Daryl, a reclusive ex-convict turns local volunteer hero when his local community of Strathmore Park is overrun by rats.
How did a guy, who used to be known as the alcoholic wandering the streets of Strathmore Park with the nickname of JPT (Just Passing Through), become so well known for his volunteering work that he was given the title Rat Man?
This intrigued DOC’s Belle Gwilliam and her creative colleague Steph Miller, the Wellington-based filmmakers who co-directed and co-produced the short film Rat Man.
Strathmore Park is a Wellington suburb at the southern end of the Miramar Peninsula overlooking the sea. It has one of the highest densities of state housing in the Wellington region sitting alongside mansions with million-dollar views.
Knowing the area well, Belle asked around to see if there were any community heroes. So many people responded, “you have to talk to Daryl – the Rat Man!”
In their film making, Belle and Steph try to focus on voices and stories that would otherwise go unheard, with the aim to bring understanding to how complex their situation may be. In this film rats, domestic violence and alcoholism were all symptoms of poverty spanning generations.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. On viewing it, Kim Hill commented on Radio NZ that the Rat Man film “is dark and it is charming, and it’s poignant and uplifting – all at once.”
Early in the film a Strathmore Park resident reflects this when she comments, “Sometimes you have to look really, really closely, or just still yourself and not see the broken buildings, broken people, but see the beauty in those people – and that’s what I see in Daryl.”
What lifts this story are the strong connections, enhanced through Daryl’s volunteering, between individuals, their community and their care for the environment in which they live.
The tight knit community of Strathmore Park was initially reluctant to be involved with the Predator Free Miramar project, however Daryl bridged the gap, and being a resident was able to talk to the wider community and get them on board.
Belle and Steph observed that volunteering gives Daryl a reason to get up, dressed and out there in the morning, to stay sober, meet new people and connect to his community. Daryl considers this as his job, one that they feel he should be compensated for, given his volunteering goes well beyond the scope of backyard trapping to organising and managing multiple traps across multiple properties.
Steph was drawn to the project because of her interest in the ways people pursue their own redemption after making huge, seemingly unforgivable mistakes.
Belle was interested in the community aspect and how all the moving parts worked together to not only help Daryl and his family on their journey, but show how his positive contribution helped strengthen his community in return.
Daryl is an example of the value of volunteering to our mental as well as physical health, and the health of our communities. Our DOC Kaupapa that links Healthy Nature, Thriving Communities, and People who Care, is reflected in research by Zealandia, which shows that predator trapping at home or in the community is associated with lower levels of stress and depression, and greater feelings of social cohesion.
Belle and Steph said, “A lot of people have spoken to us about how this film has changed their view on second chances. Not only did volunteering give Daryl a sense of purpose but it also gave him a way to reconnect to his family and his community that he was estranged from, due to his alcoholism. It allowed him to put his best foot forward and show the community he had changed.”
Through telling the story of Rat Man, these filmmakers show that if a community and local agencies are prepared to give someone a second chance, all sorts of things can happen, especially if rats described by the locals as ‘full on patch members’ are involved!
Daryl says, with a sense of pride accompanied by a wide grin, “That’s what I have to put up with now – being the Rat Man!”
When Belle and Steph last caught up with Daryl, he was learning new trapping techniques on how to catch stoats, in the hope it would lead to some paid work.
Rat Man is just under 18 minutes long. If you don’t have time to watch now, then send the link home and watch and share with others. It is an amazing story, superbly told, and well worth your time.
Watch Rat Man here:
National Volunteer Week 2021
National Volunteer Week runs from the 20 – 26 June 2021. It’s a chance to celebrate and thank all the volunteers and community groups who take action for conservation. We’ll be sharing stories throughout the week about the amazing work of those volunteers who generously give to ensure Papatūānuku thrives.