By Simon Edwards
A former Sydney homicide detective and Channel 7 TV show producer says she is now living her dream – in Tapanui.
Feds head office staff heard Natasha Chadwick’s “high heels to gumboots” story in December at the New Zealand Guild of Agricultural Journalists and Communicators awards evening, where she picked up the Federated Farmers Rural Photography prize.
Her winning shot was of Gore’s Megan Whitehead, who earlier this year smashed the solo women’s 9-hour strongwool lamb shearing record, setting a new mark of 662. Natasha had the presence of mind to ask Megan to give a fist pump in front of family and other audience members who had stuck with her throughout her gruelling ordeal.
Natasha kicked off her professional photography career early. Aussie-born, though recently taking the oath as a New Zealand citizen, she was spotted at age 13 taking snaps at a Cronulla Sharks rugby league match by Colin Whelan. Whelan ran Action Photographics, an agency that supplied sport imagery for major newspapers and magazines.
“He gave me part-time work over the weekends and I used to go out and shoot all the big sporting events by his side, so he pretty much taught me everything. I think he just liked the idea of taking somebody on who was young and enthusiastic and moulding their craft.
“I had a darkroom and I learned the old school ways. This was when it was film, not digital and you couldn’t trust the camera to pick your exposures for you.”
Natasha says she was also contracted by the Cronulla Sharks and took on a heap of other photography assignments as well. At age 19, she was keen to buy property but banks don’t like the up and down earnings of a freelancer, so she trained for the police.
After a few years in general duties as a uniformed officer she moved into plain clothes work as a detective, including investigating organized crime with the Special Crimes Unit and then a couple of years with the homicide squad. Increasingly frustrated with episodes of “the hierarchy” shutting down investigations – “as a lone officer in the police force, you can’t really shine a light on corruption within your own code” – she left the police after 12 years and went back to university to re-train as a journalist.
Instead of chasing criminals, she switched to tracking down compelling news stories and it was high-adrenaline and fun. As producer she was the person encouraging families to tell their story and quelling their fears that their words would be twisted, yet it was others who decided on the final cut and how the story was promoted.
In short, by 2016 she was ready for a change.
Natasha says it was always on her “bucket list” to retire to New Zealand but it turned out she would resurrect her photography career here. She’d been enchanted by the South Island scenery on a visit in 2002, and had been back and forward across the ditch since. Her mother had moved to Ashburton and Natasha vividly recalls getting in a car five years ago and driving down to West Otago to check out a villa she’d seen on-line.
“It was the middle of winter, mid-June and the sun was setting on the Blue Mountains. Looking across the landscape, it reminded me of rural France of Italy with the rolling hills.
“Tapanui is just this charming little town. I envisaged doing up this villa, buying a dog and living at the foot of the mountains as a struggling artist.”
“It was a romantic notion, I know, but that’s what’s happened. It’s so central to everything. Only a couple of hours’ drive and you can be at the lakes, or the beach, or Mt Cook.”
The people have also been so welcoming, she says.
“I might be from the heart of Sydney but I think I’ve been a country girl at heart. I love the connection with people. The first day I moved in and wandered down to the café for a coffee, and two people came out of their homes to meet me on the footpath to say ‘I haven’t seen you before, come in for a cup of tea’.”
And it has been no struggle to get enough work.
“From the moment I opened Natwick Studios, I’ve been busy. Because I’ve got that journalism background, I take on writing and website design work as well.
“I’ve got backdrops and lighting in the studio but I also take the studio out on location. One day I might have a shoot in a beauty saloon, the next at a coal mine. I’m often out on farms, taking shots for magazines or newspapers, bulls sales, farm businesses putting together a website, or portraits for the family to be hung on walls and cherished forever.”
Natasha says she knows it sound “so cliché” to say you’re living your dream “but I really am living my dream here.
“I’m very, very lucky that the community has supported me so much and sends me so much work that it makes it all possible.”