The year may have flown by, but a lot can happen in 12 months – starting a new career, getting pregnant, being given a new lease on life…

Bruce Munro hears from five people who epitomise the phrase ‘‘What a difference a year makes’’.

NZOM, author and conservation educator

The year started with a cruise. I was guest speaker and guide aboard a French expedition cruise ship that travelled to the subantarctic islands. And the year will end in a similar way, circumnavigating the mainland of New Zealand in memory of Captain Cook, who did the same thing 250 years ago.

In between, I was trying to finish a book on coastal hazards and climate change. I wanted to add my voice to the clamour for climate action in New Zealand.

That occupied most of my time for the first part of the year. The book, The Invading Sea, came out in October.

I’m very happy with it; it has exceeded my expectations.

In May, I received the New Zealand Order of Merit medal for services to conservation in a ceremony at Government House in Wellington.

Then, in August, our only daughter delivered a beautiful wee girl called Grace, our first granddaughter.

That highlighted for me the generational change that is happening; I’m not getting any younger and there are two generations behind me now. Here is a wee girl who could well live to see in the 22nd century, just as our daughter had seen in the 21st century.

So, the experience of becoming a grandparent for the first time does give you pause for thought. You reflect on just where your own life is heading and, to some extent, the future of humanity and the planet. My work in nature conservation and environmental advocacy has always been trying to make sure we are working within environmental limits. With something as awesome as climate change – and it is accelerating – this is a challenging scenario for my granddaughter and her mum and dad.

So, it’s been a significant year for me. A new baby always tops a new book in terms of importance, but the book is probably the most important thing I have written.


Student and aspiring politician

This year, I’ve moved into a new degree called the bachelor of leadership for change, through Otago Polytechnic. It comes under Capable New Zealand. It’s based on your prior knowledge as a worker and learner in the community.

I did normal studies this year. Then, we are using my prior learning, all going well, to move into the third-year [course] next year.

I also got a cat this year. It’s a Norwegian Forest cat that thinks it’s a kitten.

There’s been lots of big changes in my family this year. For example, my great-grandmother passed away. And then I got pregnant quite soon after that. So, lots of loss, but lots that we are gaining as well.

I’m quite pregnant, so that’s really shaped the year.

I stopped taking the testosterone hormone therapy so I could conceive.

The pregnancy has been difficult. I’ve had to readjust what I’ve been doing for the past year. I’ve had hyperemesis gravidarum, which is like morning sickness on steroids. So, I’ve been really, really unwell since I found out I was pregnant.

It’s eased a little bit. It’s managed better with medication now, which is good.

The pregnancy has been tumultuous and difficult, but still the best thing I’ve ever done – unless the baby doesn’t sleep, and then I’ll be reconsidering that statement!

I’m not planning to announce it on social media [until] a couple of days [after the birth].

After giving birth you’ve got a higher risk of blood clotting. And when you’re on testosterone you also have a higher risk of that. So, we’ll be waiting at least three months … so that I’m in the best nick possible before starting it again.

• Scout Barbour-Evans was born female but does not identify with either male or female. Two years ago they began transitioning to an identity they feel comfortable with. But earlier this year Scout paused the process in order to become pregnant.

Scout spoke to the Otago Daily Times last month, ahead of a planned quiet period leading up to the baby’s due date, December 10.  The baby girl was delivered on Saturday, December 22, and Scout shared the news via Twitter.


Columnist and Waitaki District Council communications manager

I fell in love with a man from Waitaki last year. So, I started coming here more and more often. By the beginning of the year, I was kind of becoming an Oamaruvian. Then I applied for a job at the Waitaki District Council as their communications manager.

Somebody said to me yesterday that I didn’t have a regulatory bone in my body. So, council and I have been a really unusual fit. But I do hope I’m doing a good job.

Everyone here [at work] uses three-letter acronyms for everything and I didn’t know what they were. And then, yesterday, I caught myself doing it. I realised I had passed over to the other side.

The biggest change has been that, at the beginning of the year I was homeless and basically living out of my car, which then blew up, but I now own a house in Oamaru and I have a job and a new partner.

