Making a Difference

MAKING A DIFFERENCE

My Life Story

Dennis Oliver

Making a Difference

My Life Story

Dennis Oliver

Copyright Dennis Oliver

Published by Community Management Associates
Havelock North
2012

Printed by Massey University Printery

PREFACE

I originally wrote this book for the family, particularly for Robert, Richard and Shelley. However, since putting it to print I have realized that some of it might be of interest to others, in particular the way we grew the YMCA in New Plymouth from small and homeless to big, housed and thriving ; the bits about the shoeshine boys story and the Rural Work in Fiji; the campaign to reduce the suicide rate in Samoa, at that time the highest in the world; the innovative programmes in Samoa and the wide range of programmes we invented in Hastings to help unemployed people find their way into the job market.

I have included Chapter ten, ‘A Purveyor of ideas’ particularly for those readers who use the Community Development process in their work.

It has been my privilege to have indirectly touched on the lives of thousands of people in New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa through many absolutely wonderful staff of the YMCA’s there. They are too numerous to name but I would guess that they are still exercising their wonderful talents in their current spheres of influence.

I have titled it “Making a difference” because that’s the mission my mother encouraged me to pursue over seventy years ago and I am still working on it. Since I finished writing it in 2007 a couple of events have made highlights; In 2010, the book my son Robert wrote, “Me’a Kai – the food and flavours of the South Pacific”, at the Gourmand book award won the title, THE BEST COOKBOOK IN THE WORLD. A lot of the credit goes to my wife Jean and is a positive reflection of our families time in Fiji. Then in March 2012 l was the recipient of the DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI SERVICE AWARD by Massey University at a grand reception in Wellington.

I must acknowledge the artistic merit of my nephew Jeff Lockhart who designed the Pacific motif on the front cover.

It still remains my personal life story and I have to say, I have achieved nothing by myself. I have helped others organize and tackle stuff that has helped us all grow and develop.

It has been one adventure after another shared with the family team, and it carries on even now. Retirement from full-time paid employment presents lots of opportunities for community work. And that adds satisfaction and fulfillment to one’s life.

Dennis Oliver

Contents   page

Chapter One   Growing Up in Hawera   1

Chapter Two   Enter the New Plymouth YMCA   22

Chapter Three   Expanding My Professional Self   38

Chapter Four   The Fijian Adventure   48

Chapter Five   Back in New Zealand….briefly   81

Chapter Six   Adventures in Samoa   86

Chapter Seven   Inventing Community Management Ass’   112

Chapter Eight   Back Home to Hastings New Zealand   123

Chapter Nine   And so to Retirement   159

Chapter Ten   A Purveyor of ideas   177

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Chapter One   Growing up in Hawera

I was born in Wanganui, New Zealand on August 13th 1932. My father had emigrated from Cornwall having served his time as a grocery assistant at the Co-op in St. Dennis. The family’s home was in the village of Indian Queens, not far from Newquay. Dad was the eldest in the family of two boys and five girls. His cousin Harry, had emigrated to New Zealand and in 1924 wrote to dad encouraging him to make New Zealand his new country. He said, “The wages in your line runs from four pound ten shillings a week, and board one pound ten shillings a week. Hours of work quarter past eight in the morning until half past five and one o’clock on Wednesdays, nine o’clock on Saturday nights. A fortnights holiday in a year on full pay. I’ll tell you this, if you stayed out here for three years you would never want to stay home (Cornwall) any more. Now you must please yourself, you won’t pick up gold in the street and you’ll get hard knocks and wish yourself home, but you must have courage and fight and you will win as I have done. Fifteen years ago I landed in New Zealand without a friend in the world and thirty shillings in my pocket. I did all sorts of jobs. Now I am on my feet. I was a carter in a timber yard twelve years ago; l went to stacker, tally clerk, foreman, now travelling the country on orders with a motor bike at five pound ten shillings a week. I also own my own home worth six hundred and fifty pound and keep 500 fowls and can hatch one thousand eggs at a time . . . Now Will, I hope things are clear to you. I am not going to advise you my way, it’s up to you. This country wants men, and you and your friends would get on alright provided you stick…” This was sufficient encouragement for dad, so he come, and he stick.

When he arrived in New Zealand he got a job with Maypole Stores, Wanganui, owned by the Gilbert family. My sister Laureen was born two years earlier than me. My mother was called Joyce, her maiden name was Irene Joyce Gilling. She was brought up at one stage at Matapu, Taranaki, and her father was a beekeeper and wrote one of the first books about beekeeping in New Zealand. He drowned at Kawhia when Mum was pregnant with Laureen. My mother’s mother was Janie Trerise. If one journeys to Cornwall and visits Trerise Manor, the line of family going back to around the fourteenth century shows a Janie Trerise about every third generation. I cannot however, claim a direct line there. But wait!! There is the

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possibility that maybe, according to an ancient letter written by my aunt that the Trerises of Trerise Manor…but perhaps that is speculation. ??

All of this background demonstrates why I describe myself as “an indigenous Pakeha with a Samoan Chiefs title (more of that later) and Cornish blood.”

When I was two years old in January 1935, Dad took Mum, Laureen and me back to Cornwall to meet the family. These were the years of the Great Depression but the young grocer saved money by living for two years on broken biscuits, bruised fruit, dented tins and any other scraps the grocer shop threw up. At the same time, Mum earned fifty pound by taking wooden bowls, doing pokerwork designs on them, a touch of paint, a coat of varnish and selling them from door to door. We travelled from Wanganui to Auckland by train to catch the ship and apparently at every station the train stopped I asked, “Is this England?” We left Auckland on January 25th 1935 on the good ship “S.S. Ormonde” taking seven weeks to get to England. On the journey, at the port of Aden, Mum’s diary said “Dennis insisted on calling the camels ha-ha gee gees.” When the ship went through very rough weather Mum’s diary reports on the fall of the sick one by one until “Only Dennis went to dinner and ate the lot like a real little man.” A couple of stories have been passed down from the five months in Cornwall. The family took Dad aside and said “You got to stop Joyce braggin. We don’t approve her braggin.” Dad enquired,” What she braggin about?” “When we ask ‘er, ‘ow ‘arre ye Joyce? , she says ,”Good. ” Not up to ‘er to say she’s good. So Dad drilled Mum that when she was asked ‘ow arre ye, the correct response was, “proper thankee.” My dad’s family had a little farm and had a few cows to supply the Cornish cream which they sold in the village. Apparently one time I wandered into the house with cow manure up my leg having been down at the cow shed. When they asked, ‘Where’s your gumboots?” my reply was, “in the moobuck.”

On August 22nd we sailed from London on ‘S.S. Remuera’ via the Panama Canal arriving in Auckland on September 28th 1935. l have no actual memories of this Cornish experience, but when l next travelled to Cornwall in 1987 aged 55, the lilting Cornish brogue became second nature as quick as taking the next breath.

When I was five, we moved to Hawera which was to be my ‘home’ for all my boyhood years. At that time, whilst Dad was still with Maypole stores Wanganui, a group of grocery stores came on the market and the Gilbert family suggested to Dad

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a business proposition. The upshot was that the struggling Cut Rate stores with seven shops were bought out and made into Maypole Stores (Taranaki Ltd.) with Dad as Managing Director and with the financial backing of Maypole Stores Wanganui, and A. S. Patterson, grocery wholesalers. The deal was that Dad would earn his shares as they were converted from dividends each year. The firm was expanded to thirteen shops in Hawera, Eltham, Patea, Manaia, Stratford, Inglewood and New Plymouth.

All my schooling was done at Hawera Primary School and Hawera High School. I have few memories of school life. The last rugby game I played I was around eight years of age. The school bully who was twice the size of any other kid was squashing all and sundry as he made a feast of tries. I attempted at being the hero by throwing myself at his legs only to get my face kicked as I landed in the mud. I went home bawling my eyes out and haven’t played rugby since. I learnt by experience that I don’t like getting my face kicked so therefore avoid those situations where it is considered legal and manly. At High School I took up hockey and played in the school’s second eleven. In Standard Five, I had a succession of five teachers through the year and gained the impression us kids were just a factory job lot. I think at that stage I went from better than average to that meaningless report card, “Could do better.” I did well at High School in english, mathematics, wordwork [woodwork] and physical education. I have no idea why they tried to teach us history, geography, social studies or science and there was little or no attempt to make it relevant to us. I think I had four good teachers over four years and several that should have never been let loose on the human race as guides and mentors. I sat School Certificate in 1948, the year of the polio epidemic when schools had been closed for twelve weeks prior to the exams. I failed School ‘C’ by two marks. These were the years when School ‘C’ was structured so that fifty percent had to fail. I sat again in 1949 thinking I would cruise through with very little effort. However, apparently everyone else tried a bit harder and I failed by two marks again. I attended the Hawera High School centennial reunion with the sole intent of finding the gym teacher who always said “Good work Oliver”, the only teacher I remember saying that to me. I went on to make a career out of that.

I left school and joined that staff of Maypole Stores. I worked at the main shop in Hawera for a year while it was in the process of becoming the first self-service store

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in New Zealand. I did a six month spell on the rural delivery truck and managed to get stuck on a wide variety of back country farms in an assortment of muddy situations. I was the bulk store man for a few months and learnt how to stack 180 pound sacks of wheat three high and 200 pound sacks of washing soda four high. There was a skill in taking a 180 pound sack of wheat on your shoulder, carry it twenty yards and tip it into a forty gallon drum.

I worked in number three Maypole for three years with a character of a boss. We were next to the White Hart Hotel and some of our customers came straight out of the pub into our shop. These were the days when shops opened at 8:30am Monday to Friday and closed at 5pm Monday to Thursday and 8:30pm on Fridays. Nobody opened Saturdays and Sundays. Service was Mrs Jones asking the grocer over the counter for a pound of butter resulting in grocer darting to the fridge, getting a pound of butter and placing it on the counter. Many customers telephoned their order to the shop which was delivered the same day by the boy on the bike. Sometimes after school l was the boy on the bike. Customers ran up accounts on credit which were paid off on the 20th of the following month. Farming families accounts were frequently in the hundreds of pounds monthly. All the dockets were added up without a calculator in front of the customer. Payment was made by cheque or cash, real money, pounds, shillings, and pence. Plastic credit cards had not yet been invented. Change was counted back into the customer’s hand. There were no plastic bags. There were brown paper bags and parcels were tied up with string, not cellotape. I still have parcel and string skills and can add columns of figures. I overcame a lot of shyness and after a time enjoyed meeting people, having a bit of a chat and giving them friendly personal service. This was my first association with Maori. Two old Maori ladies came in every Thursday, sometimes after imbibing next door and enjoyed being served by the big-boss’s-boy. In my last year with Maypole, I worked in Patea, Manaia, and Eltham in relieving positions. I remember being the relieving manager in Eltham while the manager took his annual leave. I think every bad debtor in town came in to try it on but I don’t recall being caught out. Although it was early in the process, there was a feeling l was being groomed to eventually take over Dad’s position as Managing Director. Such was not to be.

During my years of working for Maypole Stores, my mother and I honoured a contract we had made when I first started work. She asked me what my friends were

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paying their mothers for rent now that they were earning. I asked around and reported to Mum that most were paying three pounds a week. She said that if I saved half of my weekly wage into a special account until I was married, she would only charge me two pounds a week rent. If however, I saved three quarters of my weekly wage, she would only charge me one pound a week. For six years from age 18 to 24, I saved three quarters of my weekly wage so that when I married I had one thousand pound in the bank. This was more than the average annual wage of the time which was about eight hundred pounds.

Hawera was a good town for a young boy to grow up in. it was small enough to be familiar, with a host of community organizations to be involved in, and plenty of civic amenities for a growing lad to enjoy. Next to Maypole Main Shop was the local cinema, The Grand, locally known as ‘The Bug House” The weekly serials included The Lone Ranger, The Phantom, Buck Rogers, Gene Autrey [Autry], but my outright favourite was Tarzan. Johnny Weissmuller was my number one hero. Most times I managed to get into the pictures without paying. Sometimes, I would go around to the back of the pub, pick up a crate of empty beer bottles, take them around the front and sell them their own bottles. On other occasions, depending on what was showing in the first half, I would wait outside the cinema, mix around with the half time crowd, then a couple of minutes after most patrons had gone back in, go into the darkened cinema, find an empty seat and sit in it. Sometimes late patrons would come, stagger around in the dark, make a bit of a rumpus trying to find their seat which had mysteriously disappeared and get thrown out for their disturbance. Pity that. This sort of game was always done in the company of another mischievous companion.

There were a few places just out of town that were good for a game or two. I remember going down opposite Turuturu-mokai where there was a bit of a pond. Jock and David and I had a right royal swim only to emerge with black stuff all over parts of our bodies, including some private parts. l got told off a treat by my Mum for getting tar all over everything. She scrubbed away at my body with Brasso which was renowned as an excellent tar remover. l was lucky to retain my emerging manhood. They certainly shone well.

Another time, Jock and Dave and I sped around Turuturu-mokai on our bikes and sped over a narrow plank over a stream. You didn’t dare get the wobbles or you would end up in the drink. Which is exactly what Dave did, and it was only after

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watching him for a couple of minutes, Jock and I realized that being upside down under water with a bicycle on top of you wasn’t healthy for survival. So eventually we dragged him out half drowned, full of mud and a bit wiser. These were learning experiences only gained by the adventurous.

The war years, 1939 to 1945, were significant during my boyhood years. The evening news on 2YA was the day’s important event. For one long period, the news was grim with heavy casualties amongst the Allies, and the seemingly unstoppable advance of the German war machine. There was a heavy air of doom in all community events and a pall over the spirit of our home town. Everybody had a relative on active service. Dad was not drafted into the army but was placed in the EPS, the Emergency Provisionery Service. It amounted to being prepared to deliver stores to the Home Guard or the Army or other special services in the case of an emergency.

Dad’s brother, uncle John, had emigrated to New Zealand and was posted to Fiji to teach the Fijians how to drive army trucks. The designer of the trucks hadn’t taken into account the size of Fijians feet which could engage the brake and accelerator at the same time. Some considered John’s job more dangerous than many at the front line.

Most families had their life impacted more than ours because of rationing, but the life of the grocer gave us the opportunity to use the unused ration coupons of others. Every family had a book of ration coupons for tea, sugar, butter, petrol and other items. On the purchase of any of these products, as well as paying money, one had to surrender the appropriate number of coupons. When they were used up, tough, no more until the next ration book was received.

I spent a lot of time playing commando games. Camies home had a bit of bush, a bit of swamp in the bush, and a small lake. We made some bombs that were fairly dangerous. One of them was made with a shell casing, a filling of gunpowder mixture, and half a dozen .22 bullets for good measure. We made a hole in a small bank, packed our bomb in it, lit the fuse and ducked for cover. It’s a wonder the boom didn’t alert the police. We didn’t do another that dangerous as the .22s that went whistling through the air gave us a bit of a fright. Camies older brother was not to be trusted. He invited us to have a row in his tin tub on the duck pond and when we were in mid lake, fired 22s into one end of the tub until it started to sink. The lake wasn’t very deep so we got out and left him to deal with the tub.

