2 Minutes with ...


On the page about Tawa on the Wellington City Libraries' website there is a list of six "Notable persons who have lived in the suburb". Susan Butterworth is one of those six and the only one currently living in Tawa. That page goes on to say "... [she] has been an author and an independent public historian since 1985. She has written on a wide variety of topics including local and central government, business, community history, and some Maori issues."

When asked about the books she's written (of which there are many), she brought out a "selection of her wares" which include:
"More than Law and Order; the New Zealand Police 1945-92" (as in the photo)
"Jaycee: Developers of People, Builders of Communities" - co-authored with Graham Butterworth
"The Suter: 100 Years in Nelson"
"Chips off the Auld Rock: Shetland Islanders in New Zealand" - co-authored with Graham Butterworth
"The Maori Trustee" - co-authored with Graham Butterworth
"Petone: A History"

After reading this page you, like the writer, may be a little more knowledgeable about another example of exceptional talent right here in our midst, viz. the historian Susan Butterworth.

Where were you born, Susan?
Middlesbrough, UK.

Where did you grow up?
My family came to New Zealand when I was seven. We moved around a bit for a couple of years but I grew up mostly in Wanganui.

What about secondary and tertiary education?
Wanganui High School, Massey University, graduated with MA in History [1st Class Hons - Ed.]

What is your line of work?
Professional public historian - a freelance professional historian, not a genealogist or family historian, which I have been continuously for 25 years on a self-employed basis. However like any "art form", the work is very vulnerable to downturns in the economy. It can be inconsistent.

What about family?
Married to Graham. Two adult daughters living in Tawa and two grandchildren.

What are your interests/hobbies?
Gardening, handicrafts (especially quilting), Tai Chi. Partly by choice and partly from necessity I am also heavily into DIY and home decorating. In the last few years I have become increasingly involved in local community affairs, including Civil Defence. I am secretary for the Tawa Emergency Management Group.

How long have you lived in Tawa?
Since 1987 and 20 years in our current house. Prior to that, eight years in Palmerston North, then Titahi Bay 1975 to 1987.

What do you think is great about Tawa?
It is a very comfortable, easy place to live. It is much more sheltered than Titahi Bay where we were previously. Tawa is an easy place to get around. It's a pleasant community with an excellent library and community facilities.

What, if anything, would improve Tawa?
"I think it has lost its 'definition'." Tawa was once a borough, but now it's a 'suburb' caught between Johnsonville and Porirua. It needs to define its identity again, but I'm not sure how. I think the Main Road [shopping centre] needs re-thinking, especially since commercial activity has been drifting southwards towards Dressmart. This will increase when the new development at Takapu Island becomes active. It [the shopping centre] is rather windy and exposed, which makes it hard to develop outdoor activities like pavement cafes. It's stuck in a 1960s time warp. You need to get a good urban planner to look at it. "An amateur can see what's wrong but it takes an expert to come up with a practical and attractive solution."

What is your favourite dessert?
"Like all girls I eat chocolate."

Favourite sports team or sportsperson?
I've never been a sporty type. I was always more interested in dance.

Favourite style of music?
Early music - pre 18th Century.

Favourite holiday destination in New Zealand?
We travel mainly for work so we have been to Rotorua a number of times this year because I was writing a history of Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the specialist treatment centre for arthritic and rheumatic conditions. We do like Hawkes Bay, especially in the late summer. If we are going anywhere near Hamilton I love to stop and see how the Hamilton Gardens are getting on. They are already impressive and I enjoy the sense that there is a long-term imaginative plan there.

Favourite quote or saying?
"Ain't Mama happy, ain't nobody happy!" I'm trying to get this idea through to our very naughty pup. He has chewed so many of my shoes he's keeping my favourite shoe shop in business - but Mama ain't happy!

If you could meet any two or three people (alive or dead), who would they be?
"Historians never want to go back to the past - we know too much about it. People assume that historians live in the past, but we don't. We work there and go home at dinner time." I wouldn't want to go back even a century to when lots of children died of preventable diseases. Living conditions for most people were pretty bleak. A century ago people didn't know World War I was just over the horizon. The 21st Century isn't a bad place to live. [Pause] "But I wouldn't mind a chat with Elizabeth I."

What three things would you take with you if you were stuck on a desert island?
If the desert island didn't have many mod cons I'd take a comprehensive DIY book and a great big tool box. I can never think how I'd choose any one of millions of books or recordings (if there was electricity there). Even my favourite Jane Austen novels would wear thin after a bit if that's all you had. Maybe the answer is to take lots of pens, paper and musical instruments and make your own masterpieces, if you have time around all that DIY.

What is one talent you would like that you do not have?
To be able to draw. "I like designing things but I'm no good at drawing. Perhaps that's another project for the desert island."

What is one talent you have that you could not do without?
Writing. "It's been my living, life and livelihood."

What accomplishment/achievement in your life gives you the most satisfaction/pride?
My family. "I have enormous pride in my girls and their accomplishments and children."

What are two or three things you would like to do before you die?
There's such a lot of world to see. I would like to travel to something mildly adventurous while I'm still fit enough. I used to think I'd like to walk the length of Hadrian's Wall but I've seen a fair bit of that now on a couple of visits. Of course, I would like to take in some of the great gardens.

Compiled October 2010.

Other Tawa people