A heart for future generations – Tom Shannon is connecting people and ideas.
High up on the hill, Tom Shannon has always had a perspective from above. It would be easy for him to separate himself from the world below, but Tom is devoted to his home, the Manawatu Region. “It’s home in the broader picture of the region,” says Tom. “My family came from different parts, I married into different parts. My roots move deep in the town of Shannon, south of Palmerston North, which bears the name of my grandfather’s grandfather. I am the eldest son’s eldest son’s eldest son!”
As Tom puts it, “I was raised as a dog on the Tararua hills.” It was this upbringing that made Tom fall in love with the region, and despite studying down south and spending a year traipsing the globe, his love brought him back as a family man. With the children now grown, Tom is making a name for himself as the man working quietly away building relationships and getting things done.
It was a desire to leave something for future generations and the community that encouraged Tom to bring local parties together to create positive change. “In a previous career I was a sharebroker, and as a sharebroker you’re in the middle. I think that the business of brokering understanding is why I came out here. I left sharebroking because I didn’t like the conversation, and I left it with the view that there was more security in knowing and getting on with your neighbours than there was in a number on a piece of paper. I had been trying to foster conversations with authorities and the community as part of a river liaison committee, and I was getting frustrated with that, with how authorities engaged with communities and how communities engaged with authorities. The drive is in me, and I wonder why sometimes, but I wanted to see if I couldn’t champion a conversation in my community. I was trying to broker understanding.
I don’t think we need more research to do things, we just need to apply what we know
“In terms of what’s motivated me to put myself up there, to stand up and say things and encourage others to go past themselves – it’s a lot to do with wanting to live in a place that is peaceful and harmonious. We can’t escape, we can’t get out of this place, so that’s where our limitations lie, in the social dimension and communicating. I don’t think we need more research to do things, we just need to apply what we know.”
One of the most notable initiatives is the Manawatu Gorge Biodiversity Project that Tom was instrumental in getting off the ground. This brought together Crown representatives, three iwi and a number of other important local participants, ranging from local government to community groups, businesses and individuals all working in a collective and equal partnership. This group has led the charge to improve, preserve and highlight Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge, to great success. Visitor numbers to the area are increasing dramatically year on year, with more activities and attractions available, and more organisations getting involved.
“The dream for the place out here was established and agreed pretty easily, pretty quickly. We all appreciated how deeply it could go. It was in my mind that we could all work together without ownership changing, to create an environment that the region and the district could be proud of, and that as individual landowners we might also be better off. The mix of organisations and people out here was very diverse, and as that grew with time it became clear to me that there was no project out here without iwi. Not token iwi, because everyone can see through that, it had to be genuine involvement.
My roots move deep in the town of Shannon, south of Palmerston North, which bears the name of my grandfather’s grandfather
“It did occur to me that at different times we might have said, ‘This is too hard’, but there was no project at all if we couldn’t break through it. So it was persistence – there are a couple of us in the group who are persistent! From the government there was also support, because they had a responsibility and a role too.”
The persistence has paid off, and the relationships in the group have been strengthened over regular cups of Tom’s favourite ‘gumboot tea’. However, despite the fantastic success that Te Apiti – Manawatu Gorge has experiencing so far, Tom is realistic about the challenges and what is necessary to prosper. “I feel very proud of what has been achieved, but like any relationship you can take none of it for granted. Partnership is only as good as the last conversation,” laughs Tom. “I think in the past few years I’ve become an organisational psychologist!
“I’ve listened to many sides of things, and there is this sense that being vulnerable and being yourself are what people are drawn to. It’s also important to protect oneself, to keep oneself safe, and that’s what I am learning now. To be in that place and stand and call others up, it really has to be a blank page. No clever tricks. ‘No shit, no kidding’, as someone once said to me. I am learning to do that myself, and that’s part of the personal journey.”