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Another of the consequences of the war period, were some special activities available. “Veges For Victory” was a major thrust. Dad always had a wonderful vegetable garden. There were large commercial vegetable gardens on the edge of town. One offered half-a-crown a sugar bag (about twice a pillow cover) for pickers to pick pea pods. Eat as many as you like. I biked to the farm and ate about the first sugar bag, then picked a sugar bag by which time I felt a bit crook with gas building up so collected my money and biked home. By the time I got home, I was a dangerous item with buildup of a lethal gas. Mum had a meeting of the Methodist Women’s Fellowship in our house and my farting was so persistent and powerful, I wasn’t allowed in the house until later in the day. A cool drink and a stern lecture were brought out to me at the far end of the back yard.

I dressed up as a commando for the Victory in Europe parade in May 1945. It was a big event with every imaginable community group marching down High Street behind the Hawera Band making every noise that they could all conjure up.

Our family frequently had camping holidays. We camped during summers at Nelson, Golden Bay, Napier and the Bay of Islands, Northland. We also visited Mum’s sister Dee and husband Fred at Pirihaka, Whakatane and Ohope beach. What a piece of paradise Ohope beach is.

We also as a family worshiped at the Hawera Methodist Church. Dad was a lay preacher and sang as a bass in the choir. Mum sang as a contralto in the choir while Laureen and I attended bible class and Sunday school.

The clarinettist

Two of the acknowledged community strengths in Hawera were its music and its drama societies. Much of the strength of music in Hawera lay in the leadership of H. C. A. Fox Esquire. He was the conductor of the Hawera Brass Band and the Hawera Orchestra. The Hawera Brass Band was highly respected at national brass band events and on one occasion in the 1940s took the top prize in the national championships. For ten years, from age eight to eighteen, l attended weekly clarinet lessons under the tutelage of H.C.A. Fox. He was not a cuddly man. He had a firm persona, a waxed twirly moustache, a slicked down hair style, given to criticism rather than praise, an inclination for precision rather than passion, and a military style suitable for parade. I can not say I enjoyed the lessons, but, I did become relatively

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technically proficient at playing the clarinet. I remember one day biking to Mr. Fox’s place with some fear and lots of reservation as I knew I hadn’t done enough practice of a particular piece to satisfy him. With dragging steps I forced my way to the front door, raised my hand to ring the bell, and froze. I couldn’t do it. So I quietly snuck back out to my bike and spent half an hour resting in the park. When I finally went home I told Mum that Mr. Fox was sick but she telephoned him and caught me out. Mr. Fox and mum rescheduled my lesson. I was certainly learning about persistence. One only becomes good at an activity if you give it hours and maybe weeks and probably years of guided effort. This lesson was one of my strengths through my career as there were many times it would have been easier to give up. I later turned the lesson into a life strategy, “When the going gets tough, there are two potential outcomes. The situation can beat you, or you can beat the situation….. and the decision as to which it will be is in your head.”

I played in the Hawera High School Band, and I would offer the opinion that playing the clarinet does not lend itself to marching at the same time with the music clamped on a bracket eight inches from your face with trombones and euphoniums and base drum behind while simultaneously performing parade ground manoeuvres, left, right, double back, halt and so on ows your father.

I was entered and played in the Hawera Competitions for several years. It says something for Hawera that the annual competition in the Opera House attracted hundreds of children and some a bit older in all types of musical and dancing and speech and drama items. The woodwind section frequently drew up to a dozen competitors. I gained the second prize several years and in 1947 won the top spot with a gold medal. By aged fifteen, l was placed in the Hawera Orchestra and by age eighteen was principal clarinettist. There were four clarinettists in the Hawera Orchestra and all the others were older than me.

Ruth Dyson on flute and I played a duet over Radio Wanganui, ‘Moonlight Sonata.’ I played in numerous concerts put on by a variety of community organizations. One of the most interesting pieces that I played was a Mozart Divertimento for a trio of two clarinets and bassoon. A professional sound technician recorded the first part as I played it into his reel to reel recorder. Then when he played that back I played in the second part whilst the two parts were recorded on another recorder. Finally that duet was played back while I played in the bassoon part on an alto E flat clarinet which was picked up on the other recorder. It was the

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first time that I had heard the whole piece played. This was then placed on a vinyl record at 33 rpm which is now pretty well unplayable. However, the journey was fun.

A casual enquiry was made with the National Symphony Orchestra about the age of recruitment but they suggested enquiring again later. When I left Hawera to take a position in New Plymouth, my clarinet days finished there. I learnt many life lessons through my clarinet playing days. I have rarely felt such a sense of wonder when, fifty members of an orchestra with a variety of string, brass, woodwind and percussion instruments, sitting there each studying strange marks on pieces of paper, then …… the conductor raises his baton, and when he brings it down a variety of sweet noises harmonise to make music, and that particular sound had never been heard on this planet before. It started in one persons head, possible years ago and countless miles away, and we, the Hawera Orchestra, had recreated that vision in our town and place. That is a special type of magic to nurture ones soul.

Amateur dramatics

The Hawera Repertory Society was very highly regarded at a national level and was often well placed in national events. I acted in a few Repertory Society plays, but my main source of drama was the Wesley Players. My mother set up the Wesley Players as a club of the Hawera Methodist Church and she was the Director for most of their plays in the early years. Every Easter and Christmas we presented a play and as often as not, my sister Laureen and I had leading parts, These productions had Christian themes, but other plays through the year were solely for entertainment. A couple of musical hall types were ‘A Fruity Melodrama’, and ‘The ‘Ole in the Road.’ One of my worst moments was on stage in the Opera House to a live audience. The play was about Saint Michael and the theme was built around Saint Michael appearing on the stage with a ragged coat. Playing the part of Saint Michael, haggard and drawn, l shambled on to mid stage upon which one of the other leads would say, “Why are you wearing that terrible cloak?” And shock, horror, I had forgotten to put on the cloak. I was struck dumb. This was definitely the right time for a massive hole to appear and swallow me up whole. Fortunately, the lead improvised on the spot and said, “Why are you wearing such terrible ……… pants?” I felt lucky that I at least had pants on. Most weeks, for about ten years from aged fourteen, I was rehearsing for a play, presenting a play, or just getting over a play. I think that

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sense of drama, of presence, of stage craft was a useful life tool for many future situations.

Hockey was a fairly minor event in my life. It did however, lead to one of life’s significant events. I played in the Hawera team second eleven and we entered a team in a five-a-side tournament to be played in Eltham. My father lent me the firm’s car, a 1948 Mercury which had loads of power and, new to my experience, power steering. Our team of five, plus an older man who was to referee games, set off from Hawera. About half way to Eltham along one of the straights, I decided to overtake a car. The road was a bit frosty, the road had a highish crown, I got my right wheels a bit in the gravel just off the tar seal, and when having passed the other car pulled the wheel to come back onto the left side of the road, the Mercury went into a side slide. I pulled the wheel fast the other way and went into a left side slide. Pulled franticly on the wheel to go into another right side slide in the meantime observing that the car I had been passing was still travelling along beside me. I gave the steering wheel one more wrench to the right and decided to let the car straighten itself out. Which it did at 60mph straight for a boxthorn hedge fronted by a power pole made out of two railway lines bolted together. The Mercury snapped off the power pole and l looked up to see this pole coming straight down like a knife approaching butter. As the car fell onto its side and rammed into the boxthorn hedge. It came to rest on the left side with the power pole hard up beside it with a piece of boxthorn the size of a man’s arm half way through the windscreen twelve inches from my face. We were all stunned. Someone said, “Turn off the ignition,” which I did, we wound down the windows and scrambled out back to the road. The rest of the team went on to the hockey tournament, which they didn’t win, the referee went to hospital in a state of shock, and I hitched back to Hawera to report it to police. Frank Floss was the traffic cop and took me in his car with siren screaming back out to the crash site to supervise the recovery and to examine the scene. The second most terrifying thing that day was travelling in the police car against the flow of race traffic weaving in and out of near head on disasters. To his eternal credit, even though the car was written off, all that my father wanted to know was anybody hurt. When we did get another car, I took it down to Opunake Beach and practised putting it into and out of side slips so that I had more control for my future driving. In the 54 years since that time, I haven’t had another accident.

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Adventures in Scouting

My experience in the Boy Scouts movement was nothing short of monumental. Whatever is the age that a small boy can start in Cubs that is the age I started; probably six. Hawera had a Scout Hall down by the town swimming pool. I think several Scout groups used the hall at different times of the week. The hall had a high ceiling with a large rope strung from the centre. It was great fun to get a big swing up almost touching the walls at both ends. At one end a fixed ladder led up to the loft where a variety of tents and camping equipment was stored, mostly battered billies for cooking over an open fire. At the other end of the hall was a flag lanyard for flying the troop flag or the national flag, and two rooms, one kitchen and one toilet, all fairly basic. In the Cubs, I did what all small boy Cubs do. I dibdibdibbed, and dobdobdobbed with Akaela. We might well have tuwittowu’ed with Baloo. We crouched with our fingers on the ground and howled like wolves. We learnt a few knots, how to salute with two fingers, and how to chase one another round and round in circles. Before long, with this experience, I became a Sixer, which means Charge Hand/Group Leader of a group of similar small boys. The absolute magic of the Boy Scout movement from age six and upward is the use of small groups, Sixes in Cubs, and Patrols in Scouts. This is the stuff where one learns leadership, that is, coaching a group to achieve goals. It’s a communication and motivation strategy that is best learnt on the job.

From 1946 (aged 14), I kept a Scout Log, a written account of all my Scout activities. I was a Patrol Leader with about six Patrol members, most of them more than handy at being somewhat physical when push came to shove. Clari, Phil, Bolshie, and Noel could have been a handful but, fortunately we pulled together very well. When there were Patrol or inter-troop competitions, we always acquitted ourselves with distinction. We had a Patrol camp at Corrigans farm beside a creek with willow trees both sides. One photo shows three boys on a bridge we made with X frames at either end, a three-rope walk over the creek tied down on both sides with guy ropes. The log reports, ‘We erected this bridge with a bit of a struggle getting her up, however she came down easily enough. I had just finished taking this photo when bridge, Dave and Edgy fell into the river up to his neck. Edgy was hanging by his feet out of the water but his head was under. For a while we didn’t know what to do….’

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The record then drifts off to discuss the engineering faults we had made with insufficient guy lines. However, to the best of my knowledge Edgy didn’t die, so apparently we solved that one too. At the same camp, another photograph shows a thirty foot flag pole which we erected. We seemed to be always cutting down trees. The Conservationist badge came later on. I see also that this was the first occasion I had taken photos. A few pages further on in the log, the report is made that we developed and printed our own photographs. Black and white and Baby Brownie camera. The Riverdale camp in the same year reported ‘this was the same as every other camp except that Noel broke his arm.’ Nice to know that a broken arm was not the usual.

At the Patrol Camp in 1947, it rained all the time but we didn’t care. We built a little raft of green wood on which to place our cooking fire as it was 6 inches deep of water all over. Our sleeping tent was a bit drier as we had pitched it on the only piece of higher ground. During the night, our Troop Leader visited as it had been raining solidly for twelve hours to find us fast asleep surrounded by water beginning to lap our sleeping bags. We were really peeved off that he made us strike camp in the middle of the night. Such is life with worrying adults skulking about. The next few pages of the log mentions Patrol and Troop camps at the Stratford Maintain house on Mount Taranaki/Egmont, next to the Tawhiti stream (which it turns out is the overflow of the Nolantown sewer), and Ararata.

Then the log reports on….. the 800 mile bicycle trip with Ivan and Dave. Over a two week period we travelled from Hawera to Wanganui, up the river to Pipiriki, across to Waiouru, up to Taupo, then Rotorua, pause for a week for a Scout gathering to meet Lord Rowellan, World Chief Scout, then across to Hamilton, then down to Waitomo caves, continuing to Mokau, Lepperton and home to Hawera. I have to say we caught rides when it suited us. An old Maori guy in a battered truck gave us a ride from Patea to Wanganui. We had expected to take a river boat from Wanganui to Pipiriki, only to be told that it no longer did the trip, so we took the bus to Pipiriki. It was a winding, grinding unsealed road which took four hours to complete. We camped at Pipiriki and the next day, pushed our bikes 17 miles up one long hill to Raetihi, also unsealed. Not great for bicycle passage but great for the development of character and tired leg muscles. The next day past Ohakune, we arrived at Rangataua and it started to rain so we asked a farmer if we could stay in his barn for the night. He gave us a room in the house where his wife gave us a slapup meal.

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Fortunately, it rained the next day so we stayed on and had three more great meals. I wonder how often that sort of hospitality is offered to strangers these days. The next day we did eleven miles up hill by train. See, we were getting smarter by the day. Then a long bike day along the Desert Road to Lake Taupo where we stayed at a bach for the night. The next day we pushed on to Wairakei where we pitched camp and had swims in a hot pool. At Rotorua we pitched camp at Dickens Motor Camp at Ngongotoha [Ngongotaha]. We had fun in the Blue baths, were intrigued with the Brylcreme dispenser, met a beaut damsel (hubba hubba is recorded), and met Lord Rowellan in a milk bar where it is recorded ‘we shook hands and shared jokes.’ I have no idea what sort of jokes one shares with the World Chief Scout, but there you are, we did it. After the Rotorua visit, we pushed to Hamilton for the night then down to Waitomo Caves where we spent the night in a hostel. The next day, it is recorded, we got our first puncture. The next day we biked to Mokau that is, 75 miles (about 125 kilometers) of hilly country, head wind, driving rain. A lot of character being developed if somewhat wet. We bunked down that night in a bus shelter with a gravel floor and to this day I can describe the experience. The walls didn’t go all the way down to the floor creating ideal conditions for a strong, cold draught. The gravel produced hard, lumpy, cold, unwelcoming feelings. Cooking the dinner on the billy proved unreasonable so the food was mostly raw. The next day continued 70 miles to Lepperton with once again a head wind and driving rain. We felt by this time that we had had our fair share of character development and caught the train the last 50 miles home to Hawera. Three newspapers carried the story, “Four Hawera Boy Scouts Undertake Long Cycle Trip.”

The log then reports on a First Class signaling camp at Hicks’s in the Tongahoe valley, a First Class badge hike, Easter 1949 Troop camp, a tramp on Mount Taranaki over ten miles of alpine track and river bed course, and a one week tramp and holiday in a back country bushman’s hut in Ararata. All in 1949. This was one of my School Certificate years. The log carries on with a range of Scouting and back country tramps and camps through the following years.

