Pete Lusk remembers Leicester
Jack Ross and I wrote tributes to the remarkable Leicester Kyle last week. Now Pete Lusk, a long-time environmental activist on the West Coast, has communicated some of his memories of Leicester.
I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to post something here, because it wasn't possible for our family to get to Leicester's funeral in Christchurch today. As the next best thing we went up to Millerton and walked along some of the historic tracks Leicester helped re-open at the Old Dip and Millerton mines.
When he came to live in Millerton it was as if a tornado had hit the place. Not a violent tornado of course. That would be out of character. Rather it was a methodical and very polite one as Leicester immersed himself in the community (firebrigade, Millerton radio station) and the botanical glories of the coal plateau.
I met him through the local conservation group, but quickly realised we shared another interest - coalfield's history. I have a collection of Marxist books, some bearing the names of long-dead communist miners. Marx's Capital is hard enough to read, but Anti-Duhring by Engels is a shocker. It's all theory and counter-theory, intensely academic, and to most mortals, barely decipherable. I've never got past the first chapter. But Leicester read it cover to cover and enjoyed it.
I went on several walks around the moonscape of Stockton Mine with Leicester and his dog Red. We did it when the mine was on holiday, at New Year and Easter.
The place has an unusual botany, and Leicester's probing revealed several new species of alpine herbs. I could see the pain the opencast mining caused him - it's not just the famous Mt Augustus snail that's headed for extinction.
Leicester became a regular at Buller Conservation Group meetings but one day announced he wouldn't be coming anymore. The conflict between miners and greenies was too much for him. I felt it went back to his vicar days - it's not a vicars job to have enemies.
Despite missing meetings, Leicester kept us up with all the mining gossip and supported the young people of the Save Happy Valley Coalition with their protest occupation. But I know he felt overwhelmed by the Machine that is Solid Energy. His 'Lament For a Landscape' assumes the destruction of Happy Valley.
Leicester loved the Coast - he'd been here often on holiday as a child. And he told me his Coast-born father never fully acclimatised to living in Canterbury.
I went to a couple of Leicester's poetry readings is Westport. I felt he was very happy writing for a small community. Any wider recognition was a bonus.
I loved his stories - told with a glint in his eye and his special economy of language. The one that comes to mind was when he swapped parishes for six months with a vicar from Sheffield in England. The Sheffield parish was very poor - this was brought home to Leicester when he got sick and joined the depressing queue outside a doctors surgery in the winter cold.
His misery wasnt helped when he found he wasnt being paid - the English vicar had retained his old salary while also being paid in New Zealnd and saw no need to change the arrangement.