by Helen Martin
Initially buying a bach at Shelly Beach Aotea in 2011, Heather Steadman moved permanently to South Head with her husband Chris and daughter Lily in 2016 and has already had a considerable impact on our local arts scene. After serving as a volunteer on the Art Centre Board she was appointed to the position of Art Centre manager and exhibition curator in 2019. Last year she also started The Shoppe, an invited collective of artists and crafters, based at the railway station. Heather’s work includes woven flax products including flowers, koha kete, and kono and waikawa baskets. She brings to her roles an enormous, positive energy and a wealth of life experience, much of it in the arts and community work.
Born in Maungawhau/Mt Eden and raised in Lynfield, near the shores of the Manukau Harbour, Heather was the youngest of four daughters. At 17 she left Lynfield College to work in the accounts department at Radio I. From there, she travelled widely and has embraced many roles. Her love of the sea was strengthened when she moved to Waiheke Island in the late 70’s, lived off the ocean, with fishing and diving for kaimoana her main food source, and had her first encounters with sailing, hippies and house truckers. Living in Perth, Western Australia, Heather began keeler yacht racing at the East Fremantle Yacht Club, becoming a sought-after mainsheet hand. After selling her house, she moved to a liveaboard community in Challenger Harbour Fremantle. Despite almost dying in a white-water kayaking incident, she gained the maritime qualification Coxswain, followed by Master Class V, worked in the inshore maritime industry with TAFE (education), then did tall ship sail training on the Leeuwin, a sail training ship similar to the Spirit of NZ. Returning to Aotearoa in 2000,she first volunteered then gained employment at the National Maritime Museum, where she was skipper and voluntary crew coordinator of the replica scow Ted Ashby. She held a position on the first Trust tasked with the restoration of the scow Jane Gifford and skippered her across the Manukau. Other maritime roles included running freight to Great Barrier Island with Stella Shipping and the physically demanding job of workingas 1st/2nd Mate on Spirit of Adventure.
Alongside her maritime adventures, Heather has had years of experience working with community organisations. In her first Not for Profit role she ran the Waiheke Community Crêche. In Singapore she discovered the richness of multiculturalism, volunteering at a Buddhist Monastery home for the aged, where she taught handcrafts, including macramé. She also volunteered at a refugee camp for Vietnamese boat people, teaching children the basics of the English language. In Perth she worked in the disability community access field for Activ Foundation and in a youthwork arena service with street kids, advocating and organizing bush camps. Somewhere in the mix she spent three months in Meekathara, where she worked voluntarily in the Aboriginal community alongside the community health nurse and as the Meals on Wheels coordinator, a position she gained on her third day in town.
Heather has never been far from the arts. In Fremantle she surrounded herself with art, theatre, music and dance, for example working for renowned potter Joan Campbell in her gallery and assisting in her workspace. At WINTEC in Waikato Heather gained a certificate in Te Aho Tapu – the Sacred Thread, after studying traditional flax weaving (raranga) practices. She then initiated a monthly art market in Laingholm and was appointed to the position of Coordinator at the Titirangi Community Arts Council “Upstairs Gallery” in Lopdell House. After two and a half years she left to have her daughter Lily, whom she calls her “greatest creation”. More study followed, and while living in Te Atatu Peninsula Heather finished qualifications in Not for Profit Management (GradDip) and Social Practice/Community Development (PostGradDip). She ran Mainly Music, a playgroup and a coffee group with other parents and ran Our Amazing Place Treasure Hunts as a volunteer. She undertook contract work in the community development organisation Violence Free Waitakere. Following this she worked for Plunket as a Pepe coordinator facilitating parenting education, then for Cherish Trust (Post Natal Distress Network) as a peer support group facilitator.
All this experience makes Heather an excellent fit for her current Art Centre role. To realise the Art Kaipara vision “to build capacity through enhancing the social and cultural wellbeing of people in the community through inclusivity and participation in the creative arts”, for example, she is planning to expand the educational program to include regular classes and interest groups.
After moving to South Head Heather has been engaged with Lily’s school as a parent helper with the usual transporting, tree planting, camp attending and helping at events and has played at markets in a duo, Pheather, with school bus driver Peter Borthwick. “Living here there are a few things I don’t like -dust season on the gravel roads, lack of access to a really good long bush walk, idiots on the cutout to the beach on Wilson Road and at the Prawn Farm leaving their rubbish – but a lot that I do. It’s great to be spoiled for choice - Woodhill Forest for the off-road motorbike park, Parakai pools, Lake Rototoa for a cool dip in summer and Te Rau Puriri regional park for a hike to the beach and a night walk listening for bats. School camps at Highams Beach and Muriwai. Family events at Shelly Beach with its café and environmental improvements. South Kaipara Landcare looking after the environment and the SKRRA (ratepayers association) looking after roading issues. The Kewpie Two river excursions, Arts in the Ville, the Kaipara Coast Sculpture Trail, Mataia Homestead walks and kiwi on the land there. I also like the wide-open spaces, the sky at night and the ever-changing views of the harbour.”