1954 announces the first of my Wanganui cruises, a flotilla of canoes of all types on a National Scout expedition. Alan and I had been preparing for twelve months, raising the money, building a canoe, having waterproof fitted bags made so that if we tipped over, all of our gear would remain safe and dry. A party of twenty young men (by this time, I was 22 years old) gathered at Cherry Grove, Taumaranui [Taumarunui],

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preparing to travel 144 miles by canoe, through 239 rapids over eleven days to reach the river city of Wanganui. Phil and I had taken the slow train to Taumaranui where the tour group leader, Jim, met us and took us to the first camp site. Amongst the craft assembled were a 26 foot Maori Dugout, a three man Canadian Rob Roy, and another canoe which was immediately called ‘the Ripper’ on account of it suffering at least three rips a day to its canvas. Of the 239 rapids, we learnt 239 times that a 26 foot Maori Dugout will not ride over the waves, which as a rule are about ten foot apart, but will ride through each wave and will fill with water from the front to the back. Quite commonly the guys in the front will celebrate getting through a rapid, while the paddlers in the back were up to their necks in water. The Canadian Rob Roy, however, was so tippy that of the 239 rapids, it tipped over about 139 times. Phil and l, in HMS Seagull, tipped over once, and that on day five, on rapid 194, the back breaker Autapu. At the end of each days paddling, we would look for a good camp site on the river banks, pull in and make camp. We carried small two man pup tents and cooked everything over open fires.

We operated in three patrols, each with an experienced Patrol Leader, Jim was the Expedition/Troop Leader, and Mike was the Quartermaster in charge of a mountain of stores. We had to carry all of our food for twenty hungry young men for eleven days, plus all of our water. The Taumaranui sewer runoff ran into the Wanganui River so if one accidentally swallowed a teaspoon of water while swimming, there was a good chance of getting bangbang. One of the ten newspapers articles about the trip, reports that the Scout Party painted a flag pole near the confluence of the Ohura and Wanganui Rivers that was erected by Maori at the end of the Hau Hau wars. My log reports, “One bright spot was the case of the Hau Hau totem pole, erected at the beginning of the Maori wars. It is situated at the side of the Ohura River so we undertook to scrape off the moss and paint it with Maori paint – fish oil and red ochre. It was a terrific job and nobody could stand it up the pole for very long. We used leg irons and a rope around our girth. Ian did his spell of ten minutes and at the peak of suffering, shouted down that although Hillary had got knighted for climbing Everest, he hadn’t had to paint the flippin’ thing.” The reporters on hand soon picked that up.

The day before we arrived at Pipiriki, we explored a previously unknown cave. Our Leader Jim, had a copy of an old diary of a Rev. Richard Taylor published in 1921 which described a cave, but whilst we couldn’t find that cave, we found a hole

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in the ground with a steam of water disappearing down it. We climbed fifty feet by rope down the waterfall into a cave fifty yards long and ten foot wide. At the bottom, there was virtually no light and within a few steps, apart from our torches, the only light was glow worms high up on the ceiling. We followed the water to a large pool, dropped down and followed the next waterfall to the Puraroto cave on the bank of the Wanganui River. Whew. After fifty more miles of slogging the last stretch of the river, twenty miles of which is tidal, we were met at Wanganui by the New Zealand Chief Scout, Major-General Lockhart, the Dominion President Mr. Christie and the Taranaki and Wanganui District Commissioners.

The log reports that the following year, l decided to do the Wanganui River again, taking Johny and Stanley along for the trip. As we were about to head off out of Cherry Grove, a chap wandered up and asked if his group could join us as he had promised them a trip down the river and didn’t have a clue or map to know how to go. So our party of Johnny, Stanley, Neville, Trevor, Elaine and Brian Sumbodyorother set off down the river. After two days we sighted another canoe on the bank and they pleaded with us could they join us. So we added Jack and Helaine to the crew. The log reports that at Retaruke over night the local dogs through the night stole our supplies of meat, bacon and bread. We compensated by catching eels every night, chopping up steaks and putting them on the embers then eating them for breakfast. The following year, 1956, I did the trip again with Phil, Les, Mike and Darryl. On this trip the river was in flood about ten foot, it rained the whole time, we caught and cooked and ate a goat. We finished the journey at Pipiriki three days earlier than expected because of the roaring torrents.

The following Easter, l had my final river/canoe trip, this one down the Patea river. Trevor, Phil, Les and l pushed off from Mangamingi, at the back of Stratford. Unlike the Wanganui river which had been previously traveled by steamer and hundreds of canoes, the Patea river was untamed. Our maps showed that from Mangamingi to Patea was only half the distance of the Wanganui but about the same fall of 120 feet. There was very little water at Mangamingi and we had to get out of our canoes at the first few rapids and push them through the shallow rapids. Fortunately all of our canoes were made of plywood. Around the first corner we came upon a wild goose so we gave chase, caught it and stowed it on board for dinner that night. Around the next corner, we came across a gaggle of geese in a fenced paddock, obviously part of a farmers stock. Sorry, head down and paddle like mad.

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The going that day was tough. Log jambs, shallow rapids, hordes of large mosquitoes, sand flies and every other type of flesh eating insect known to man. We made very little progress the first three days and we were starting to panic as the days of Easter were running out. On the fourth day, according to our maps, we were about half way to Patea. We figured out that we were within five miles of the Tongahoe Valley up very steep hills. Above the bush which lined the river, we could see farm tracks. We decided to hide our canoes up in the bush and hike out to civilization and call home for the rescue parents. Fortunately, all of this worked out as planned. About three weekends later was ANZAC weekend, giving us another three days to complete the journey. Which we did arriving at Patea river mouth about midday on the Monday.

This concluded my adventure through the Scouting movement. By this stage I was Assistant Troop Leader but had no wish to carry on to higher office. The lessons I learnt were immeasurable. The major lessons were about leadership and project planning and execution. If I tried to extract all of the things I learnt through my Scouting adventures, it would take a step into the world of theory which is not what this is all about. If I was to quote a subject of one of my research projects, it would be, “I don’t know what l learnt but I use it all the time.”

The keen gymnast

My other great love during my adolescent years and into young manhood was gymnastics. I think it started at Hawera High School with our Physical Education teacher Murial Hughes giving a group of us plenty of encouragement. Murial was the only teacher I remember giving me unqualified encouragement. Every other teacher would give the occasional encouraging word followed immediately with “could do better”

A small group would often stay after school and practise tumbling in the school hall. This before we had a purpose-built gymnasium. I remember taking a flying dive over a row of five chairs onto a roll on the tumbling mats. We would also practise forward somersaults and handsprings on the tumbling mats. We had a horse for vaulting over but I don’t recall any other apparatus.

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I joined the St. Johns Gym Club around 1948 and attended Thursday night gymnastic sessions in the St. Johns Presbyterian hall. The hall was not very large so to get sufficient run to vault the horse, we started the run in the entrance passage. The Gym Club had a horizontal bar made of wood about 6cm thick. This meant you couldn’t get your thumb and fingers spread around it. We also had parallel bars that were as stiff as iron, and swinging Roman Rings. We held camps which included a bit of tumbling and exercise sessions but were mostly loafing about and swimming. About this time, the Danish gym team toured New Zealand and we had a hand in promoting their exhibitions.

In 1951 a party of nine travelled to Wellington to observe the New Zealand Gymnastic Championships held in the YMCA. This was my first experience with a YMCA. The Gym Champs were a big thrill to us all as they were of a standard we hadn’t seen before. At the tail end, when the competition had concluded, a man wandered into the gym, changed down to shorts and singlet, and tried out some of the apparatus. His standard was another higher level again and we wondered who he was. it transpired that he was a Hungarian refugee named Andras Pillich, he had very little English language but was immediately viewed by the Hamilton YMCA as a potential recruit as coach.

Our popularity with the local Hawera public grew year by year as we put on displays of tumbling, speed teams vaulting the horse, novelties such as diving through the flaming hoop and various balancing acts. We had a “Balance Squad” comprising six members who entered walking in a handstand and then did group balance cameos. We put on ten displays in 1953 including two for a Queen Carnival, The A & P Show, the Hawera Progressive Association, the Tawhiti School, The Wesley Sunday School, New Plymouth Girls High School, and the New Plymouth YMCA.

Many of our club members started to make regular visits to Hamilton, partly to receive some coaching from Andras Pillich who was now employed as the gymnastic coach at the Hamilton YMCA, and partly to talk about setting up provincial gymnastic associations from which to build a national organisation. In 1955 the Auckland, Waikato and Taranaki Gymnastic Associations were established. I was elected on to the Executive Committee of the Taranaki Association. The first National Championships were planned for October 1955 to be held in Hamilton. A small group from our club, Trevor, Mike, Darryl, Bill and l started making monthly weekend visits

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to Hamilton, preparing ourselves as contestants in the coming event. Sometimes we travelled by car, sometimes by train. The train left Hawera at around 10pm on the Friday night, and arrived in Hamilton at 4am. Most times, Colin would meet us and we would bunk down on the floor at his place. On one of these occasions, Colin had telephoned the night before to say he was not available and we were on our own. We had thought there would be some type of hotel open at Frankton Junction. When we arrived, there was a taxi at the stand who informed us he didn’t know of any accommodation available at that hour of the night. I asked him to take us to the Police Station. The Duty Sergeant firmly told me that the Police Station was not a flop house and we should ‘move along please sonny. Not to be deterred l pointed out that we had nowhere to move along to and the gym didn’t open until 9am. We needed a bed. I suggested that if we went outside and threw a stone through the window he would be obliged to put us in the cells for the night. He reluctantly agreed to let us spend the rest of the night in the women’s cell on the understanding that we had to be evicted if they had real criminals to hold, and that we had to be out before the next shift took over at 8am. We signed for a thin blanket and were locked in the cell. The graffiti in the women’s cell was so graphic and absorbing, I don’t think we got much sleep, but the education gained was immeasurable. Our gymnastics wasn’t up to scratch that weekend.

About this time, I started experimenting with a couple of horizontal bar tricks that I had seen Tony Curtis do in a movie. The first was then called ‘the Grand Circle’, which amounted to throwing yourself into a handstand on the high bar and going around and around in that position. I was not too sure of the risk involved as I had heard that at the bottom of the swing the pressure on your hands was three times gravitational pull. So I had made arm straps with leather which were then looped around the bar in case of an unexpected exit. It worked fine most times with a lot of grunting, shoving and general muscle action. I learnt later, of course, that using muscles was entirely the wrong way to go about it. The other trick was ‘the Flyaway’. This amounted to throwing almost to a handstand on the high bar, swinging through the bottom and when starting to go up the other side, let go the hands and you would, with a bit of luck fly through the air revolving backwards sufficient to land on your feet. Bravo. I made mistakes in the timing of letting go every now and again. Once I let go too late and somersaulted upward to crack my shins on the bar whilst upside down and eight feet off the ground to land in a heap under the bar on my

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neck. Nasty. Another time in a display in St. Johns Hall I let go a trifle early and shot like a rocket straight for the stage landing with my hands against the stage. Just saved my head by a whisker.

And now, in October 1955, we were about to find out if we were ready for the first New Zealand National Gymnastic Championship. A Youth Team and a Mens Team travelled to Hamilton where the competition was held in the YMCA. We had been practicing compulsory routines on the floor exercise, the parallel bars, the horizontal bar, the rings and the vaulting horse. There were teams competing from Hamilton YMCA, Hamilton Tech, Hawera St. Johns, Auckland, Gisborne and Wellington. All the compulsory routines went well enough. Then each competitor had to perform a routine of ones choice on each piece of apparatus. The Taranaki Herald newspaper reported, ‘HAWERA GYMNASTS RUNNERS-UP TO NATIONAL CHAMPIONS AT HAMILTON. Runners-up to the New Zealand champions, St. Johns Young Mens Gym Club, Hawera, scored well when it sent two teams – D. Oliver, W. Drake and T. Humphrey (senior) and M. Bourke, D. Skiffington, and B. Hedley (junior) to Hamilton to compete in the first New Zealand gymnastic championships. The senior team was second in the overall championship to the winners, Hamilton YMCA, only recently returned from a tour of Australia, and in the individual competition Dennis Oliver won third place followed closely by Trevor Humphrey and Bill Drake in that order.’

I think that accomplishment was the highlight of my gymnastic activities although, I did go on to gain third place in the Mens A Grade Competition the next year, was the New Zealand Chief Judge for Mens Gymnastics for two or three years in the mid 1960s and was the President of the New Zealand Gymnastic Association for one year in the late 1960s. Neither position was comfortable with lots of dissention to cope with. I was also President of the Taranaki Gymnastic Association for about five years from about 1957 on. Somewhere in there, prior to 1956, I set up a Wesley Gym Club and we had about twenty boys who met once a week to try out their stuff. I remember standing at the vaulting horse ready to catch the next kid who was asked to call out what vault he was doing. Billy started running and called out, “I’m doing a fox trot.” Fortunately, just before he sprung into the air, I figured out he meant a ‘Wolf Drop’ and was able to provide the appropriate support. We put on annual displays of the boys gymnastic tricks, much to the delight of crowds of parents.

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A busy social life

All of these activities didn’t leave me much time for what you might call a private life. From around the ages of 16 to 23, the weekly plan of community activities was ; Tuesday night – orchestra practice; Wednesday night – Wesley Gym Club; Thursday night – St. Johns Gym Club; Friday night – work in the grocer shop; Saturday nights -Scouts; Sunday nights – courting; Monday night – resting, drawing strength for the next round. Which brings to mind Mark Twains expression, “Schooling interrupted my education.”

I should perhaps make some mention of my courting activities. I tended to stay with one girlfriend at a time for a year or more until something interrupted our relationship. Take Mary from Manaia for example. I biked to her place pretty well every week for more than a year, but when for about the fiftieth time her father asked if I was ‘saved’, to which I was never quite sure what to answer, I decided to look elsewhere for company. Then I was with Pam from Opunake for a couple of years. Fortunately, by this time I had grown out of the bicycle and was borrowing my father’s car for the 42 kilometre journey. Somewhere in there was Shirley from Stratford.

And then, Johnny and l were sharing a girl who was here on a visit from Australia, Johnny one week and me the next, when her birthday came up on Johnny’s week. “I’ll fix you up with a date,” said Johnny, “and you can bring her to the party.” He said he would pop along to Maypole number 3 on the following Monday morning at 10am as he knew that she walked from the Bank of New South Wales to the cake shop to get the bank staff’s morning tea. This arrangement sounded satisfactory so,… there she was, and,… there I was, and,.. I was smitten. What a warm, sunny smile. What an attractive young woman. I was hooked. I courted Jean from 1953 until we married in June 1956. Jean flatted in town with a girl friend, worked at the Bank of New South Wales and, in the weekends went home to the family farm at the back of Mokoia, about eight miles from Hawera. I travelled many a time out to the farm during weekends and sometimes helped Jean’s father with a bit of farm work.

