Jobs at DOC: Visitor and Historic Assets Manager, Bill Wheeler

Department of Conservation —  27/04/2012

Every Friday Jobs at DOC will take you behind the scenes and into the jobs, the challenges, the highlights, and the personalities of the people who work at the Department of Conservation.

Today we profile Bill Wheeler, Programme Manager – Visitor and Historic assets, Coastal Otago.

At work…

What kind of things do you do in your role?

I make sure that everyone has what they need to do a fantastic job looking after the tracks, huts, car parks and, most importantly, the toilets of Coastal Otago. I am a planner, accountant, negotiator, manager, designer, arbitrator, confessor, decision-maker, blame-taker and comic relief.

Very occasionally I put on my Area Compliance Officer’s hat and lock up some smugglers.

Bill Wheeler (left) sitting with Pete Chamberlain (right).

With the late Pete Chamberlain (right) at my first fire as Ops Manager

What is the best part about your job?

The people I work with. However cynical and hard nosed we think we are, there is a passion amongst DOC staff for what they do. It is truly uplifting to see people doing a job they really believe in.

What is the hardest part about your job?

The people I work with. There’s never an occasion when somebody will say “I don’t care”. Sometimes every little thing is a negotiation because the team cares about what they’re doing. When you’re old and tired like me, that can be really hard.

What led you to your role in DOC?

A long, long time ago in a land far, far away I worked as a ranger looking after some really cool bits of the English countryside… but a pestilence fell upon the land and the fair Kiwi princess that I’d married decided that we should pack our spotty hankies and leave for an adventure in far off Aotearoa.

Bill as a young ranger.

Weeks out of college, the newly minted Ranger Wheeler displays not only an
appalling '80s haircut but also his trademark "scowl for the camera" pose

Or in simple terms, things looked pretty grim in the English Lake District after foot and mouth ravaged the area we lived in, so we emigrated to New Zealand where the Pearson family had for many years been purveyors of fine soaps to the colonists. After 10 years in the UK forest service, DOC seemed like a home away from home.

What was your highlight from the month just gone?

Without a doubt the opening of the Philip Cox Memorial Hut in the Silverpeaks. The hut was funded by the family and friends of the late Philip Cox and the occasion was a real celebration of his life and a fantastic project that was truly a joint venture between DOC and the community. It is awesome to spend time with people who really appreciate our work and who are willing to be active participants in providing a facility for everyone to enjoy; it also shows just what amazing work DOC staff can do against really tight timeframes.

The rule of three…

Three loves

  1. My wife Jane, and my daughter Caitlin; both prettier than me and much more intelligent. I suspect sometimes they only keep me around as some kind of anthropological experiment.
  2. The rest of my family; Mum, Dad, my sisters, cousins, aunties and—uncles, the whole disfunctional, eccentric but loving group of misfits and personalities who are now, and have always been my rock, however far apart we may be.
  3. Bad sci-fi movies. Especially zombie flicks, but anything with a cheesy plot line, wooden acting, and unbelievable special effects.

My other family, the Coastal Otago whanau; complete with mad aunties, creepy uncles and that kid with the strangely sticky hands.

Coastal Otago DOC staff.

My other family, the Coastal Otago whanau; complete with mad aunties, creepy uncles and that kid with the strangely sticky hands

Pet peeves

  1. Generation Y—you know who you are, but you probably don’t care!
  2. Snowboarders who walk around the supermarket in Wanaka still wearing their ski goggles with their pants at half mast—is that an irrational hatred?
  3. People who can’t tell the difference between the time it’s possible to do something and the time when it’s appropriate to do it. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!”

Three foods

Pioneer Hutt toilet in the snowy mountains. Helicopter flying off.

The poo flight departs Pioneer Hut, time for a cup of coffee and a chance to
glory in the seclusion

  1. Marks & Spencer ready-to-eat prawn cocktail
  2. Real Cumberland sausage—ideally from the butcher in Cockermouth
  3. Draught Guinness (yes, it is a food)

Three favourite places in New Zealand

  1. Pioneer Hut, Fox Glacier—especially enjoying a cup of coffee on the verandah with Gary after a reasonably hard morning’s work.
  2. The top of the Maungatuas—breathtaking views and I can legitimately say, “You can see my house from up here”.
  3. Any deserted beach on a wild and stormy day.

Favourite movie, album, book

  1. Movie: A really hard choice ‘cos I love movies but if I had to choose; The Italian Job (the original obviously) or True Grit (again there’s no substitute for John Wayne).
  2. Album: Flying Coloursby Jethro Tull
  3. Book: So many books, so little space… Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde might be a good place to start.

Deep and meaningful…

What piece of advice would you tell your 18 year old self?

Bill Wheeler posing for photo in front of a car.

A portrait by my daughter. I blame the puku on the angle from which she took
the photo; she blames too many pies

Ask out that girl at work—her boyfriend isn’t half as psychotic as he looks.

Seriously though, don’t worry about embarrassing yourself or looking stupid; life isn’t a rehearsal. You want to be able to look back and regret the mistakes you made not the opportunities you passed up.

Who or what inspires you and why?

Two men have been a huge inspiration to me:

The first was my grandfather who believed that you shouldn’t let anyone tell you that you can’t be whatever you want to be. He was a dockworker’s son who trained as an engineer and travelled all over the world. Against everyone’s advice Grandad decided to give up a highly paid job in London and open a village pub. He threw himself into village life and really was a pillar of the community. He would do anything for anyone and the impact he had on people’s lives was evident at his funeral where the church was filled to overflowing.

The other is my Dad, who spent his entire working life slaving to provide for his lousy ungrateful kids. It’s only now I realise just how hard he worked and yet he still had time to be a volunteer firefighter and pass on his love of the countryside and the natural world to me, inspiring me to do the job I do now. He is enjoying a well-deserved retirement, another thing I intend to emulate.

Daughter walking across a shallow river.

Troll hunting in Fiordland with my daughter

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

At six I wanted to be a fireman, by the time I was 10 I’d decided that law and order was more my thing but by 16 I really wanted to own a massive sporting estate in Norfolk.

And now, if you weren’t working at DOC, what would you want to be?

A fireman, policeman or owner of a massive sporting estate in Norfolk. Or more likely a trainer of some sort, but as I don’t know much, it may be a pretty limited career choice.

What sustainability tip would you like to pass on?

If you’re going to buy stuff, buy good stuff. It lasts longer.

Which green behaviour would you like to adopt this year—at home? At work?

To get off my fat backside and go and see what’s growing in the garden before I buy fruit and veg at the supermarket.

If you could be any New Zealand native species for a day, what would you be and why?

I know my colleagues would say a kea but I don’t need an excuse to rush about being destructive and noisy.

I’d be a South Island kōkako, they are stunning to look at and I would relish the novelty of having my bio assets colleagues genuinely pleased to see me.

What piece of advice or message would you want to give to New Zealanders when it comes to conservation?

Go out and see what you’re missing. If you already go out and enjoy our fabulous conservation estate then take a friend and share the love.

2 responses to Jobs at DOC: Visitor and Historic Assets Manager, Bill Wheeler

    Jane Pearson 27/04/2012 at 2:21 pm

    I’d avoid that girl at work- her other half is indeed totally psychotic

    Gordon Sylvester 27/04/2012 at 2:04 pm

    Looks like you need to run out a few more Forestry Packs. They help to control those pie goblins.