Wairarapa attracts many highly skilled imports – shaping the professional landscape with their innovation and imagination. Erin Kavanagh-Hall chats with a fertility specialist, a leadership expert and an animation whiz, who have come from afar to make the region home.
Seeds of Knowledge
It’s an irony universally acknowledged. A couple can spend years trying to avoid pregnancy – but when the time is right for a bundle of joy, they discover conceiving can take a “miracle”.
This sounds familiar for Bex Henderson. As a fertility nurse, Bex has met many such couples whose dreams of a family eluded them; some of whom tried dozens of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) cycles and spent thousands in a bid to have a baby.
Following a career in busy fertility clinics in the UK and Australia, the Martinborough-bred mum-of-two has come home – craving “something a bit quieter” for her young sons. She hopes to steer women from her home region on the path to parenthood, but this time, her help doesn’t come from a hospital room or from inside a petri dish, but at her kitchen table in Greytown.
Bex, a trained natural fertility educator, has started Seed Fertility Consulting, a business specialising in natural family planning. Through Seed Fertility, Bex aims to help women (via home consultations) increase their chances of pregnancy simply by getting to know their bodies: teaching them to chart their menstrual cycles, monitor hormonal changes and to identify their “fertile window”. Information, she says, that is rarely taught in sex ed classes, or shared at the doctor’s office.
“It’s empowering for women to know what’s going on in their bodies, so they can make informed decisions,” Bex says.
“I’m excited to pass on what I learned overseas, here in Wairarapa. And it’s good to be home. We got to the point where we wanted a patch of grass out the back and where the kids could bike to school.”
Bex has been in the nursing field for 14 years, training at Otago University and going on to specialise in women’s health while working in Edinburgh (where she met her husband). Her international adventures continued, with a job at the Lister Fertility Clinic in London and later at Melbourne IVF.
Her tenure as an IVF nurse came with highs and lows – especially when supporting clients through multiple unsuccessful treatments.
“In Australia, IVF is a lot cheaper, as you can claim it back on Medicare. Some people would have 20 rounds and still nothing. It can be crushing for a couple not to fall pregnant; they feel ripped off.
“It’s so hard when you get to know the couples. These are people who would make great parents – but infertility doesn’t discriminate.”
In Melbourne, Bex did a course in natural family planning, which she describes as an eye-opener.
“There are huge gaps in people’s knowledge. I’d had my boys by then, and there was so much I didn’t know.”
For example, she says, couples will often mis-time their fertile window. Generally, women are told they are most fertile on the 14th day of their cycle. But cycle lengths and thus ovulation times, vary greatly – which iPhone fertility apps don’t take into account. Stress and illness also affect ovulation.
“It’s a miracle anyone gets pregnant – you’ve only got a tiny window. A woman’s egg only lives 24 hours [after being released]. The sperm needs to be in a particular position. The conditions in the cervical environment need to be just right for sperm to swim through.
“Lots of stars need to align. But people are often just having sex in the middle of the month and leaving it to luck.”
At Seed Fertility, Bex teaches clients how to track their fertility by identifying and recording the changes in their body each month – such as signs of ovulation. She advises on pre-conception health, fertility apps and using a donor – and can refer to IVF providers if necessary.
“A little information goes a long way.”
All in the Brain
Photos in South African shanty towns, coaching contestants on adventure reality shows, advice in the hallowed halls of government departments: David Savage describes his life as “something like a Yellow Brick Road”.
The latest stop on the Yellow Brick Road for Brit-born David, Sav to his friends, is his sprawling five acre property, outside Greytown. There, he and wife Megan are raising three kids, several chickens and some lambs – and have planted close to 500 native species, plus 100 fruit and nut trees.
Home at Woodside provides some respite from the working week, where Sav, dividing his time between the main centres, lends assistance as a leadership coach. His clientele, ranging from corporate giants, to respected charities, to the smarts behind the Canterbury rebuild, seek his advice on effective leadership and communication, drawing on neurolinguistics and neuroscience.
He does sometimes take work home – one client, an American artist who moved to France, via Featherston, he coaches via Skype from the dining room.
It’s a change from his former life, first as a travel photographer, then behind the scenes for British television. However, he was partly inspired to switch location, ironically, by a photo.
“I saw a postcard of the Tongariro Crossing – it was like nothing I’d ever seen,” he says.
“And I’d met lots of Kiwis in London, and we’d always got on. So I thought, ‘I must go to New Zealand’.
“It’s funny – I’ve been here 15 years and still not been to the Tongariro Crossing!”
Sav, who grew up in Leicestershire and Cornwall, has been passionate about photography from boyhood, owning cameras since age six.
Later, passion became profession, and he found work with commercial and backpacker magazines. This took him to several intrepid corners of the world – the ramshackle townships of Johannesburg, the crowded market villages of Laos and Thailand, and indigenous Australian tribal grounds, to name a few.
He has kept many of his own photos from this time: the pensive faces of mothers in their cramped huts, Londoners confronted by heavily-armed police during the Mayday Riots, and sagacious Aboriginal lawmen peer out from an old scrapbook.
Sav’s photography skills would then take him in the unlikely direction of reality TV. He found work with a production company working on a new show – which he describes as “David Attenborough meets Mission Impossible” – where he helped brief and encourage the contestants, as they battled their way through intense physical training at an army base. Though the programme never aired, the participants’ transformation helped activate the next phase of Sav’s career.
“After their training, they’d be limping; covered in mud. Physically in pieces but spiritually glowing. They’d pushed aside their boundaries and achieved something they’d never thought possible. I couldn’t go back to photography after that.”