Don Reisterer was back in Hawera for the farewell of our Methodist Church Minister, Rev. Gordon Hannah. At that time, Don was employed by the National Council of YMCAs of New Zealand as Assistant National Secretary. He overheard

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somebody congratulate me on the 1955 National Gymnastic Championship results and my particular success. He congratulated me and suggested I might be interested in the position of General Secretary of the New Plymouth YMCA which was vacant and which had been vacant for some time. From what I could make out, it involved mostly coaching boys in gymnastics, and conducting summer camps. This was a major crossroads in my life. It would mean a departure from the security and probable promotion in my father’s Maypole Stores, and entering an occupation of my two favorite pursuits, gymnastics and camping. There was a period of consultation with the National YMCA Secretary, George Briggs, a matter of prayer and a lot of heavy thinking. In the long run, I decided in March 1956 to apply for the job. I saw it, in a sense, as a type of Christian mission, as it was part of the effort to keep boys and young men in healthy pursuits, developing character and their leadership potential.

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Chapter two   Enter the New Plymouth YMCA

I drove to New Plymouth and attended the interview held in a poky little room half way between the basement and the public hall of the YWCA in Powderham Street. I think there were six men that interviewed me as I gave my responses to some fairly stupid questions, such as, “How do you make Cocoa for sixty boys at camp?” Other questions were more to the mark such as my skills at coaching, at leading groups and my Christian convictions. They asked me after the interview to wait outside. As I departed and even before the door was closed, I heard Frank ask in a loud voice, “I don’t know what we have to talk about. He is the only one that has applied ” After a couple of minutes, I was asked to enter the room again and was informed I had the job and to start as soon as possible. I gave the date in March that I was available and informed the committee that as l was getting married in June, I would need two weeks leave without pay at that time.

At some time during the interview, the seed was sown that there was a need for the YMCA to obtain its own building as it was at the time renting space at the YWCA. I was to learn later, that the YMCA had historically been formed in New Plymouth as the Boys Work section of the YWCA. It had in the 1940s become a legal entity in its own right, but had never detached its activities from the YWCA building. It had over the previous few years developed a camp site on property leased from the Electric Power Company at the Meeting Of The Waters called Camp Huinga. A lodge with kitchen, an ablution block, and about three small huts had been erected.

I had been told that there were about 200 boys enrolled in gym classes, but they had been in abeyance for several months so it was questionable how many would re-enroll. In the event, just a few over 100 enrolled. For the first time I had a class of five year olds, about twenty little ‘Tiny Ys.’ There were two classes aged up to about ten, a class of eleven to thirteen year old boys, and a dozen or so high school boys, the ‘Hi Y.’ The Hi Y members were also voluntary leaders with the other classes and acted as group leaders with all of the activities. These boys made a contribution probably beyond their understanding, not only to my career responsibilities, but also to the development of the small boys in their charge, and most certainly to their own leadership development. The boys all called me ‘Skip’, carrying on a tradition from previous staff at the New Plymouth YMCA.

I had an office attached to the meeting room halfway down to the basement. The basement of the YWCA was used as a gymnasium but its limited size made it

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unsuitable for a significant range of events. It was approximately twenty metres long and about eight metres wide but its main limitation was in its ceiling height which little more than three metres. That made it hopeless for the horizontal bar, roman rings, fairly tight for the parallel bars, way out of the question for basketball, volleyball or badminton. All of the boys classes were after school except for the Hi-Y which was held on Friday evenings. The boys all paid fees per school term, so for the first couple of weeks I was busy before and after classes receiving the fees, writing receipts, and making out membership cards. This certainly helped me to remember the boys names. Ten years later when I had five hundred boys in gym classes and one hundred and eighty boys at camp, I still knew all their names because of writing the receipts, often addressing an envelope, reinforcing these codes into the memory banks.

Six weeks after I started, I was cleaning out some drawers in the desk, and found some accounts that had been unpaid for three months. They amounted to a total of two hundred and forty pounds. I telephoned the Chairman, Laurie Cooper, and he instructed me to pay the accounts. So I made out the cheques and the Chairman signed them and posted them away. Two days later, the Bank Manager telephoned to say that our account was overdrawn and we should make no further withdrawals until a credit balance was regained. Horror! What about my wage for the next three months?? I relayed this information to the Chairman but he was a bit stunned and offered no suggestions of how the situation could be remedied. Enter the miracle!! The next day, Dan Archibald, Head Gym Master at New Plymouth Boys High School, knocked on my door, asking if I could help at the Boys High each morning in the gym as they had two or three classes at a time and it was too much for one teacher. Dan knew of my association with St. Johns Gym Club in Hawera. He knew I had no formal teaching qualifications but that l was experienced at taking classes in gymnastics and general fitness training. For the next seven years, every week day morning from 8:30am to around 12 noon, I was assistant gym master at New Plymouth Boys High School, and from 1:30pm until 10pm, I performed the duties of the General Secretary of the YMCA of New Plymouth. The money I earned from the Boys High was about five times more per hour what I was paid at the YMCA, but the Boys High paid me no holiday pay or sick leave.

Strange as it may seem, this era was prior to the popularity of wearing track suits in the public arena. So, I changed my clothes, either taking them off or putting

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them on, fourteen times a day. At the start of the day, I took off my pyjamas and put on my street clothes; at the Boys High I took off my street clothes and put on my gym shorts; when finished I took off my gym shorts and put on street clothes; after lunch at the Y I would take off my street clothes and put on my gym shorts; after afternoon classes l would take off my gym shorts and put on my street clothes and go home to dinner; after dinner back at the Y l would take off my street clothes and put on my gym shorts; after gym I would take off my gym shorts and put on my street clothes; finally I would go home take off my street clothes and put on my pyjamas.

Much of the time at the Boys High School, the regular teacher took the lesson, while I helped around the edges getting the slow or reluctant boys involved. There was, however, a succession of regular teachers, some lasting a year or two and others a week or two. Within a couple of years, I took the lessons as often as not. During the summer, we could set a cracking pace. Next to the gymnasium on one side was a sports field, and out the front was the school swimming pool. I would set up an exercise circuit in the gym with about ten different exercise stations. When a class arrived, I would conduct a ten minute warm up session, then the boys would run twice around the sports field, twice around the circuit in the gym, then two lengths of the school pool. Fit boys loved it. The others usually got around the course if somewhat tardily.

Later in my career, probably around 1963, I had five New Zealand Champion sportsmen, who had previously been pupils at New Plymouth Boys High, come back to me for fitness training. I would analyse their sport to figure out the particular type of fitness they needed. They were Kevin Gibbons, pole vaulter; Peter Quin, skier; Brian Purser, badminton; John Dean, cyclist; and Norman Reid, who already had an Olympic Gold Medal for walking, but wanted to get more upper body strength. The type of thing I did could be demonstrated by the action I took with the cyclist, John Dean. I watched him ride a couple of races, and viewed a few films – this was before the days of videos. I noted that in every race, he was right up there with the leading bunch, and in the mad final dash for the line, he would finish behind the others. I put him through a series of exercise tests and noted that his pulling arm muscles were much weaker than his pushing arm muscles. In analysing what is required of the body in the final dash, it is the strength of the arms that allows the rest of the body to furiously pump the pedals. So I put him on an exercise regime that over a few months gained a balance in the strength of the arms, and he started winning races.

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Kevin Gibbons I coached mostly on the rings and the ropes swinging with his hips over his shoulders; Peter Quin I had on the pommel horse getting the idea of a rotational balance between the shoulders and the hips and on the trampoline getting the idea of changing direction whilst in mid-air. It was an interesting period of my gymnastic days.

In the meantime, at the YMCA, we took in a group wanting to do Judo and started the YMCA Judo Club. With our contact with Andra Pillich, we learnt of the German address for Olympic standard gymnastic apparatus, and with the help of George Briggs, National Secretary of the YMCA, we applied for Lottery money and started to import first rate gear. What a difference! Less grunt, more swing. Some of the Hi-Y showed some promise at competition gymnastics, so we gained approval to move our good apparatus to the Boys High gymnasium and held our Friday night Hi- y sessions there. A few years later, two of our previous Hi-Y members, Bryan Jury and Mike Ranger, had achieved such a high standard to be part of a New Zealand team that competed at the World Gymnastic Championships held in Dortmund, Germany.

In June 1956, I married Jean at the Hawera Methodist church. A real knee-knocking event. I don’t know why I was so nervous but I certainly got the shakes. We travelled to Hamilton then Auckland ready for the honeymoon in Fiji. Jean’s father George, had paid for her two sisters to have a school trip to Australia, and had promised Jean an equivalent amount. Jean had earned savings of one hundred pounds, so, with Georges contribution we spent all of Jeans savings on the fortnight in Fiji. We had a week in Suva staying with the family of Gladys March, a school friend of Jeans, and a week at the original Korolevu Beach hotel. Our accommodation was in a thatched bure on the white sand beach next to the coral lagoon. This was the easy way to fall in love with Fiji.

We bought our first house in New Plymouth on Ngamutu Road for 2300 pounds. This was a very modest bungalow with two bedrooms and a very steep footpath accessing from Ngamutu Road. | used 400 pounds of my savings, my father leant[lent] us 1000 pounds and I borrowed 900 from an Insurance Company. Five years later, we sold that house for 2800, quite a good margin in those days. I also spent 400 pounds on a Prefect car, and 100 or so on furniture. We started married life using wooden apple boxes for seats in the kitchen/dining room, and every piece of furniture was as cheap as one could get.

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Back at the YMCA, as each term progressed, the numbers in the classes increased, so that by the end of the year there were 150 boys engaged in Y Gym classes.

Camping for boys

I started to prepare for my first camps at Camp Huinga. That first year, we held two camps, both for boys aged ten to thirteen and we had 24 boys at each camp. Board member Frank had obtained four workmens hut on the cheap from the Army. These were equipped with eight bunks each to accommodate the boys. These huts were so small however, that the floor space between the bunks being no more than two feet, was not sufficient for eight boys to get out of their bunks at the same time. They also had a lot of knot holes in the timber walls. I used to go around the cabins at night to discourage the boys from talking after lights out but, I became wary of this practice after a stream of urine came jetting out of one of the knot holes. He should have gone before he got into bed. Once again, the Hi-Y members were the cabin leaders and Jean was the Camp Cook. One boy, Peter said to her, “What do we call you? Are you the Cookie ?” to which Jean replied, ” I don’t like being labelled like a peanut cookie.” Peter considered this and asked, “Can we call you Peanut?” To which they agreed and from that day forth in excess of 2600 boys who attended one of our camps called Jean ‘Peanut.’

One day, a small boy came up to Jean and said, “I don’t think my mother will let me come back to camp, Peanut.” Jean asked, “Why is that Arthur?” “These boys are teaching me rudeness.” “What on earth are they doing?” asked Jean. “They are jumping out of bed and wriggling with no clothes on.” Jean said she would make sure that horrible and nasty practice was stopped. Arthur came for about ten years to Camp Huinga.

I ran the camp in a somewhat military style with morning inspections, kitchen and ablution block fatigues, lining up outside the cabins and marching into the dining room for meals. We had morning devotions in an outdoor chapel that we built in amongst a group of native trees and a morning sports competition. Over the years we designed and built an obstacle course we called “the commando course. ‘ In the middle of it, after a rope swing over a ditch was an underground tunnel that was a bit of a maze with a few blind alleys. Once you crawled past the first bend, it was absolutely and completely pitch black. We had constructed it by digging trenches,

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then covering them with planks of wood then covering with dirt. Every year, at least one kid would go into total panic at the complete darkness and stand up erupting the covering dirt and planks.

One of the entertaining traditions we developed was that each cabin group sang their own grace as soon as they had their meal and were all present. The words were, “For health and strength a daily food we give the thanks O Lord, For fellowship and all things good we praise thy name O Lord.” Each cabin would try to put it to a different tune. So we heard Hinando’s Hideaway, Rock Island Line, Mary Had a Little Lamb, and many other tunes being distorted to fit the Health and Strength model.

We began lining the walls of the dining room/lodge with 4inch wooden match lining, and pokerworking each boys name and home town onto the wood. Over the years, most of the walls were lined in this way, a living, evolving history of all the boys that attended Camp Huinga. Boys came to Camp Huinga from different areas of Taranaki, many from farming families who were looking for a way to give their boys a break from the farm over the summer school holidays.

My second year as Camp Director at Camp Huinga was a very testing time. A real outright horror. I was hit, as some would say, with a triple whammy. Jean gave birth to our first child Robert, on December 13th 1957. As she was unavailable to cook for camp, I hired a Dutch/Kiwi lady as Camp Cook. On the first night, she became so overly excited at the kids and camp she went into a nervous breakdown. At four o clock in the morning I had to call the doctor who stuck a large needle into her which knocked her out and he carted her off for the duration. I would have to do the cooking and Directing. Whammy One. Jim, my Programme Director, a senior high school student leader, the next night went down with influenza and a temperature of 104 degrees. His parents had gone north on vacation so I had to nurse him, direct the camp and cook. Enter Whammy Three. It rained for ten days without a minutes stop. Forty boys and their cabin leaders for ten days without a skerrick of support. The kids and the leaders were wonderful. Entertained themselves, invented indoor competitions, quizzes, games and ran the whole show while I cooked and nursed Jim through the term of the camp.

The numbers attending Camp Huinga increased by almost fifty percent each of the first few years until we were conducting three camps each of ten days for sixty boys at a time. The Cabin Leaders started to be drawn from those boys who had attended as campers for several years. The need for the Leaders to have a camp for

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themselves without younger charges to absorb their interests became obvious. I approached the New Plymouth Lions Club for funds, searched and found a site within the Egmont National Park where the Waiweranui Stream flowed from the Parks boundary into farmland above Okato. It took a couple of years work, but the funds were found and the lodge constructed with about sixteen bunks. Most of the Leaders would do a ten day duty at Camp Huinga and then attend a two week camp at Waiweranui. Things were fairly basic there. Much of the cooking over an open fire; a pit-dug toilet in the bush; down to the river for water for cooking and downstream for washing. The morning body wash tended to be somewhat spartan with the water not too far from the snow and ice. The hikes were tough, all uphill on the way out but fortunately downhill on the way home. A hike to Bells Falls took three to four hours and a climb of about three thousand feet.

I employed a Camp Director to oversee Camp Huinga and Directed Camp Waiweranui myself with an experienced mountaineer as Assistant. The difference in rigour between the ‘kids stuff’ of Camp Huinga and the rugged survival mode of Camp Waiweranui became obvious before long.

Then, the Egmont National Park Board advertised the availability of the North Egmont Chalet to any community group willing to keep open the public tearooms. I put the proposition to the Board of Directors that we take a lease on the property, conduct junior adventure camps for 13 and 14 year old boys, twenty four at a time, plus group leaders, which we did. We advertised in the local newspapers for anyone, probably retired, willing to operate the tearooms at their own risk and reward, to live accommodation rent free at the Chalet, paying only for their use of electricity. A very interesting assortment of chalet tearoom managers operated the chalet for the next several years.

