Memorable tribute to our natural world by ‘accidental’ publisher

12:38 AM, 16 September 2022

Growing up in Nelson, within sight of Kahurangi and Abel Tasman National Parks, filled Robbie Burton with awe and fed his youthful obsession for tramping, skiing, mountaineering. Later, such vistas stirred his passion for the wilderness, turning him into an environmental activist and self-taught publisher.

Bushline cover

Burton’s enduring affinity for the outdoors gave him a sense of place and purpose, and propelled him, albeit unexpectedly, into a career in publishing; the pre-eminent Craig Potton having coaxed him away from a leadership role in community arts.

Throughout his long career helming Potton & Burton, Burton mastered his craft and honed his publishing skills. Taking a hands-on approach to the business, Burton ensured he was across every aspect, from design and production to editing, distribution, finance, and much more. Despite riding a steep learning curve and often grappling with imposter syndrome, Burton hung in there and found his niche, steering Potton & Burton into the venerated publishing house it is today.

Burton presided over Potton & Burton as it became one of New Zealand’s largest independent publishers, built on a significant stable of non-fiction books about our natural world. He also ‘rocked the boat’, publishing books by journalist and political activist Nicky Hager, and collaborated with a roll call of acclaimed writers and photographers, including Andris Apse, Craig Potton, Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown, Sam Hunt, and Annette Lees. For Burton, telling our stories and protecting our taonga remain core values.

Now, Burton steps out of the shadows with the publication of his memoir Bushline to reflect on his life in publishing and how the importance of our wild places have defined him. He writes lyrically about memorable tramping weekends, special moments with family and friends, and the power of nature to uplift and restore. Always, his narrative displays those all too rare human qualities of humility, courage, and candour.

“What started out as a personal project intended for the top drawer, however, grew in the writing, first into a privately published memoir that I produced for family and friends on the occasion of my sixtieth birthday, and now much expanded to include my working life as a publisher,” says Burton.

Ultimately, Bushline is a moving and compelling memoir about belonging, and how Burton’s life has been shaped by the power and beauty of the New Zealand landscape.

Robbie Burton was born and has lived in Nelson almost all his life. After working as a conservationist and community arts worker, he became the publisher at Craig Potton Publishing (now called Potton & Burton) and, over a period of 30 years, turned it into one of our largest publishers of non-fiction books. Robbie continues to live in central Nelson with his wife and two almost independent boys and gets out into the backcountry whenever he gets the chance to heed the call of the wild.