Annabel Butler


Programme Assistant

Whakaora Te Waihora Programme Assistant, Annabel Butler.

Whakaora Te Waihora Programme Assistant, Annabel Butler.

Annabel Butler may not have much call for her degree qualifications in Medieval French and English in her role as Whakaora Te Waihora programme assistant but she’s enthusiastic about being part of a team working towards the betterment of the environment.

When she was working at Christchurch’s Court Theatre as stage manager – a role she held for fifteen years – Annabel became more aware of environmental matters and she developed a keen interest in the region’s relationship with water.

“We’ve always taken water and the environment for granted in Canterbury. I grew up drinking it, playing in it, swimming in it without any hesitation. With growing pollution in a number of areas, we’re less likely to do that now. So being part of Whakaora Te Waihora – a long-term partnership built on the aims of restoring Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere to better health – is very exciting for me,” she says.

As unlikely as it seems on the surface, Annabel says there are links between her work in theatre and her role within Whakaora Te Waihora.

“At one level, this job is an exciting change. At Court Theatre I was the eyes and ears of the whole design team, dealing with everything from wardrobe, properties, lighting and designers to front of house and the actors themselves; here my work includes record-keeping and programme co-ordination along with contract management and health and safety implementation. Both are about juggling multiple needs and making sure everything comes together in the interests of the overall plan.”

Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere is a special place for Annabel. It’s part of her history and along with the places she has lived within Canterbury, it is a strong landmark within her emotional landscape.

“I lived in Robin Hood Bay on Banks Peninsula for seven years. It’s one of the south-facing bays – the wildest, most romantic and inaccessible places on the peninsula. In living there, I was committed to a three-hour commute to Court Theatre and I drove by Te Waihora every day.

“That gave me the most enormous pleasure at the beginning and end of every day. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful place and it’s been a major landmark in my personal history; so I’m always surprised when many of my friends say they don’t know much about the lake at all. It seems amazing to me that they haven’t registered this enormous body of water – the fifth largest lake in New Zealand – so close to their homes,” says Annabel.

Away from work, Annabel has a keen interest in family history – something that was triggered by the enormity of the Christchurch earthquakes and the losses so many people faced.

“For me it’s about recapturing a sense of history. My great-great-great-grandparents arrived here on the Cressy in 1850 with ten children and they were later involved in a lot of the early settlement of Canterbury. I love stories and in creating a family tree I’ve discovered that ancestry is a whole world of stories – just like theatre and just like Te Waihora; the lake and its people are all about stories and the imagination.”