Jean and I, and by this time three children, Robert, Richard and Shelley, together with Samantha the dog, Viti the cat, and a whole bunch of household and personal things, would load up the station wagon the day after Christmas, and make the chalet our home until the end of January.

We operated two camps a year, a fortnight each. I would keep in touch with Camp Huinga by telephone and Camp Waiweranui by CB radio through a relay station, and once a week got in the car and visited each camp whilst the Camp Challenge programme at North Egmont was run by my Deputy Camp Director. By this stage we had over three hundred boys through our camps every January. We

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conducted Leadership Training camps once or twice a year for the cabin and group leaders.

After my trip to USA in 1969, we also conducted day camps from the stadium in New Plymouth for boys and girls six to eight years of age taking the total of campers each summer holidays to over 480 happy campers. I loved visiting the day camps on their last night when forty little kids with their group leaders and their Camp Director in their hired bus would set up camp on the banks of a stream down on a beach, make sleeping tents out of plastic sheets, cook their sausages and potatoes over an open fire and spend the night camping out under the stars. What an adventure.

This arrangement of four camp locations gave a wonderful progression of development of each individual child. Later, we developed the skills to help each individual camper set personal growth goals for their target in camp. I believe the character dimension in camping is a potential development experience difficult to match.

Camp Challenge at the North Egmont Chalet opened up the possibility of significant outdoor experiences. Each camp had an overnight camp out in the original rain forest following some off-track expeditions. Some of these followed natural terrain and some used map and compass methods. Then each camp of 24 boys and their leaders would complete a one day climb to the summit of the mountain. This was a tough exercise and required strong climbers in muscle and wind and good mountain leadership. The critically important leadership skill was being prepared to turn back when the environment presented too many potential risks. Over several seasons I climbed to the summit thirteen times and took my sons Robert and Richard when they were around eight and ten years of age. Our dog Samantha followed one of the leaders who was on a private climb to the summit. Samantha had to be put into the haversack to be brought down and the next day her legs were stiff rigid. She had to be helped to lie down as her legs poked out as she lay on her side.

One of the interesting side benefits of this move to use Mount Egmont with two camp locations was our increase in a cadre of useful group leaders with mountaineering skills. Some joined as members the North Egmont Alpine Club but found that many of their expeditions were a bit more expensive and extensive than our school boys could afford. So we formed our own YMCA Tramping Club. Those leaders who had left school took the positions of club officers and they planned a

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year of activities around all areas of Egmont. Our club was coached by Dave Rawson, a very experienced mountaineer and local coordinator of Search and Rescue. Not long after our club was formed, a party of girls from New Plymouth Girls High School became overdue and were notified as lost on Egmont. Dave swung into gear around midnight and sent several experienced search and rescue teams into various possible routes the girls might have taken. Dave considered our boys the most skilled at off-track maneuvering so sent our team down some ridges in case the girls had wandered off the track. All groups carried CB radios, first aid kits, water and hypothermia rescue kits. At about three in the morning the signal went out, the YMCA boys have found the missing girls party and are bringing them out. What a proud bunch of YMCA Tramping Club members we had. The newspaper headlines made great reading to a lot of mothers, proud of their boys. There had been more people killed, at that stage, than any other mountain in the southern hemisphere through foolhardiness and misadventure.

Highlights of the growing gym classes

Meanwhile, back in New Plymouth, our gym classes for boys were increasing in numbers year by year. When our numbers reached 250 we moved out of the YWCA and relocated to the A & P Society hall, next to the Army Hall. There we had bigger space and a much dirtier floor. | used to clean the floor with kerosene and sawdust, and every day of every week hundreds of small boys would come to YMCA in nice white shorts and leave in grubby brown gym gear. They certainly had very diligent mothers. And still they came. The numbers grew to 500 and I employed an Assistant who helped out with the classes.

In the early days, the Hi-Y practised a range of activities preparing themselves for the Older Boys National Tournament. Each August school holidays I took a team of six boys to Wellington, Christchurch and other YMCA centres where they would compete and meet with boys from eight or nine other YMCAs. The tournament included inter team contests in gymnastics, volley ball, basketball, table tennis, relays, impromptu speeches, prepared speeches, and scripture reading. The boy who won the scripture reading would give the reading at the church service on the final Sunday. All the boys were billeted out by host families for the duration of the

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tournament. It was a grand way of building the national identity of the YMCA from the ground up.

Locally, the YMCA held Father and Son Banquets in the A & P hall for 400 boys and dads. Magnus Hughson, our YMCA President described the peas pie and puds meal as ‘a sumptuous feast’, much to the delight of the Ladies Auxiliary. Mind you it was followed by jelly and ice cream.

The Ladies Auxiliary was one of the treasures I inherited from the previous regime in 1956. Shortly after beginning the job on a visit to Hawera I mentioned of our need to raise funds. My father mentioned that it was extremely hard to obtain pickled onions and maybe that was something the ladies might like to do. The Ladies Auxiliary agreed to the idea, so…I ordered half a ton of pickling onions, a barrel of vinegar, a pound or two of pickling spices, brown sugar and several cartons of jars with tops. We had labels printed, and the ladies went out to Camp Huinga during each day for a week. After the first day, most of them wore under water goggles while they peeled the onions. I think we made a profit of 100 pounds, equivalent to one eighth of a mans annual salary. Not too bad for a first effort.

The end of the year demonstration of all of our gym classes became a major production. We called it ‘Gym Frolics’ after the Nelson YMCAs display. I wrote the words to a marching tune for all the boys to enter on stage, and imported some major artists from other centres to give a bit of dazzle. John McCready from the hut was the outstanding tumbler, Alex McNabb the marvel on the high bar, John Sandos the vault and parallel bar exponent.

We would hire the Army Hall, bring in tiered wooden seating for one thousand spectators and fill the hall with gymnastic demonstrations by every boy in the Y and their parents and supporters.

Baldy Reilly would bring the house down with his strong man displays. “Ripping the telephone directory”, Baldy would announce waving a directory around. Problem was, as he put it on the bench to flex his muscles, it fell in half. He had cooked it in the oven too long. Then “Smashing the rock on my chest.” He lay down in the middle of the floor, an anvil was placed on his chest, a rock half the size of a man‘s head placed on the anvil, and his brother swung at the rock with a sledge hammer. The first rock bounced still intact in one piece straight onto his face. Spitting out a couple of teeth, not to be outdone, another rock was brought forth. This one

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smashed into a million pieces driving rock shrapnel into Baldies hair, nose and any other orifices within range.

But the highlight of the show, year after year, was the Hi-Y doing the four-storey skeleton to ‘dem dry bones.’ The boys would be wearing black track suits and stitched to their suits various painted parts of the human skeleton. The “feet” would come out and take their place; the lower leg stand over them; then the upper leg would get on the back of the lower; the back bone was one boy standing on those shoulders; the arms came in on the side; then the smallest boy would climb up the wobbly pyramid to place the head up on its place. Then the lights were extinguished and lo and behold, the whole skeleton was luminous. Under rapturous applause the skeleton pyramid would collapse and scuttle off to the changing room. One year, I had the gall to say to the skeleton when it was fully erected to turn around so that everyone could see. And it did. What constantly amazed us was whilst we never got it all up in rehearsal, not once, we got it up on the night on show, every time.

After a number of years packing out the Army Hall with the incredibly hard work of getting trucks, trucking the seats, erecting them, disassembling them the next morning and returning them, we decided to change venues. So for a couple of years, we hired the Opera House. This cured the seating problem, but the smallness of the stage led to a restructured show. It didn’t have the circus ring atmosphere of the Army Hall but it still gave every boy his time in lights.

Fund raising stunts

Every year I ran a stunt for fund raising and could usually manage to raise equivalent to my salary. One year we held a Walkathon from New Plymouth to Waitara. There were hundreds walking, men, women, children, and pick of the bunch, Norman Kirk, Prime Minister of New Zealand. His presence was a magnet, such a popular leader of the country.

A couple of years we ran Baby Photo contests. We made this arrangement with a local photo studio who would take babies photos for no charge for the contest. Bunches of babies about thirty at a time were displayed on a board in a shop window for a week with a battery of jars out the front, all numbered. Shoppers were then urged to vote for their favourite baby, one penny a vote. The top five from each week would go into the semi-finals. We had over 350 babies one year. By the time we had got through the heats and into the semifinals things were getting really serious. When

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we took the jars into the shop each Friday night to count each jar and place the results on a board, the crowds had gathered to make sure their baby was going into the final. On the final night of the final, there were twenty babies and the tension was tangible. One could see in some of the jars one hundred pound notes, blatantly trying to scare off the opposition. There were also jars with one folded envelope inside and no one could guess what it contained. One of them contained an open cheque with a note that said, ‘Make out this cheque to any sum to make this baby win. ‘We didn’t give in to those tactics. All this carry-on while I continued to conduct gym classes, hold committee meetings and write reports for the Board of Directors.

When we had flogged the baby photo contests to death, we tried Teen Photo contests, but they didn’t do as well. All of these fund raising stunts took a lot of energy but they also showed the public a couple of things. Firstly, it showed we were prepared to work for our funds. And secondly, these stunts put the YMCA firmly in the popular public arena. Everybody was talking about these fund raising stunts and everybody was talking about the YMCA.

Raising the funds for a home for the YMCA

The big job that needed to be done with the New Plymouth YMCA, was finding a site on which to establish a centre, deciding what the form of that centre would be, and then raising the funds and contracting a construction firm to create it.

Finding the site was not an easy task. The first site we found was in St. Aubyn Street. It was about half an acre in area and enquiries we made at the City Council indicated we could build on sixty percent of the area. Our thinking was relatively modest as people thought of the YMCA as those few small boys groups in the basement of the YWCA. We had draft plans drawn up for a modest gymnasium and some meeting rooms and submitted them to Council. We had bought the property with grants from charitable trusts, my first foray into this rich pasture, and submitted the draft plans to the City Council. Our plans were rejected as we had misunderstood the amount of land we could cover with buildings. This saved the New Plymouth YMCA from a fate of a very small centre.

Two other things were happening at the same time. Jean was working for the Wells Organisation, the capital fundraising institute, down at the offices of the local Anglican Church. I volunteered to help and also be a canvasser collecting pledges

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from parishioners, provided I was allowed to learn all the secrets of the system. Turns out, the Wells Organisation was the brainchild of Colonel Wells, a YMCA Campaign Manager from USA. He had learnt the system from the YMCA in the States. We had set up a Campaign Committee and then…..Arnold Nordmeyer delivered his Black Budget and the country went into doom and suffering. We were stuffed on two counts, dough and land. The year of 1957 was a write off for future planning.

One thing my mother taught me was, ‘When you get confronted with a problem, you have two options; let the problem beat you, or you beat the problem. The decision is in your head.‘ We licked our wounds for a year or so, still taking the expanding gym classes, shifting venues, building camps, and looking around for another site, big enough to take our growing organization.

And then we found a site that on the map looked like a couple of acres; down on the sea front, on the area of land immediately behind the Army Hall. It was covered in lupin that was head high so it was difficult to get a real overall look at the property. We set up a new Campaign Committee and asked a friend with a bulldozer to clear the site. When it was cleared it was obvious there was nothing like two acres there. Maybe half an acre. When we looked again at the maps, there was not any evidence of a sea wall which had obviously been constructed since to stop the erosion. More weeping and gnashing of teeth. The committee self-disbanded.

Over this period the membership of the Board of Directors kept changing and every few years I would get a new President. I was the thing sticking to the job in hand until it was done.

And then Magnus Hughson was elected President. As Managing Director of one of the largest shops in New Plymouth, our thinking became realistic but grand. We heard about a piece of land held by the Ministry of Education between Leach and Lemon Streets that would be a good location. It had a stream flowing through the middle of it and was somewhat swampy, but it was at least a couple of acres and in a handy location to town, directly opposite the City Council offices. Magnus and I visited the local Education offices and were told that whilst there were no plans to use the property, the Ministry almost never released land from its ownership. We arranged through the local Member of Parliament to fly to Wellington to put our request to the Minister of Education. We met with the Minister and put our case. He explained that if he agreed with our request, the idea of releasing it would have to be notified through the Government Gazette, and any other government department

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could ask for the land. Following a wait for three months, we were informed that the land was available to the YMCA. This was real progress.

I had been visiting other indoor sports stadiums around New Zealand and, with the support of other YMCA people from around New Zealand, and considering the facilities that New Plymouth did not have but wanted, the building design was falling into shape.

Once more a Campaign Committee was set up, this time with Denny Sutherland as the Campaign Chairman. His natural enthusiasm became a winning ingredient.

The first group to offer their help was the Jaycees. They had done some thinking and considered that the best that we could expect New Plymouth people to give would average two shillings per household which would total twelve thousand pounds. This was 1967 prior to the change to decimal currency.

I had developed pledge cards for every prospective donors which included all New Plymouth business firms, all professional offices, and all parents of boys attending gym classes. We had a small select committee go through the cards and each one in a box representing various levels of giving ranging from five pounds a year for three years, to one hundred pounds or more a year. We were hoping for three or four at one thousand pounds and about eight at five hundred pounds. We tried a few out as samplers which gave us a calculated guess at our potential strike rate. By totalling the cards and taking a medium strike rate, a piece of information I kept to myself, I figured we should go for a target of forty thousand pounds. Goodbye Jaycees.

The reason I kept the calculations to myself was, if every canvasser looked at a prospects card and thought he only had to get fifty percent of the suggestion for that person, we would only get fifty percent of fifty percent.

Then the Rotary Club offered to help. They said that in the one hundred year history of the city of New Plymouth, no organization had raised more than twenty thousand pounds. They considered it would be presumptuous of the YMCA to think they could do more. I argued fairly strenuously for a higher target without showing my cards, and got the target bumped up to twenty five thousand pounds.

We had recruited teams of canvassers for professionals, businesses and parents. We had a brochure printed and held a couple of training sessions. When we advised that it was necessary for canvassers to pledge their own gift first and that

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their generosity would influence the generosity of others, we had a dozen or so pull out. I had told the Campaign Committee that the pledge from Jean and me would be twenty five pounds a year for three years. At that point, we had a couple of resignations from the Board of Directors. Apparently they had thought things were going to be cheaper than that. That equated to about one weeks wages.

The Grand Opening was held with the one hundred canvassers and a score or so of “significant people around town,” a dinner and plenty of rousing speeches from Magnus and Denny. Report meetings were to be held three times a week for three weeks with each Team Leader bringing the pledges signed up for recording on the Report Board. By the end of the second week we had reached the target of twenty five thousand pounds and the going started to get a little sluggish. Week three took the pledges reported to thirty three thousand pounds, an unheard of success in the history of New Plymouth. And there it stuck.

