athletic Club committee.

The Waitomo Sport Stadium was proposed and Jim was asked to oversee its construction.

For the next four years his spare time went to fundraising, building and supervising volunteer labour till the stadium and adjoining little theatre were completed.

They were a camping and fishing family, initially holidaying at Kawhia and later at different beaches around the North Island.

"Jean was the organiser; Jim did as he was told - a great working partnership," the daughters recall. Jim was generous and patient teaching fishing skills.

By 1976 the four daughters were all living in the United Kingdom, and Jim and Jean made their first overseas trip to see them, a return to the land from which Catherine and Sutton Swindells had emigrated 69 years earlier.

Jim and Jean became involved in conservation, first as volunteers with the Beautifying Society improving the town gardens. One of the projects was planting shrubs to screen the railway tracks.

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They were founding members of Te Kuiti Tramping Club. Both joined the Otorohanga Zoological Society.

They became members of the Te Mana Trust and much involved in predator control in the Mangaokewa Reserve.

The King Country branch of the Royal Forest and Bird Society took their eye. Jim established a native tree nursery to support local planting - it contained up to 3000 trees at a time. With fellow conservationist Arthur Cowan, Jim enjoyed a 27-year planting friendship; between them they planted more than 25,000 trees.

Jim received the Waitomo District Council Community Service Award in 1999, the Department of Conservation Valuable Contribution Certificate in 2004, and in 2006 the Native Restoration Trust created the Jim and Jean Swindells Adventure Track in the Tui Glen Reserve. This year the Waitomo District Council presented Jim with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Friend Arthur Cowan said: "Jim's wonderful volunteer work has left lasting memorials of huge long-term benefit to the community." Roy Burke

- Waikato

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