Ode to an amazing leader: Tonya Burton

On Woman’s Day, we want to pay tribute to an amazing woman, who not only is the fearless leader of Hobbiton, but also personifies a strong role model for our young people. She has put her heart and soul into growing Hobbiton into a world class adventure centre. She leads by example and enjoys, and celebrates the small victories.

“Sometimes you see them have a lightbulb moment when they have stepped out of their comfort zone and realise they do matter and can take on the world”

Tonya Burton

We asked her to tell us how she came to be, and shine, at Hobbiton. This is her story.

From the first moment, climbing off the bus onto Hobbiton grounds, I knew in my young heart that this was a special place.  Being 13 years old I was filled with the excitement of which bed to select in the dormitory, the thrill of sleeping away from home, spending time with friends and wondered what adventures lay ahead.  The days were filled with carefree fun and to this day, 31 years later, I still recall the bed I slept in, the amazing scenery and so much happiness. 

High school took me along the service and leadership routes and due to our Rotary Interact work I was blessed to be selected for a 7-day leadership programme at Hobbiton.  I could not contain my excitement at the chance of staying in this beautiful place again for a whole week!  This programme involved about 10 youths, strangers to each other, working together. Within the first 3 hours we were dangling on a rope, 6m in the air, reliant being held by someone you had only just met.  Over the next few days, we cycled to the dam in the valley and sleep out under flat tarp, in the rain, built a raft upon which we had to, in the middle of the dam, make a cup of coffee for our instructor, abseiled rock faces and partook in a 2-night solitaire.  It was the most fun I had ever had in a week!

Fast forward 7 years when a friend drew my attention to a newspaper advert for an administrator position at ‘that place you always speak about’.  I was selected and started work on the 1st December 2000. 

Over the last 20 years I have worked as an administrator, instructor, manager, ‘chief cook and bottle washer’ and now Chief Operations Officer.  It has been a honour and privilege to be part of a team who have enabled about 120 000 children, over this period, to enjoy “The Hobbiton Experience”.  It is always rewarding to see the physical, mental, emotional and social skills of the children grow, during their stay with us.  

It is not easy leading an organisation through troubled water and Covid has put tremendous strain on Hobbiton resources, both financially and emotionally. Tonya has shown us what it means to hang on in there, make sacrifices and never loose hope. We celebrate her life and dedication, not only to Hobbiton but also to Hogsback, where she is always ready to help and assist others.

So let us show her that we care, about her, and about Hobbiton. Let’s help keep Hobbiton going by contributing to the bridging fund. You will also stand a chance to win a Hogsback-Stay.