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No ordinary conservation career

Joe Hansen sitting at the front of the Te Kopi Homestead where he worked for 25 years for the Forest Service and the Department of Conservation. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Joe Hansen retired on Friday after a colourful 50 years with DOC
Murder case involvement crucial

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Joe Hansen has buried sperm whales, shot countless deer and goats, been mixed up in one murder case, and found the key evidence in another.

And that’s on top of finding lost trampers, building bridges and huts, and putting out fires.

So don’t try telling him staying in one job for 50 years could be dull.

Hansen, 67, retired from the Department of Conservation in Masterton on Friday, 50 years to the day from when he started in 1968 as Forest Service cadet.

“The payroll guy reckons it was actually 50 years and one day, but I think I’m right.”

And it probably doesn’t pay to argue the facts too often with Hansen.

He’s kept a diary every day since he left school in 1968, and has a great memory for dates.

He began his career at woodsman’s school in Golden Downs in Nelson.

After a couple of years in Nelson he returned to Wairarapa and that is where he spent the bulk of his career, apart from a couple of years in Hari Hari on the South Island’s West Coast.

Hansen remains a fit bloke – he played prop for Wairarapa-Bush against the British Lions in 1977 – and hunting has been a huge part of his working life, though he baulks if you suggest some recreational hunters might not consider it work

“Shooting goats out of a helicopter, that sounds a bit glorified, but once you’ve done it as many times as I have . . . it gets bloody cold with all the doors of the helicopter open.”

Hansen took over the Te Kopi field centre at Aorangi Forest Park on the Wairarapa south coast in 1974, and he and wife Carol raised two boys during 25 years living in the homestead, where he was the first and last ranger.

Having worked in just about every field role for DOC, Hansen’s broad range of experience has often been called upon.

“Anything that came along that I’d done before, I would get involved in,” he says.

“I used to have a lot to do with whales coming ashore. We had six in one go in 1985 – six big sperm whales.”

On the same night DOC recognised Hansen’s retirement on Thursday, he received recognition from Fire and Emergency for 50 years of service to rural firefighting, and from the Police for the same length of service to search and rescue.

He was one of many called in to help search for Featherston six-year-old Coral Burrows in 2003.

“I was flying around in a helicopter and it had been raining a lot and I just saw this thing bobbing down Abbotts Creek. And it happened to be Coral’s schoolbag.

“That basically turned it from a missing person search to a homicide inquiry.”

It was not his first brush with the darker side of humanity, however.

In 1999, Powell Hut in the Tararua Range burnt down, close to the time the decomposed body of Terri King was found. He was thought to have links with organised crime and drugs, and was shot in the back of the head.

“The fire guy rang me at 3 o’clock in the morning and said there was a fire in the hills. I looked out the window and said to Carol ‘that’s Powell Hut’.”

Away from the drama, it is the people of DOC who Hansen will really miss.

“They’re what make it really. That’s what I’m going to miss more than anything. There’s some great people in DOC.”

Hansen and his wife are reversing the trend of moving into town for retirement by moving permanently out to their property at Kaiwhata Valley south of Riversdale, where they plan to to offer homestays.

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