Remembering Joan Watson


?? a state of ornithological ecstasy.? ? Time Magazine, 1949.


In the early morning hours of Friday the 19th of November, 1948, a small party of intrepid ornithologists boarded the Takitimu en-route to the other side of Lake Te Anau, searching for a seemingly lost echo of a far distant past.

Among them was a young woman from Invercargill by the name of Joan Telfer.

Joan had been tagging along with her boyfriend Rex Watson on his trips into the wild southern lands of Fiordland for some time, which were being led by Rex?s Sea Scout Master Dr. Geoffrey Orbell.

After a Deerstalking trip the previous April when Dr. Orbell and his young associates had discovered footprints which could only have come from a large bird of some kind, a concerted effort had been put into place to carry out an extensive search of the area.

The responsibility for documenting these endeavours was given to Joan, whose efficient organisation and shorthand typing skills were sorely needed.

”As they were walking along the beach, Rex spotted footprints. Doc measured them and thought they might be on to something. But when Doc sent the measurements to Dr. [Robert] Falla, the director of the Dominion Museum in Wellington, he thought they were too big to be a Takahe and were the prints of a white heron.” ? Joan Watson.

By 5.30am the party had landed upon the western shores of the lake and began the long and arduous ascent through dense beech forest.

After three and a half hours of climbing, they finally emerged onto the plateau above to begin the search properly.

The ground was covered by snow grass and boxwood, which at irregular intervals had been torn out and scuffed in an unusual manner.

A few moments later Dr. Orbell suddenly dropped to the ground as if he had seen a deer and motioned for everyone else to follow suit. With his telephoto lens attached to his movie camera, he began to film a sight long since believed to have been lost?in living memory.

A flounder net was produced from the party?s provisions which was then used to capture the two birds present who showed no outward signs of fear or trepidation as to their newly found predicament.

After photos, measurements and rough weights were comprehensively catalogued, the party left the area to return home, armed with this incontrovertible proof as to the existence of a colony of Takahe.



The news of this discovery was to spread like wildfire throughout the nation?s newsprint media, eventually reaching the headlines of international papers also.

A concerted effort was subsequently put in place in order to ensure the protection and safety of this small colony: eventually pulling the Takahe back from the brink of extinction.

The following year Joan and Rex were to marry and Joan went on to be crowned Miss Southland, eventually going on to be placed as runner-up in that year?s Miss New Zealand.

The two went on to become devoted parents to Huntley and Paula and run the Waikiwi Store on the outskirts of Invercargill.

They never lost their love and passion for the wild and untamed places of Fiordland: eventually building a holiday home in Te Anau which many more tramping trips would be planned and executed from in future years to come.

Just two days after their 65th Wedding Anniversary Rex was to sadly pass away at the age of 92.

In June of this year, we lost Joan: also in her 92nd year.

It?s thanks to the tireless and passionate voluntary work of people such as Rex and Joan, that we now still enjoy such treasures as the Takahe.

These people were true pioneers, whose shoulders much ongoing work towards conservation in this nation?is built upon.