Once in New Zealand, Sav researched brain-based coaching and enrolled at a NeuroLeadership Group training in Wellington. On completing his studies, he worked as a personal development coach, focused on life goals and personal change.
From there, Sav began his foray into leadership coaching, running seminars for managers at New Zealand Post, then making his way to Statistics NZ, where he coached some 150 senior staff.
His resume now includes big players such Transpower, Xero, Housing New Zealand, NGOs like Forest & Bird and WWF, and major building projects such as the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team and the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park. On his brain-based trainings, he teaches strategies for creating workplace environments that stimulate innovation.
“Companies are facing rapid change, so it’s important to foster a creative environment,” he says.
“Part of my role is helping people understand the impact of language on the brain. Language can help connect neural pathways that lead to development of greater insights and new ideas. So, leaders also must avoid the language that shuts creativity down.” He also stresses the importance of creating a reward-based system, and allowing a ‘trust economy’ in workplaces.
“People work best in reward state, where they have autonomy. Innovation is most powerful where there is collaboration, and that can’t happen without trust.”
Sav still takes photos in his spare time – and often brings up his old snapshots to tell a story during business presentations. “Companies like words such as ‘grit’ and ‘resilience’. In South Africa, I photographed Pumla – she lived in a hut in Alexandra township that was only about the size of our living area, but impeccably clean.
“She’d just learned to type on an old-fashioned typewriter and, every day, she went from house to house, asking if anyone needed typing done. So she could bring money home for her kids. That is grit – companies can learn a lot from people like Pumla.”
A Life in Motion
You could say Robert Brienza is an unsung hero of New Zealand rugby. You won’t find him in black on the field, or hear his commentary as the Man of the Match heads for the try line.
But his contribution certainly adds to the atmosphere – he’s the guy behind the eye-catching colours and fleet-footed animated sporting figures which dart across the TV screen, signalling the start of the big game.
Robert, hailing from Canada and now based in Masterton, is a motion graphics artist. He is part of the design teams responsible for the titles, created with the illusion of movement, used as branding by television companies, and playeda head of TV episodes and sports events.
His CV is a veritable who’s-who of the entertainment and sporting industries: HBO, NBC, the National Basketball Association (NBA), SKY TV, Super Rugby and Comedy Central. Robert himself may not be a household name, but his handiwork on the adorable SKY TV ‘igloos’ (in the ads for the IGLOO box) and the contestants exploding into coloured powder for The Block NZ 2016 promo will be recognisable to Kiwi TV addicts.
He even picked up an Emmy Award for his trouble – he and colleagues back in Toronto won in 2009 for Outstanding Graphic Design for the MLB (Major League Baseball) Network.
He is, however, modest about his achievements, in true Canadian fashion.
“In the industry, we joke that our stuff plays whenever people are away getting drinks before the game,” he laughs.
“I used to skip the intros before a show – but I feel bad doing that now, as those opening credits are someone’s hours of work.”
These days, Robert feels more at home in Masterton, taking photos of his daughters at Castlepoint, than rubbing shoulders in Hollywood.
He and his wife, a teacher at Douglas Park School, settled in New Zealand in 2011 – where they were introduced to its sports-mad culture right away.
“We’d never been to New Zealand before and life in Canada had become a bit too familiar,” he says.
“We arrived in Auckland, three days before the Rugby World Cup final, so there was a buzz in the air. We thought ‘wow, this is such a happy country!’”
Before moving across the globe, Robert studied visual effects at Seneca College in Toronto. On graduating, he took his portfolio to a broadcast design studio, where he was offered a contract doing rotoscoping – transferring an image from live action film into another film sequence – for a horse racing broadcast.
“They asked me how good I was a rotoscoping. I was like, ‘oh, I’m awesome!’ But we’d only had one class on rotoscoping at university.
“I was sitting in front of the computer, thinking ‘how am I going to do this?’ But, I worked it out – and the studio hired me full-time.”
While working at Big Studios in Toronto, his graphics headlined major sports showdowns and news reports all over North America.
He continued in broadcast design in Auckland, first freelancing for TVNZ, then was scooped up by design company Brandspank. There, among others, he produced graphics for the TV channels Rialto, Pulse and The Zone, adverts for GJ Gardner Homes and Canterbury University, and the opening titles for the America’s Cup, Investec Super Rugby and 2015 Rugby World Cup. The latter was a particular favourite – featuring life-like rugby stars bursting out from the pitch beneath them.
“There was a lot more variety in my work here,” he says.
“My experience in Toronto was very sports-heavy as well, but North American broadcasters tend to like a particular look. Here, clients are open to different possibilities, so there’s a challenge.
Robert, now proficient in a range of techniques (computer animation, 3D modelling, stop motion and compositing), says motion graphics can be a painstaking business.
One job involved creating a series of stop-motion graphics for Comedy Central, each with a kiwiana theme, which required moving the props inch by inch to create a sequence.
“They were about 10 seconds long. But, with stop-motion photography, you’re moving one frame at a time. So, it takes a while.
“I still panic in front of the computer sometimes. But I’m stubborn – it’s the Italian in me. I won’t watch YouTube tutorials.
I like to break things down and figure them out for myself.” Eventually, television budgets in Auckland shrunk and companies downsized – thanks in part, Robert believes, to the increasing impact of TV streaming services. His young family moved to Wairarapa – where Robert busies himself with freelance graphics projects (including clients in Silicon Valley) and indulges his other passion, aerial landscape photography. A quieter existence, but satisfying.
“It did take us a while to adjust to the country – we were the only people who honked in traffic. It’s weird – Canadians have a reputation for being polite, but I’d say Kiwis are friendlier!”
Story by Erin Kavanagh-Hall