Vale: Derek Challis (1930-2021) BY Michelle Leggott on NEWSROOM

Derek Challis, son of the legendary author Robin Hyde, died last Thursday. Michelle Leggott pays tribute

He opens a suitcase and there they are, the precious manuscript notebooks written by his poet mother Iris Wilkinson aka Robin Hyde. We are in Dunedin for a Hyde conference. Yes, says Derek Arden Challis, I put them in the boot and we drove down from Auckland. He’s enjoying the gasp of horror that is passing around the room full of Hyde aficionados (a suitcase, the boot, the distance between Te Henga and Dunedin, these unique manuscripts on the road with their legal owner and guardian). He wants to make us jump, as his mother, a legend, always wanted to make her listeners jump. It’s a literary tactic and Derek has inherited it in full. The notebooks are of course safe and come to no greater harm than being enthusiastically riffled around the room of admiring scholars. We get over ourselves, but the moment is not forgotten. It’s linked with other moments in Derek Challis’s long history, one of them the trip he took to Ohakune as a 27-year-old biology technician to saw off the head of a circus elephant dead from tutu poisoning and send it back to Auckland University’s Biology Museum.


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