Working for the same organisation for 25 years, in this day and age says something positive about both employee and employer. On the evening of Friday 31 August, Derek Batchelor, Tararua District Council’s Environmental Health Officer, rode off into the sunset to begin his well-deserved retirement.
Environmental health officers assess registered premises (such as food outlets and hairdressing salons), ensure their compliance with regulations, and grant licences to them. They also investigate environmental problems that could endanger public health, including monitoring noise control of industrial sites, overcrowding in housing, contaminated water, air quality and rubbish accumulation.
Derek started his employment with the Council in 1988 when he took over from Don Anderson. In October 1989 the Dannevirke District Council amalgamated with four other councils to form the Tararua District Council.
Derek says he was drawn to his career after his return from overseas where he worked for the University of Toronto as a professional photographer and also qualified as an ambulance officer. His first job when he returned to New Zealand, he says, produced some money but was pretty dead-end. “It obviously wasn’t going anywhere.”
In 1970 Derek was at the beginning of his career as a health inspector. “I gained an English qualification - a Royal Society Diploma in Public Health – and I studied full-time for a year at Wellington Polytech (now a part of Massey University), followed by a month at Massey itself and another six months of practical training.”
He continued his association with the St John Ambulance organisation and a colleague suggested he tried for a sponsorship with Wellington City Council. “At that point there were two positions available for a trainee health inspector. I applied, got the job and things moved on from there.”
Over the years Derek has experienced some highs and lows. One of the saddest stories he remembers is receiving a call about what turned out to be a completely unacceptable situation. Two handicapped people were living in a rural dwelling, being exploited by the property owner.
“I was absolutely appalled when I saw the conditions they were living in. Subsequently the Employment Tribunal became involved, the property owners were taken to task and penalised by the courts.”
“It was an extremely sad situation and,” says Derek. “It made me very angry that these people were being exploited and allowed to live in such poor conditions. The house didn’t meet the requirements of the Health Act – it didn’t even have a toilet as such, just a shed with a bucket.”
Derek still maintains his interest in photography which he combines with geology, his lifetime hobby – “I take photos of rocks and insects” - and has three priorities on which he aims to spend time in his retirement. “One is house, one is garden and one is fossils, not necessarily in that order.”
His interest in geology started when, at age seven, his parents gave him a geological hammer which he has carried with him all over the world.
There are lots of places in the Tararua, Derek says, where fossils can be found. “I intend to re-visit some of the sites and look up every stream and valley in the district and eventually produce a geological map of the area which will complement what has already been produced by scientists. I’ll be doing a lot of walking.”
“I recently found a rock near Weber which supports the theory of a geologist in the area in the late 1930s.
He said that the rocks in this region must have a granite source somewhere. No granite was recorded in the region until two years ago when I found a granite boulder which I took to Massey University for analysis. That boulder now has produced the evidence on which the scientist based his assumption and that assumption is proved to be correct.”
“On the whole,” says Derek, “I’ve enjoyed my work. We’ve had some good times, some not so good times but we don’t dwell on those. We remember the good ones.” He woke up every morning looking forward to his job which, after 25 years, is quite an achievement.
Derek started the next chapter in his life on Monday 3 September. “I usually get up at 6:00am which may be a hard habit to break, but I think I may stay in bed a little longer.” After so long, an extra lie-in is well deserved.