So we approached an architect and asked him to draw up the plans for the indoor stadium we had in mind. As most of the money was coming in over a two year period, we had that time to clear the land, prepare the plans and make enquiries of other centres best practices. As the end of the first year approached, we asked the architect to call tenders to test the waters. When the tenders were in, the newspapers billboards read, ‘YMCA TENDERS 25000 pounds TOO HIGH.’ This was a major blow below the belt. But, after a decent period of gnashing of teeth we regrouped our resources. The two major responses were to negotiate with the lowest tender what could reasonably be left over for a stage two, and we considered another campaign to raise capital funds or capital ‘gifts in kind.’ Large gifts were received for all the outdoor work.

Fill was placed to the Liardet Street boundary without charge, kerbing and channelling was completed and tar seal laid at nominal cost. Some extra funds were raised and a mortgage negotiated with the Bank. The contract was let and construction began.

On March 11th, 1967, the headlines of the Taranaki Herald newspaper announced, “NEW YMCA SPORTS STADIUM OPENS IN NEW PLYMOUTH TOMORROW.” The articles under that headline told the story, “HOW THE IMPOSSIBLE WAS ACHIEVED”. Some four years ago a small body of men met to give consideration to the erection of a home for the YMCA in New Plymouth. With a section of land too small to build on and carrying a heavy mortgage, plus sufficient

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money only enough to cover running expenses, the outlook looked bleak. Tomorrow, four years later there will be opened a stadium which with the 2 ½ acres on which it stands will cost 94,000 pounds. Citizens and business firms have contributed 50,000 pounds, the Government has contributed 25,000 pounds, and the balance was advanced by the Taranaki Savings Bank as a mortgage.”

The next couple of years were very hard work raising the money to operate all the programmes and pay off the regular commitments on the mortgage. In spite of the struggle, we stayed on top and paid our dues. We now had the indoor sports stadium, facilities at Camp Huinga, and Camp Waiweranui, and the North Egmont Chalet from which to run a host of programmes for young and old. And yet my permanent staff was only a secretary, a programme director and a part-time cleaner. Other staff were hired on short contracts as needed.

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Chapter Three   Expanding my professional self

Over the years, the only means of furthering my professional development was the annual conference of the AOS, the Association Of Secretaries. Most of these YMCA Secretaries, as we were then called, had been in the movement since boyhood, and had been in their YMCA career for several years. The YMCA buildings throughout the country with the gymnasium and meeting rooms were similar with a hostel added in the main centres. I learnt much of my craft by listening to these old professionals, by observing their centres at Older Boys Tournaments and Gymnastic Competitions and the like. Occasionally, George Briggs organized special training seminars, such as the visit by Professor Steinhouse from Springfield College.

Then around about 1968, Peter Darracott, Assistant National Secretary, organized a ten day professional development course in Social Group Work. That course ‘turned on a light’ for me. It clarified for me a truth that was beginning to emerge, that it was not the sport or activity that was the sole medium of the development of the person, but more importantly, the values and the nature of the relationship with the coach, the helper and the leader.

With the big challenges in New Plymouth largely under my belt, plans were made by the National Secretary for me to have a significant professional development boost. By 1969 I had given thirteen years service to the YMCA and it was arranged that I have four months with the YMCA in the USA learning about camping programmes in Los Angeles and studying for one semester at Springfield College, Massachusetts.

Looking back, I can see it was a big ask to leave Jean at home with the three kids while I went off to USA to drink from the fountain of adventure and development, so to speak. She responded to a request through the church and took in as a boarder John Hickey from the Solomon Islands. John was wonderful with the kids and helped Jean with domestic duties for the four months.

I flew out of New Zealand on August 1st 1969, arriving in Los Angeles nine hours before I took off. As you do. Flying against the rotation of the earth.

I was hosted for the next six weeks by Dean and Nancy Maxson at South Pasadena, L.A. Dean was Executive Director of Camping of the Metro YMCA of Los

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Angeles. They operated seven camp sites which were used by the Metro Y’s 28 L. A. Branches. About 20,000 happy campers enjoyed a holiday at one of the camps through the year. Each camp site had a sizeable staff, some year-round and others seasonal. For example, Camp Whittle employed a Camp Manager, Camp Nurse, Swimming Pool Manager, Horse Manager, Craft Room Manager, Nature Study Manager, three cooks, two washers, Archery Manager, and Boating Manager. Each troop of campers bought in their own Camp director, Programme Director, Cabin Counsellors and probably others. Didn’t seem very much like Camp Huinga where it was basically Jean, me and a bunch of kids, leaders and all.

I went up to Camp Whittle in the San Bernardino Mountains in my first week and confirmed, yes this was different to Camp Huinga. I went up with the West Valley YMCA, 120 boys aged eleven to thirteen. The Cabin Leaders were mostly 16 to 18 years old. My journal reports, “With 38 staff to 120 boys the radio is nearly 1 to 3. In spite of this I find the camp less organized and more of a shambles than ours at say 1 to 8. This is probably due to the loud extrovertedness of most American boys. They are all chiefs and no Indians. The boys are pampered. About six cabin groups slept out last night a quarter of a mile down the road at a public camp site and they were taken down by a truck. The cookout was a shambles with everyone crowded around one fire stabbing frankfurters on specially prepared and delivered roasting irons.” This was definitely different to Camp Huinga. You bet. The next day, most cabin groups were going on a two mile hike, and just as the staff were going to bed, the Camp Director remembered the boys lunch was not prepared. So all the staff went back to the dining room and made sandwiches into 120 little packs. Crickey Dick, at Camp Huinga we slapped the bread and fillings on the table and told each boy to make his own lunch.

In spite of the obvious differences, Camp Whittle was a great experience for every boy, and there were many features I appreciated. The Raggers Society was an interesting series of personal pledges aimed at shaping boys towards becoming useful citizens and community contributors. The excellence of the facilities and programmes, for example horses and boats, gave me ideas which many years later I could put into the New Zealand camp setting.

I visited some day camps where 6 and 7 year old campers were doing crafts, exploring rock pools and sleeping out. I took this idea back to New Zealand which broadened the camping experience for Kiwi Kids.

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And then I had a week with a group of 27 West Valley boys aged 15 and 16 with three leaders across the Mojave Desert and up the High Sierras. We hiked two miles up from base camp and slept in tube tents under Ponderosa pines next to Kings Creek. The boys were content to laze around and fish for the next three days, but I had bought a map on the way in and decided to explore. Laurie Beymer, the Camp Director and I with two boys hiked to Fern Lake at about 9000 ft elevation which a slope of snow on one side edged into the water. I took my clothes off, as one does, and plunged into the lake for a few quick strokes. The others watched, slightly stunned. One boy stripped to his undies but didn’t get all the way in to the water. I soon dried off in the sun on a big rock.

Our caravan camp, which is what they called it, was mobile. We travelled in a big truck which had partly opened sides which could be covered with canvas and mattresses over the entire floor. The boys and the leaders could sit, stand, lie down, sleep or gaze at the scenery. Across the desert we played cards. On the way home we stopped off for a day at Mammoth Mountain, rode the gondola to the top at 11,053 feet with absolutely breathtaking panoramic views. The next day we visited Bodie, an old ghost town which had a gold mine in the 1870s.

In between the various camp experiences, I had a social life in the company of YM staff. I had my birthday at Westchester YMCA where the staff sang the ritual song and presented me with a birthday cake candles alight. It was the first time that I struck candles that wouldn’t blow out. The journal records me going to Disneyland on August 25th with Larry and Terry Judd and Pam Maxson. Had the time of our lives from 11:30am to 10pm. Saw the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Ghost House, It’s A Small World, rode bobsledge down the Matterhorn, had A Trip to The Moon and experienced Beautiful America.

I had an interesting day with Norm Judd, Deans brother-in-law comparing incomes and life styles. Norm was a Captain in the LA. Police and on a salary of $US8000, the US average wage. My wage was $N23000, the New Zealand average wage. We found we had almost identical life styles – houses, mortgages, food on the table, kids in school, holiday expectations etc. While many day to day things appeared cheaper in the States, Norm spent $1000 on health insurance, on which I spent nothing, and $1000 on Property tax, on which I spent $40 on rates.

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I spent several weekends at Newport Beach with Ken and Myrna Vogt. Ken was the Executive Director of Personnel Development for Metro Y LA. With 150 on LA., Metro staff, he had a prime responsibility for their professional development.

Towards the end of August, Dean and his son Ron and I, motored over the Mojave Desert to Blythe on the Arizona border on the banks of the Colorado River. After sleeping in the back of the station wagon, we arose at 5am for Dean and Ron to do some dove shooting. Within a couple of hours Dean had bagged his limit of ten. We retreated to the river with a six pack each as the temperature was 110 degrees, hot and desert dry.

Back in LA, I was taken to the Huntington Memorial Library in which are hung many original painting by Reynolds, Gainsborough and Constable. Ken and Dean and I went to Ruben E Lees Riverboat restaurant one evening.

My final experience with the L.A. Y was from September 8th to 10th at a Leadership Development Camp at Camp Whittle. The Camp was co-directed by Ken Vogt and Don Hayward, the Program Director for Metro YMCA and took the form of a Sensitivity Training experience. This was the original touchy-feely let-it-all-hang-out experience. I got a lot of value of the insights I shared with my training group even though I found it extremely uncomfortable and emotionally exhausting. All the rest of the group could cry their boots off whilst I found it very difficult to express my feelings. I recognized that at times I cracked a joke to defuse the tension instead of working through it. I thought this was something we should learn in New Zealand as we were too ‘tough’ and weren’t honest with our feelings. Months later in New Zealand I tried to introduce the National YMCA to the idea but was blocked as they considered it too risky. Later in Fiji, I completed training as a T Group Trainer and have blended some of the concepts into other training packages.

I flew to New York, took the bus to the city, then taxi to Grand Central YMCA where they gave me a room for the night. A guy from the Y, Bob Meloy gave me the city tour which included the United Nations, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Times Square, and Central Park, took the Manhattan ferry to pass the Statue of Liberty, Greenwich Village and finished with a steak for dinner at Mr. Richards. The next day I caught a flight to Springfield where I was enrolled as an International student at Springfield College. This is a YMCA College at which the game of basketball was invented.

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I shared a house with three other international students, Liang theon-Chong from Malaysia, Yoshimiri Kinji from Japan, and a few days later, John Talbot from Canada. l was at Springfield College for a semester which ran from September 14th to November 16th. I attended classes in The Principals and Practice of Group Work, Juvenile Delinquency, lntergroup Relations (the study of prejudice), and a real woolly one called Cultural Foundation For Community Development.

It was not long before I found myself one of the natural class leaders at the Group Work classes. The penny dropped with a resounding clang when I found out all the other students, all adults and from several different countries, already had a Bachelor Degree and were doing their Masters. This liberating thought germinated in my brain for a couple of years to the point where I was confident to enrol in a university course – which became a habit for thirty years. More fascinating news later on this topic.

My time at Springfield College was sprinkled with events with a host of international students from Canada, Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong, Columbia, India, Sri Lanka, Hawaii and USA. Many events revolved around feasts of exotic food.

There was a lot of squeaking in the attic above my bed, so Kinji and Liang and I tackled the problem by eliminating a nest of baby squirrels. Kinji did the darstly deed. The next day we discovered one baby squirrel that had somehow escaped the fate of his brothers so we put him on the back lawn in the expectation that his mother would collect him. The next day, he was still there, so we took him in, fed him milk with an eye dropper and ground up some peanuts. The squirrel, now named ‘Squeak’, was put in the bathroom, because it was warm and out of earshot of our bedrooms, in a shoebox, on the toilet water cistern. That night, Squeak squeaked his lungs out until we dashed to the rescue. He had got too active in the night and launched himself into the toilet. So he then shared my bedroom, usually in between the blankets on my bed. Feeding Squeak with nuts and other food became a thrice daily ritual. He spent many an hour perched on my shoulder while I studied my text books. Almost two months later, we took Squeak outside and introduced him to a real tree. He took off and climbed himself crazy. Then, he liberated himself and only popped back home every other day to augment his menu and satisfy his craving for peanuts.

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Of the various courses I was taking, Intergroup Relations was the most dynamic. This apparently, was the first time a college level course was offered on “The Nature Of Prejudice” and with 130 attending lectures including about 20 Afro Americans, then called “Blacks”, the air fairly crackled with the electricity in the air.

I had two weekends away with Liang, one to New York where we did all the tourist things, including the various book stalls, and one to Montreal where we did likewise. I should mention that Liang was a Chinese Malaysian, had been through a marriage ceremony in Hong Kong but had not consummated it. This stunt was done so that his ‘wife’ could be brought to USA if he got residency, but could be easily released it that was the best option. However, this predicament made Liang incredibly randy; he had a license to do it but not the opportunity. He was constantly looking for a woman to deliver on the unfulfilled promise. We were chatted up by a couple of likely lookers in a night club in Montreal, but they spoke only in French, to which Liang replied enthusiastically ‘YES’ in English. In the course of the conversation, Liang borrowed from me my last $100 towards buying a bottle of wine, to which he generously said, “Keep the change.” When we had finished the bottle, the girls moved on, Liang broke down in tears, and I took him by the hand, returned him to our accommodation at the YMCA and tucked him sobbing in his bed.

Kinji and I had a weekend at a YMCA camp, Camp Beckett in the Berkshires. What an amazing sunburst of colour with the birch, beech and maple trees glowing in their fall spectacular, reds, oranges and gold. This was a 450 acre YMCA camp with its own private lake. Another weekend jaunt was made to Boston, Salem and Plymouth. But, the real story was the civil protest movement with the anti Vietnam War protests. This was 1969, the year of the Revolutions in the USA. The Sexual Revolution, the Race Revolution, and the Peace Revolution.

The National Anti Vietnam War Committee had called for rolling protests throughout the States, multiplying in strength each month. On October 15th, 14 people were arrested in downtown Springfield for civil disobedience. The Mayor slapped on a three night curfew from 9pm to 6 am. This was an invitation to dance. The next night, 29 people were arrested. This is a university town. The third night I couldn’t get to sleep with the sound of police sirens screaming all hours.