A house of one’s own is a most important thing, to paraphrase Virginia Woolf.

Like anyone who is financially insecure, it was utterly terrifying. The stress of constantly worrying that you can’t pay your bills just drives you out of your mind.

So, to now be in a comfortable position, where you know you’ve got a regular wage coming in, it just takes the boot off your neck. That has been the most massive change in my life.

At the beginning of this year, I was an absolute cot case. I weighed about 10kg less than I do now. I was constantly worrying about money.

And now, I am in a very healthy place.

I had never, in my spoilt princess life, seen what it was like to be truly poor. And now I know. And I can tell you, it absolutely flippin’ sucks.

And, I’m one of the lucky ones. I transitioned from that to a really good position. Not everyone gets to do that.

Looking back, I can’t believe I made it. To look back now at that poor, frail person I was, I feel really sorry for her. But I feel very proud of me.


Film reviewer for The Weekend Mix and an information and communication technology industry trainee

I got tired of doing the same old thing, so I left my job to retrain for something completely different.

I’ve been enrolled all year in the Shift programme that is run by the Signal ICT Grad School.

It is a year-long diploma for graduates in information and communication technology. It’s basically taught through the university and the polytech.

I did my original degree 20 years ago; a bachelor of arts, in English. I then went overseas, spent some time in Melbourne, mostly working in hospitality. When I came back to New Zealand I ended up getting a job at the University of Otago in timetable services. That’s where I worked for nine and a-half years.

It wasn’t really a career.

I got tired of doing the same thing.

I wanted a change and this course just popped up at the right time, really. It offered some sort of direction for me.

I was excited not to be working. I was also a bit nervous … You live on a full-time wage for a number of years and then you go to living off very little money. I also wasn’t quite sure … It was all a bit of a gamble, really.

Studying again after 20 years really was a bit of a shock to the system. At times I really questioned whether I was doing the right thing.

But, from about May, we were doing more project work with businesses around town. I found that quite enjoyable.

During the year, I gravitated towards web design and development.

Looking back, I’m glad I did it. I’m pleased I changed direction.

I feel like I’ve really achieved something.

I hope it will lead to more interesting and stimulating work.


Retired chef and baker and double lung transplant recipient

At the start of this year I was dying of lung disease. Now I’m feeling great and planning some travel with my wife, Lynda.

I had bronchiectasis, a lung condition where the lungs had been so badly damaged there was no cure. For me, it was probably a bad bout of pneumonia 10 years ago that really shot my lungs.

I was on a cocktail of drugs just to relieve the debilitating breathlessness.

All my other organs were 110%, so I qualified for a double lung transplant. I also had to be physically able to survive the lengthy operation.

But someone ticking “organ donor” on their driver’s licence doesn’t mean it will happen. You also have to have that conversation with your family so they know your wishes.

And I had to get a match with a donor for things like blood type.

I was on the active waiting list for 83 days.

I was in palliative care at the hospice. I had about a month left to live.

Then, about four months ago, at 8pm one night, I got a call saying they had a pair of lungs and I needed to get to Auckland straight away.

There were no commercial flights available, so they sent the flying doctor. The plane picked me up at 4am at Momona Airport. At Auckland Airport, there was a helicopter waiting to take me to Auckland City Hospital.

They got me into theatre and asked if I still wanted to go through with it. I said “yes”. I knew it was going to be a life-saving procedure.

The operation took eight hours. There were absolutely no hiccups. They said I might be in Auckland for three months recuperating. But I was out of intensive care on the second day, spent three weeks in a hospital ward and then another three weeks in a rehabilitation facility for heart and lung transplant patients.

I was back home in Mosgiel in six weeks.

Mine was the 271st double lung transplant in New Zealand, and I’m one of three in the Dunedin area.

I feel honoured to be an organ recipient. I have had the opportunity of a new, extended life, thanks to my donor.

Now, I’m on the normal post-transplant medication. I can walk and get out in the garden.

I can breathe.

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