Jude Gilbert, conservationist and city escapee.

Judy Gilbert's mainland ties are closer than most.  Husband Scott Macindoe owns a home in Epsom, where he lives with their son Guy during the Auckland Grammar School term.  "We have a really interesting marriage in that we live in our own houses," Judy says.  "We're monogamous and we live our own lives, we love each other and we get all our holidays together.  It's perfect."

It was Judy who told me, weeks ago, that everyone on Great Barrier is "an artist, an anarchist or an alcoholic".  She lays claim to the first two, though admits she's better at buying than producing art.

Her property is part of a collectively owned 243-hectare block, bought when she was a 19-year-old teacher's training college student.  Her home perches at the end of another Barrier goat track, beyond the 'No exit, legal road stops' sign.  All gleaming glass, local art and wide decking, it faces the sea and juts, eyrie-like over rugged, kanuka-smothered hills.  Here, this 1.47m ball of energy clears her own traps - rats are shudderingly abundant - hauls gas bottles and firewood, digs drains and battles rabbits and stubborn clay soil to garden on the steepest slopes.  When she is not spearheading conservation and employment programmes, she keeps an eye on her eight solar panels, wetback wood stove and composting toilet.  "And yes," she says, "I clean out the shit and I do dig it into my garden."

Unsurprisingly, the diminutive 50-year-old has a chiropractic appointment in the city to deal with her prolapsed disc, or 'Barrier back'.  As an antidote to the slog, Judy makes a point of bird watching from the seats dotted around her garden, bottling peaches with a girlfriend or soaking in her outdoor bathtub in the bush.

"I have time for girlfriends when they say, "I'm having a 'shit day'.  There's an elderly woman I play Scrabble with of an afternoon. You've got every type of person imaginable living on Barrier.  There's an opportunity to be in relationships with real characters.  My son comes from an affluent family but he was able to mix and be friends with people who lived in a double garage.  I think that's very important. 

She has also learned to enjoy her own company.  "I was a very gregarious, social person in town," she says, describing her former frenzied beachfront lifestyle and varied career in Auckland's Devonport.  "Now, my life is more balanced.  I love my solitude.  It's a very ordinary life in a very extraordinary place."


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