No Ordinary Sheila Reviewed by Melanie Tito

The Premise
In Hugh Macdonald’s fascinating and inspiring doco, his cousin, writer and illustrator Sheila Natusch, retraces a long life dedicated to sharing her understanding and love of New Zealand’s nature and history. Born in 1926 on Rakiura (Stewart Island) to the Traill family, Sheila’s early childhood memories include a near-drowning at the hands of schoolmates – this and other life misfortunes she shrugs off casually. Growing up in the deep south led to an adventurous resilience which saw her climb multiple mountains, cycle from Picton to Bluff and write dozens of groundbreaking natural history books, including her magnum opus, Animals of New Zealand.

The Review
In times like these, it feels especially poignant reflecting on the merits of a 'well-lived life'. This phrase may bring to mind the notion of achievements people find notable or remarkable. But while achievements count for something, they are not everything. There is something to be said for going on mini adventures, creating stuff, staying healthy, enjoying ordinary moments, finishing what one sets out to do, having close relationships … the things that make life not just enjoyable, but purposeful!

There is so much to be said about people who truly LIVE, not just survive. Adventurer, cyclist, sailor, writer, wife to Gilbert, friend (including to famed NZ writer Janet Frame), Sheila Natusch did not just dip her toes gingerly into the ever-changing waters of life. She brushed against life, dove into it, cycled through its meandering pathways, and truly savoured it.



As I watched the (well-made) film on her life, aptly entitled “No Ordinary Sheila”, I felt warmly invited to slow down and reconsider my notions of a good life. Aside from Sheila’s remarkable dedication to and skills in studying, documenting and illustrating natural history, many other activities she pursued are not out of reach for most people. Anyone can put some walking shoes on and hike up an unfamiliar trail, spend some moments admiring a beautiful bird, or start working on a personal project just for fun.
The Verdict
Anyone can appreciate the little moments which make for an imperfect, immersive, wonderful life. An altogether warm, charming, true-to-life documentary which left me feeling a sense of loss at the end as I read that Sheila had passed away in August this year. A beautiful life worth celebrating.
The Trailer

The Info
Releases: 19th November 2017
Rating: G
Duration: 98 minutes 
Genre:  Documentary
Starring: Sheila Natusch, Narrated by Phil Darkins
Director: Hugh McDonald (This Is New Zealand)