Deon Nathan: Carving a niche for conservation

When Deon Nathan returned home from his deployment with the NZ Defence Forces, he had a new mission. While in active service, he’d learned to look after his own wellbeing through creative engagement with music and art. He’d also learned a lot about conservation. Deon’s idea was to develop a concept which would put the two together. 

He named it the Labratta Netana Collaborative, a combination of the names of his five children, and dedicated to them. His overriding motivation is the future of their world. “We must protect our natural resources. The ecosystem of Aoteoroa is essential to our quality of life; more than that – it’s about our survival,” he said. Deon is committed to bringing the public’s attention to the importance of conservation – in particular, kauri dieback disease. 

His first creative conservation event is now underway at the Leigh Sawmill café to help make that happen. It’s a two-week music and arts festival in three parts: the first is the Wood and Stone Sculpture Symposium, the second is a photography competition for young people aged 5-18, and the third is music, with Cornerstone Roots, Whitechapel Jak and the mighty Trinity Roots.

“Wood and stone connect us to forests and rivers,” says Deon. "Kauri dieback disease and the quality of our water are huge issues right now, so these connections take us to all the right places." Dr Nick Waipara, Principal Advisor of Biosecurity for Auckland Council, will be involved in the symposium as consultant for ‘Kia Toitū He Kauri’, the government’s kauri dieback programme.

Sculptors include well-known actor Lawrence Makoare (from the Lord of the Rings films), who began carving at age 14 and has returned to carving after years of film performance. Taash Smyser has worked across a range of media – screenprinting, design and photography – since her high school days. And Leigh resident Andrew Turner’s exceptional paintings will be known to many, but he’s also been a carver since the 1990s.

The young photographer's competition is big for Deon. “We have to get younger generations to see the world around them, and to be inspired by its beauty. These kids need to stop taking selfies and turn the camera around on the natural world!”

Deon has been best mates for years with Warren Maxwell, lead singer of Trinity Roots (also ex-Fat Freddy’s Drop, and frontman of Little Bushman). Deon was much inspired by him in their teenage years, and his daughter Triniti is named after the band. Warren will be on the judging panel for the sculpture and photography, along with Dr Richard Cooper from Elam School of Fine Arts.

Warren said, “We’re really proud to support the local area and these different artforms. ‘He toi whakairo, he mana tangata – where there is artistic excellence, there is human dignity.’”

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Bianca Howlett