Isobel Thompson

Isobel Thompson environmentalist.

Isobel Thompson’s contribution to nurturing the Earth has been through activism over a long life. She links her wide-ranging concerns and freedom of thought to her upbringing. 

Her first years were spent mainly under canvas in Public Works Camps with her family where her father, an engineer just returned from World War One, was employed in designing and building a railway line from north of Napier to Nuhaka and then on to Waikokopu where a wharf was built for transporting the local farmers’ produce, a wharf where Isobel and her siblings enjoyed catching crayfish. 
Later in a settled home in Wairoa there was still great freedom of movement for Isobel and her brothers and sisters; near home, at Lake Waikaremoana, and at Opoutama on their many family outings. Hardships during the depression of the 1920s-30s  left a lasting impression on the family. 

Isobel’s two years at Whanganui Friends School, where she went due to her father’s antipathy towards war, also helped form the person she became. 

Some years later, having completed various fields of nursing training, Isobel responded to a call to Corso (Council of Organisations for Relief Service Overseas) from China for helpers, including nurses. This was soon after the end of the Japanese occupation of parts of China. There she lived and worked from 1947 to 1950, travelling by mule cart through the civil war area and at times sharing the kind of deprivation that she saw in the surrounding villages, hardships such as eating only two meals of millet gruel a day, and occasional nights sleeping in rat infested huts. But overall memories were of a challenging but congenial environment with friendly helpful Chinese colleagues in a hospital established in ex-Japanese military barracks.

In 2002 Isobel published a memoir of her experiences in a book, Yellow River, Mules and Mountains- a New Zealand nurse in China 1947-1950. This book has now been translated into Chinese and published in 2009 by China Welfare Institute, Shanghai.

Much of Isobel’s interest has centred round the conservation of the environment, leading her to work for many years with the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society. Her environmental work involved many areas, such as writing submissions on a variety of issues, arranging camps and lectures and leading outings, starting a Junior Naturalist club for secondary school students, and on one occasion rescuing young kiwi from bush prior to it being turned into farmland. With other F & B members she was instrumental in arranging land grants to the Society from private individuals in Waiheke and in Piha and, almost in her own backyard, she saved a wetland area from being drained for tennis courts. It is now a popular bird wetland area. 

Her work, with others, on the Miranda Naturalist Trust helped preserve an area of shoreline of worldwide renown due to its nutrient value for many species of mainly wading birds. 

Isobel has spent many years involved with the National Council of Women as Friends representative, and has been especially active in the environmental field. This, with Forest and Bird support, led to her government appointment to work with NZ Forest Service as a member of the Coromandel State Forest Advisory Committee with which, for a period of seven years, she travelled to many parts of the Coromandel for meetings and gatherings. During this time she learnt a great deal about the adverse effects on land and water of mining (particularly gold mining), as issuing permits in response to mining applications was part of the brief. 

If any of these organisations thought they were getting an ‘older woman’ who would be very quiet they were soon disabused. Isobel is an outspoken and articulate activist for what she believes in, and has addressed many audiences over the years. Through her wide circle of connections with knowledgeable people she has always been able to suggest the right person to progress a concern, to lead a trip or to advise on a matter needing attention. 

With all these interesting involvements Isobel together with her husband Eric raised four children, three boys and a girl, maintaining a busy home, sewing the children’s clothes, growing vegetables, providing encouragement in outside activities for the family, taking them on family holidays, and much more. 

Isobel is not far off her ninetieth year and still takes an active role in what goes on around her.
Isobel’s children are Ian, a researcher in theoretical astro-nuclear physics, Peter, a film cameraman who specialises in environmental photography, Bruce, a designer in marine engineering, and Jean, a law librarian.