The National organisers called for a March For Peace on Washington on November 15th. Kinji wanted to go to see how the American authorities treated the

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protesters. In Japan, the authorities were brutal with protestors. So we enrolled with groups going from Springfield College. My journal reports from Friday 14th November; “Left at midnight for the March for Peace in Washington. Travelled until 8 am. Our bus was one of 3000 buses – man, what crowds in the cafeterias. Most impressed with the moral motivation of the young people on the bus, personified by Steve the leader. He was about 22 years old, long but tidy hair, mustachio, emanates peace. We were given telephone numbers for legal aid and medical aid and told drill to combat violence through non-violent methods. If radicals shout derogatory things, like ‘Pig, pig, pig,’ we would drown them by shouting “Peace now.” If someone threw a stone we were to sit down to expose the thrower. A quiet air of purpose and dedication permeated. The next day, Saturday 15th November 1969 was the day. We moved from where our bus was parked, after closely noting where it was parked in relation to the other 2999 buses, and walked about three miles to the rallying point, just below the State House. There we waited from about 9:30 till 10:20 and were addressed by Senator McCarthy and other speakers. The, following twenty empty coffins representing the almost 300,000 people killed in Vietnam the half million people marched from 4th Street and up Pennsylvania Avenue. It was fantastic. Every hundred yards or so a young woman sat on her boy friends shoulders to take a few photos. As far as the eye could see down to the size of a pin head, people, people, people. All sizes, all colours, all ages. One purpose. At the sides of the procession looking on stood armed soldiers of the National Guard. Then assembled on the National Memorial Hill, the multitude listened to various speakers and singers. One of the speakers mentioned the fiasco at the Democratic Convention and invited people down to the Justice Department to protest their case. I said to Kinji that that was one place we would avoid. I witnessed the drill of ‘Peace now’ as it drowned out a rowdy group that supported the Viet Cong. Later, Kinji and I visited the Lincoln Memorial and the State Art Gallery. The temperature outside was freezing but the Art Gallery was warm. It was packed with young people sitting, lying everywhere. Then we went up town and had dinner at 4:30pm. At 5:10 we were returning to the Art Gallery when we came into a crowd of 5000 or so. It was the Justice Department, the place we wanted to avoid. And then, one person threw a rock at the apparently empty building. Suddenly, every window and door sprung open and at each one was a National Guard armed and ready. Bang, bang, bang and we all fell to the ground. Then the tear gas started to hit us. Kinji said he couldn’t see and rubbed his eyes. I took his

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hand and ran at right angle then upwind to get away from the gas. A number of people were arrested, perhaps fifty or so. We made our way back to the bus and left Washington at 8pm. We arrived home at Springfield College at 8am on the Sunday.

There was a personal consequence to this grand adventure which struck me when l returned to New Zealand. I had been taking several newspapers in Springfield as part of my course on Juvenile Delinquency. Most of them downplayed the number in the March from half a million to 100,000 and exaggerated the number that protested at the Justice Department from 5,000 to 20,000. Their headlines said, ‘Ugly mob storms Justice Department.’ Only the New York Times told the truth without blemishes, the correct figures, the correct tone. So I wrote an article that told the true picture which was published in the Taranaki Herald and the New Zealand Methodist. On my return to New Plymouth, a group of Board members called me to a special meeting, said that my Communist leanings had been noted and that I was expressly forbidden to speak to any groups about my Washington experience. I was officially censored.

I was very angry at this myopic interpretation of my values. As it turned out only the Anglican Womens Fellowship invited me to talk about my experiences, so l did, without consequence.

However, the day after returning from Washington, I flew to Buffalo to have a couple of days, saw the moonwalk live on television, visited the Niagara Falls and then on November 19th flew back to Los Angeles to be met by Dean. And then, hip hip hooray, Jean and her mother arrived having had a weeks tour up to Seattle and San Fransisco. Jeans father, George, had always wanted to do some overseas travel but had left it a bit late with his unsettled health. So he had told Jean to take her mother and go and meet Den. Which she did. We had a week in LA. doing all the tourist things, staying most of the time at Ken and Myrnas house at New Port Beach. Jean and I went to the Aquarius Theatre and saw the musical “Hair.” Wow. My journal says,” What a play! A very meaningful part of the revolution. We were shocked, thrilled, totally absorbed and confused. A real highlight. ” We went to Tijuana, Mexico for the day, took Jean’s mother to a strip show which I enjoyed, shopped at Fashion Island, ate at North Woods Inn and Ruben E Lees, cruised down Hollywood Boulevarde, and walked the Sunset Strip, did Disney Land and had Thanksgiving Day eating turkey with cranberry sauce. On 28th November we flew to Hawaii where we stayed at the YMCA, shopped the Alamoana shopping centre to exhaustion and

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the next day did the Polynesian Cultural Centre. On December 2nd we flew home to New Zealand and then New Plymouth having had a wonderful, marvelous, enriching experience.

Life back in New Plymouth became a bit dull that year of 1970. The sameness and conformity of New Zealand, its people and society frustrated me. At this stage I don’t remember knowing a single Maori, Pacific Islander or anyone not white, bland and slightly overweight.

The group on the Board of Directors who had labelled me ‘subversive’ were worrying and called a couple of special meetings to which I was not invited. And the President of the time had another agenda going with which I was uncomfortable. There was going to be a need at some time in the future to build a retaining wall behind part of the stadium. Its need was not pressing. The President wanted to build squash courts as part of the retaining wall but that would have multiplied the cost. l thought the case for squash courts at the time was marginal and financially risky. The President had sounded out each Board member to learn whether they supported the idea or not and knew of the full Board he was one vote short for approval. He called several meetings until he got the numbers to support him, got it approved and signed up on the spot. I would have preferred to knock more off the mortgage. On top of that, I felt l had delivered my vision for the YMCA in New Plymouth. l was now swimming through sticky water.

At the National Conference in August, George Briggs reported that a request had been received from Fiji for YMCA to be established in that country. Apparently, Rotary in Suva had built a Youth Centre some years before but it had become unmanageable and that was seen as a suitable job for the YMCA. The Conference agreed that if $3500 could be raised, the invitation would be accepted. Immediately, a Board member from Christchurch offered the first $500. The total grew slowly to about $2,800 with many saying they needed to consult their Boards back home. By October the total stuck at $3,200 when it was decided that New Zealand would take the plunge and take the movement to Fiji. This was the adventure and new challenge I was seeking so, with the support of the family, I applied for the Fiji job. The advertisement stated that the job description could give few specifics as it would be a major task of the new job holder to help define the societal needs, and it couldn’t determine the salary as the relative cost of living was not known. Hey, a job that doesn’t know what to do or what it was worth was right up my alley? Jean and I

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travelled to Wellington where I was interviewed and, on December 8th 1970, the Taranaki Herald billboard announced, “YMCA SECRETARY LEAVING” All that remained to be done was to sell the house which we had designed and had built, sell the furniture that was relatively new, sell the car, help appoint and orient the replacement in New Plymouth, and tallyho, it‘s off to the Tropics we go.

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Chapter Four   The Fijian adventure

The Oliver family arrived in Fiji on May 5‘”, 1971. This was the whole package, boots and all. I, Dennis, was 38 years old on arrival, Jean 35, Robert 13, Richard 11 and Shelley 10. The week that we arrived was the first week of a national shipping strike which lasted for twelve weeks. One of the Trustees from the Suva Youth Centre, Sandy Muir, had met us on arrival and presented us with the last loaf of bread in the country for twelve weeks.

Sandy had arranged a flat for us to rent in Nasese, a suburb of Suva, at least until we got our bearings and got settled enough to look after ourselves. The school for the children, Suva Grammar was around the corner little more than one kilometre away.

In our first week, I bought a new Holden car for $2747. Its license plate was AB413. We tossed up whether to buy a washing machine for $180 or hire a house girl two morning a week at $1 a morning. In the meantime Jean washed the clothes by hand and hung it on the clothes line. One week later we took the clothes in still wet and going mouldy. So we bought a washing machine and hired a house girl to do the ironing.

We started the practice of writing a letter home every week. My mother kept every letter in a shoe box all filed in sequence. It is this treasure that I am able to tap for this record. The first letter reports that Robert was fascinated with the Suva market and enjoyed bargaining for tit bits, Richard was continually hunting lizards, land crabs, cockroaches and toads. Shelley reported that the family went to Mosquito Island on a ferry with the Rahim family and enjoyed some real Indian food.

I met with the Trustees of the Suva Youth Centre and we discussed ideas. The two YWCA organizers, Ruth Lechte and Anne Walker put on a Fijian feast, a magiti to welcome us. I had a tropical weight suit made for $45 and a spare pair of trousers for $14. Jean was employed at the YWCA as honorary bookkeeper at an honorarium of $200 a year.

I had difficulty finding a brand of cigarettes to my taste. Camel were 52 cents a pack of 20 so I tried some local baccy from the market. I nearly gave myself a hernia trying to draw from the rolled tobacco, then when I rolled it correctly, knocked my ability to breathe for about five minutes.

We made all the major adjustments to live with relative comfort in a new country. The food was different, the shopping different, the weather was different, the

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climate different, the transport different, driving cars different, hours of awake and sleep different, friends different, money different, school different, hours of work different, clothes different, recreation different, language different, variety of cultures and people different. Mind you, those expatriates that worked for the commercial banks or other large foreign concerns usually managed to insulate themselves from all the differences and maintain their foreign lifestyle.

To say that the food was different, fails to give the situation the impact it deserves. Over the first week, Jean tried about five times to cook taro to be part of our meal, but the result the first five times represented wallpaper paste. With advice from Rose Rahim, Jean learnt that there were particular types of taro to cook specific ways. So she learnt to select, buy, prepare, cook and present taro, and we learnt to eat it.

At the Suva Youth Centre, I met Balram the caretaker cleaner who had been there for a few years. Balram could speak Hindi, Fijian and English. He was not sure how old he was nor too clear about his real name as he didn’t have a Birth Certificate. We employed him at about $10 a week. He and his wife and three kids rented a squatters shack in the middle of a swamp for which they paid $10 a month. Balram and I cleaned out a cupboard usually used for storing boxing gloves which I used as an office.

My Job Description charged me to identify the issues that the YMCA could use on which to build its programme and in consultation with local community leaders, write a Development Plan for the first three years of the YMCA of Fiji. I visited the Technical College, The Probation Office, the Raiwaqa Housing estate, Peace Corp and read numerous government reports. I found, for example, that there were 11,000 school leavers each year and 450 new job openings a year.

The Suva Youth Centre building comprised a couple of meeting rooms, toilet with urinal, the smelliest urinal in the West, a changing room, a sort of cafeteria and a gymnasium approximately 22 meters by 8 meters with a reasonably high ceiling. The main feature of the gym was that its main cladding for the outside walls was wooden louvre slats spaced at about ten centimeters apart. This kept the gym relatively cool and provided scores of places to spit in between the louvers. The evidence was that for several months previous, hundreds of spits had not made it cleanly through the gaps. Nearly, but not quite. Another way of saying this was that when I arrived the place was absolutely, shockingly, disgustingly, tremendously completely filthy.

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I organized a series of working bees with the rugby, boxing and weightlifting members scrubbing the place from top to bottom. Balram and I took the lead, and a score or so of our members lent their muscle power. I discovered that coconut husk was better and cheaper than a scrubbing brush. Trying to install the new habit of not spitting through the gaps in the louvres proved more difficult. But we persevered and reduced the incidence.

The rhythm of family life settled down within a few weeks. We tended to rise around 6am, breakfast by 7am, I would be at work by 7:30am, the children would bus to school by 8am, I would go home for lunch from 12 to 2pm, dinner by 7pm and bed for all by 8pm. There was no television in Fiji in those early days.

I was appointed to several National Council of Youth committees and was charged with writing a critique of a draft Government paper on a National Youth Service plan. This involved six months of paramilitary-like camps and activities with some agriculture and trade training. My critique pointed out the potential danger of taking thousands of young men out of their villages, to which they may well not return, drilling them with military discipline and then, six months later, offer them nothing useful to do. Sounded like real trouble to me and the Government quietly shelved the plan.

In the meantime, over the first three months I had put several committees together at the YMCA and put together the Development Plan for the first three years. It proposed four divisions of work and it was later seen to be quite prophetic. The Recreation division had three rugby teams, 50 Weightlifters, 40 boxers, womens hockey teams, badminton, basketball, table tennis, athletics and Judo. The Club Work division had a Boys Club, a Youth Club and a Y’s Mens Club. It also suggested holiday programmes and the development of a Camping programme. The Vocational Training Division proposed the establishment of a Trades Training School, beginning with a Carpentry School. The Rural Work Division proposed establishing Village YMCA Youth Clubs based on the research conducted by Geoff Bamford through South East Asia on methods of training in agriculture. We appointed our first local YMCA Trainee Secretay, Taniela Colomota.

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Family life

We all adapted to our new environment in different ways. Robert found that, at Suva Grammar School, if you corrected the teacher, you were sent outside to reconsider your future. It seemed to happen to him quite often. He was however, chosen to be a member of the Suva Grammar team for the National Quiz contest, along with Ratu Jone Madraiwiwi, the current Vice President of Fiji. This was broadcast over Radio Fiji one night a week for its season and was very widely listened to.

Richard couldn’t wait to get out of school every day to go fishing with a group of old Fijian women. They fished, some days with little throwing nets, and other days with small spears, catching reef fishes about three inches or eight centimeters long. Richard would come home with half a dozen fish but Jean couldn’t be bothered cooking them so he took them next door to the old Fijian woman.

Shelley spent a lot of time playing with the Rahim sisters. After six months or so of renting the house in Kumi Road, we got frustrated with the dampness, the noisy neighbours and the rent money going out of the account, so we started looking to purchase our own house.

We found an old rambling homestead in Nasevou Street, Lami which we purchased. The National YMCA of New Zealand agreed to continue paying us the rent to be part of the mortgage repayment. We were the only European people living in the neighbourhood. Most of the others were of mixed race, a little-bit-of-everything. Our first New Year in Fiji was celebrated in Nasevou Street and we were surrounded in a sea of festivities. My letter home records the following ; “ The form the locals have of celebrating the New Year festivities is peculiar. Kids from 12 to 20 years of age, and I suspect some older, sit around until the small hours belting empty kerosene tins and biscuit tins. Bamboo bombs are let off until dawn. We don’t know how these are made but they involve large bamboo and kerosene and they make a mighty bang. The men drink and sing loud songs, some of which are pleasant to the ear but sometimes raucous. The dogs, not to be left out bark through the night and chase each other around and the kerosene tins and the bombs and the singers. If this restricted itself to one night it would be quaint, but the last three nights have produced this symphony and its not funny anymore. “

We had countless visitors over the six years we were in Fiji. There was a time when we had two or three groups at the same time but we rotated them around different tours so that there was only one group in the house at a time.

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We bought a boat, a 14 foot six Hartley runabout with a 50 horsepower outboard motor on it. We kept it at the Suva Yacht Club up on the hard and most weekends went out for a trip. The favorites were Nukulau island where we swam and snorkelled, and the Rat tail passage for more snorkelling, and up and down the Rewa river and its tributaries. On one occasion we went up the coast to another island where we found sea snakes and other exotica. The weekends became full of adventure in our boat, Sinabada.

