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NZFS deer culler Bill Axbey.


NZFS deer culler Bill Axbey was known as a man of "vigour, reality, laughter and with a total disdain for the stupidity and constipation of government departments and bureaucracy."

Bill was a big, burly, piercingly blue-eyed man who for more than 70 years of his life, hunted and shot and wandered in the wild places of this land, and spent much of that time also battling the spindly, micro-brained cyclopeans in Wellington whose understanding of the outdoors and what happened out there ran parallel to their total inability to carry the 45kg pack-loads they expected the hunters they commanded to carry

Bill loved poking fun at them, specially in his later years of retirement from his modest little home on a prominent point overlooking Cook's Beach on the Coromandel Peninsula.

From there he delighted in taking the Conservation Department, the Thames-Coromandel District Council and any other wayward bureaucracy to task on a wide range of subjects concerning wildlife preservation, hunting, firearms laws and other related issues which he decided needed his considered opinions.

And good opinions they usually were.

His comments were invariably trenchant, sometimes scathing, always well-founded and pragmatic, and often stunningly obvious, backed up by his wealth of down-to-earth knowledge of what was really happening out there.

He had several books published, "Along the track : a collection of New Zealand hunting yarns" was one "The bird hunters" another.

Bill was a man of vitality and humour and wisdom and backwoods skill, and perhaps also the larger-than-life cynicism that attaches itself to those who have had to endure the reality of a marshmallow-centred government department.

Bill was recruited into Internal Affairs by the legendary Skipper Yerex as the organisation's first "guinea-pig" cadet, and worked his way up through the ranks over years of hard yakka and experience.

There were the occasions when he took a governor-general on clandestine trout-fishing expeditions in the Rotorua region; and he treasured a photograph of himself and the Queen Mother on the shores of a South Island lake, where he helped HRH understand the finer points of trout fishing in this country.

He was one of the first into what became known as the Takahe Valley in the Murchison Mountains of Fiordland in the late 1940s, when the previously thought-to-be-extinct birds were rediscovered by a pair of deer-hunters.

Appointed as Conservator of Wildlife in Queenstown in 1959, he was also heavily involved in research on kakapo, found a year earlier near Milford. Bill and his wife, Joyce, harboured the first kakapo captured after the bird's rediscovery, in their basement for some time.

In typical Bill Axbey style, he lambasted the scientists who swarmed into Fiordland after the takahe were located: "I reckon the scientists were a greater danger to the takahe than the deer or anyone else ever was ... the birds had been banded and chased, had thermometers stuck up their bums, had blood tests taken and had all their eggs looked at. They were as scary as hell," he said. Normally, the birds "were tame as chooks".

His observations on wildlife, and the balance of reality in the bush and idealism from the office were always a delight to listen to.

Bill was 81 when he passed.

Waikato Times, Jan 31, 2009.


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