Getting anything fixed was also an adventure. My letter home of August 15th 1971 reported the following ; “Suva Electric have had our pop-up toaster for five weeks and we have visited them about twelve times. Their repertoire of fibs is impressive and I am tempted to go in and applaud. We have tried the ‘ask’, the ‘prod’, the glare’, the’ threat’ and deep breathing with no avail – their lies are winning hands down.” The record doesn’t mention it but I have the impression we gave up on the repairs and bought a new toaster, probably not pop-up.

The same letter home about toaster repairs mentioned that the bus drivers were going on strike to get a rise in pay from 30 cents to 45 cents per hour.

Another regular adventure with the family was the weekly visits to the WanQ Chinese restaurant. Each of the kids could order their own meal to a limit of $2 each. With careful planning that could result in chicken and cashews for $1.50 and banana and icecream dessert for 50 cents. As we had a copy of the menu at home, the planning took place throughout the week.

One of the outcomes from the kids schooling being about a five mile bus trip from our home was that none of them learnt to ride a bicycle. There were very few bikes around and because of the reckless car drivers, it was very dangerous to ride on a bike. The other thing was, none of the kids did after school sports. The Fijians were mad on rugby, the Indians on soccer and both of them would eat up little Kaivalagi kids.

It wasn’t easy finding places for a short holiday as most places developed for the tourists were too expensive for our family. We had several holidays at Tropic Sands, a family style group of cottages and restaurant at Deuba, about 50 miles north along the Queens Road. We had a couple of holidays at the old capital Levuka on Ovalau island. We stayed at Fred and Rosie, the Levuka Guest House. Fred was a French expatriate from way back and Rosie was Rotuman. The meals were a great combination of many cultures. There were no doors between the bedrooms, only

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curtains. I remember lying on my bed hearing a tap, tap, tap getting closer and closer. On inspection it turned out to be one of the family chooks cleaning up ants and crumbs.

Our favourite holiday destination was the island of Nananu I Ra up on the north coast. It was not easy to get to. It involved a five hour car journey along the Kings Road, then leaving the car on Ellington wharf for the duration, and a 15 minute small boat journey across the lagoon. We stayed at McDonalds cabin where we took everything with us in the way of food. There were no shops on the island. There were about three cabins there so there was no threat of any crowds. It was idyllic fishing, swimming, snorkeling in the lagoon, going for lazy hikes and just lying around unwinding.

Richard became a very Fijian boy. For some of the school holidays, Richard would take himself with a couple of loaves of bread down to the Suva bus station, take the bus to upper Naitasiri until the end of the road at Serea, get a ride on a putt putt to go up river to Nakorosule where he would live with Meli and Ala Senokonoko mother for a week or ten days. All the talk was in the Fijian language, all the food, all the custom, the total way of life. One day at the Y a man came down from the interior and said to me, “This morning I saw Richard. He was swimming across the river with his cane knife in his teeth going to his garden.”

It must also be said, that our life in Fiji led to us making many very special friends for life. Joseph and Rose Rahim helped us in many ways; Bill and Kathy Paulsen became our boating companions – “throw out the anchor Kathy”, Jack and Maree Cleaver our Kiwi mates; Brian and Liz Ponter from the University, Geoff Bamford, Viti Whippy, Lester and Sharmla James, Jonetani and Tupoe Kaukimoce…the list could go on.

Part of our family life involved contacts with the members of the police force. We were burgled about six times from our house in Lami. There was this occasion when Jean bought a large ox tongue for Sunday lunch. The three kids and I moaned that we didn’t like tongue. That night we went out to the WanQ for dinner and when we came home we had been burgled. In addition to the radio etc missing, when we looked in the fridge, the burglar had taken a large bite out of the tongue and then put it back in the fridge. Ah ha we said, we are looking for a discriminating burglar. Another time, Jean and I put our feet up after Sunday lunch while Richard said he was going fishing. Ten minutes later, Jean and I heard someone in the lounge and

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I called out, “Did you forget something?” The missing radio told us later when we arose that it wasn‘t Richard at all but a cheeky burglar. And then there was the time that Shelley came sneaking into our bedroom at about 10 pm and said, “there is someone outside my bedroom.” “Go back to bed I said, it will just be dogs.” Ten minutes later, Shelley was back and said, “there is someone outside my bedroom and they are turning the door knobs.” I told her to get into bed with Jean while I snuck up to her room with a torch to see if I could identify the burglars face. So I snuck around and was carefully pulling the curtain back when a booming voice behind me said, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING ? “ My heart skipped about three beats. Turned out Jean had told Shelley to stay in bed while she checked out the kitchen window, which backed onto where I was sneaking. She walked right up to the window are there was THE FACE. It was her yelling out that damned near killed me.

I suppose the classic experience we had with the local police was the time we had visitors and were socialising in the lounge. Trouble was, you had to shout to get yourself heard as there was a bulldozer working nearby. It was a Saturday night so I didn’t think it would last too long. By 9:30pm I had had enough. I figured there had to some sort of noise ordinance so decided to ring the Lami Police Post, just down the road. No reply. That didn’t do my adrenalin any good. I decided to telephone the Central Police Station. The phone was answered with the person answering saying, “Hello” in a cheerful voice. “Is that the Central Police Station?” I demanded. “Yes sir, that’s us”, came the reply. I wasn’t about to be fiddling about with the lower ranks. I wanted authority. “Get me the duty Sergeant,” I insisted. “I’m sorry sir, you can’t speak to the duty Sergeant, he is in the toilet.” I half put my hand over the phone and told my company that the duty Sergeant was not available because he was in the toilet. I didn’t know whether I should hold on or call back; it depended if he was sitting down or standing up. Then the voice at the other end said, “Hold on sir, I will go and have a look.” Pregnant pause as we all waited for the report. “I’m sorry sir. He is sitting down so you had better call back.” Such service from Her Majesty’s constabulary is quite probably without precedent. I think it would be honest to say that the Fiji police perform way beyond the value of what they are paid. But I suspect that their pay was not that much above the bus drivers 50 cents an hour.

I started quite a long journey, after listening to a couple of Fijians discussing a course of Sociology they were taking at the University of the South Pacific, I decided to see if I could do a course. I had visited USP and spoken with Professors John

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Harre and Ron Crocombe when l was doing the research to identify the issues for the YMCA’s Development Plan. They suggested I submit any papers I had written or anything that indicated I could handle the study and then apply to become a part-time student. Which I did. I enrolled for a course on Social Research Methods. I attended lectures, usually for one or two hours a week. I read the approved text book, did the required assignments, sat the examination, and passed the course. So far so good. Then, not knowing what I was studying for or where I was heading, the next year I enrolled for a Diploma of Rural Development. I completed one or two papers each semester, and there were two semesters each year, so by 1976 I graduated with a Diploma of Rural Development. As it happened, at that graduation time, I was in Chiangmai, Thailand, presenting a paper about our Rural Work programme to sixty YMCA delegates from all around Asia. So I missed my first graduation ceremony. At the time that I was becoming the ‘Eternal Student’,

Peter Darracott, who had become the National Secretary of the YMCAs of New Zealand, had received advice from Professor John McCreary of Victoria University to ensure that all the methods of our Rural Work programme were thoroughly recorded. By that time, as the reader may soon find out, the YMCA of Fiji’s Rural Work Programme had grown to encompass 100 clubs with 10,000 members with a huge variety of activities keeping our 30 staff as busy as could be. It was the largest Rural Youth programme in the Pacific. So with my newly acquired university discipline, I set to and wrote my first book “Rural Youth – a Description of the Development of the Rural Work Programme of The YMCA of Fiji.’ The Fiji YMCA had 500 copies printed which sold out within three months so another 500 copies were printed. Most YMCAs throughout Asia bought several copies, and most Governments through the South Pacific bought several copies.

 The YMCAs Rural Work Programme

With almost 70 percent of the population living in rural communities, the first YMCA Development Plan recognized that the big need to serving the youth in Fiji meant getting out of town into the rural villages and probably the other islands as well as Viti Levu. Easier said than done. However, with the inspiration of Geoff Bamford’s

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research report, we took a proposal to the Minister of Youth and gained a grant of a wage to employ our first YMCA Rural Worker. We used the Navuso Agriculture school old boys network to start to select some likely staff as Rural Workers. This was a new kind of YMCA staff person we were beginning to invent.

The first Rural Worker was Volau who began a club in Serea in 1972. The idea was to use a community development approach rather than going in with a fixed package of one-size-fits-all. The community development approach requires that through dialogue with a community their needs and problems become the focus on which programmes are built. We hadn’t reckoned on the Fijian dependency of chiefs telling subjects what to do. The community dialogue went like this.

“What are the needs of your village?” ‘We don’t know what our needs are. The person you send will tell us what our needs are.’ “What are your problems in this village?” “We don’t know what our problems are. The person you send will tell us what our problems are. ” “What would you like to do?” “The person you send will tell us what to do.” We did get past this point eventually when we were able to give examples of what other people were doing, but it was immensely frustrating at the time. It certainly wasn’t covered in the text books. Then they said they wanted money and the young people wanted something to do. So, gardens were planted, vegetables were sold in the market, a community centre was made with bamboo and corrugated iron, we took up movies, showed coloured slides of their own work leadership training was conducted and the beginning was considered good enough.

Then in 1973 and 1974 we started to secure significant grants to employ more Rural Workers to respond to the invitations we were beginning to receive. Grants came from Canadian University Services Overseas, Emperor Gold Mines, and CORSO of New Zealand. And then we hit the Jack Pot.

I had written a proposal to the Vancouver YMCA asking for $40,000 to be granted over a three year period. In reply I was asked to get on to a conference telephone call from Canada. At the appointed time I picked up the phone. Over the next hour, with three Canadian YMCA people on the other end, Art, Grahame, and Cez, I was talked up to receiving a grant of $400,000 over three years. This was the beginning of a shift from a dependence on local support to one of being dependant on overseas aid.

The work grew from clubs in 36 villages in 1974 with 3000 members, to 84 villages and 7,500 members in 1975, and finally 100 villages with 10,000 members

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in 1976. The 100 villages were serviced by 20 Rural Work staff scattered over ten islands. A myriad of projects were undertaken by the clubs. These included group and individual piggeries, beef cattle schemes, vegetable gardens, community centers, kindergartens, farmer training sessions, small business loan schemes, leadership training, fishing cooperatives, house building and many more.

Each project exposed learning opportunities which we seized upon. One of these became known as ‘the cabbage story.’ It came in the form of a report from Meli Senokonoko who was helping with clubs in the upper Naitasiri district. Meli reported, “These five small villages around Vunidawa became YMCA Clubs and they wanted to raise money to buy some rugby jerseys for their team. So I suggested they grow Chinese cabbage as they sell well in the market. They had never grown things from such small seeds before so I said I would teach them. So each club made a seed raising bed about 8 foot by 3 foot built up a couple of feet to give it good drainage. Then I showed them how to break up the clods of earth to get fine tilth. Then I demonstrated how to carefully sprinkle the seeds so that they were evenly spread over the area. Finally I gave each club one pound of cabbage seed thinking that would keep them going for many months to come. I made one big mistake. I forgot to tell them, don’t sow all the seed on the same day. I think there would be about one million Chinese cabbage ready for sale next week and I don’t know what to do. ” I told Meli to face up to his club members and admit his mistake and figure out together how they were going to sell one million cabbages. I gave him ideas for sale at the University and hospital and sent him on his way. He came back to Suva several weeks later for staff training and I asked him the outcome. “The members really got stuck into the problem. We swamped the Suva market for a week with Chinese cabbage and took them to the markets at Nadi, Lautoka, Nausori and all around the island. Then we did the hotels down the Coral Coast and everything else we could think of and we still had a few thousand left. So we started to suggest members cook them and include them with their evening meal. Fijians hadn‘t eaten them before. And we like them. Oh yes. The District Nurse sends you a message. Thank you for improving the diet of our rural people. “The message was…the work wasn‘t really about cabbages it was about people learning, growing, developing.

One of the amazing people we employed was Eloni Goneyali. Eloni was a Methodist Church minister studying at the Pacific Theological College for a Bachelor of Divinity Degree and was sent to the YMCA to get some field experience. He

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worked with a group of ministers developing a relationship with shoeshine boys, about whom more will be written later. Anyway he learnt to accept people as they are and to provide a service to meet their needs. When he was being inducted into the Methodist Church at a very large and formal ceremony, he was asked the classical question, “If a person came to you for help, what could you offer?” The response was supposed to be “I would offer the fellowship of the Methodist Church and the saving power of Jesus Christ.” Eloni, being a bit different, and being influenced by the practical approach of the YMCA , replied that it depended on their need. If they were starving, he would find them food. If they were naked, he would find them clothes. If they were lonely, he would bring them friendship. Sounded like good ‘lessons from the Scriptures’ to me. The congregation at the Methodist Church were not impressed. When Eloni came to leave the service, rather than offering their hands in friendship, many turned their backs and few offered him their greetings. The church then appointed a special committee to meet with him every day for a week to help him see the error of his ways. Eloni used the week to help the committee members see how backward they were in receiving new ideas. At the end of the week Eloni came to me and said he wanted to go back to his village of Burenitu in Ra and work for the YMCA. After receiving approval from the Board of Directors of the YMCA, I met with the President of the Methodist Church and made a formal request for Eloni to be released to work for the YMCA. I think he was quite relieved. I had already committed the YMCA budget to specific projects so Eloni agreed to start on a wage of $400 a year.

Eloni’s work was quite unique. His village of Burenitu was in the sugar cane growing area of Ra and much of the land had been leased out to Indian farmers. This resulted in most of the Fijian youth being employed during the season as part-time labourers and the rest of the year scratching a living out of the small areas of land not leased out for sugar cane. Eloni decided with the help of Marika, his YMCA Club Chairman and one of the few Fijian sugar cane farmers, that as the leases to the Indians came due, he would help the original land owners and their families take back the land and become independent farmers. One by one the farms came back, the people learnt the new skills, cooperatives were formed, tractors were purchased, trucks were leased, and the community became a thriving working force. Eloni had his own church built and every year at the Methodist conference seeks leave from the church to serve his people through the YMCA.

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He became a member of Parliament and was held hostage along with Mahendra Goundary’s government by the scoundrel George Speight. Eloni was the pastor to the captives of the coup but suffered himself because of it. He was awarded the special Fiji Medal for services to his people above and beyond the call of duty.

The various Rural Work programmes grew in the number of villages and members served, and in the variety of programmes. it was always a case of identifying the need, then designing the appropriate response to that need. Most of the time the need was identified by the club members with the prompting and prodding of the Rural Worker. We employed 20 Rural Workers and they all came to Suva for three days training every two months.

One of the programmes I helped identify came about when I was talking with a group of dairy farmers in upper Naitasiri. I learnt that most of them milked about twelve cows, the cream was separated off and collected three times a week by the Rewa Dairy Company. The remaining milk was poured into the river. Then I asked our local butcher how he sourced his supply of porker pigs. He said he could never get enough porkers and it was a constant source of irritation. The upshot was, we took ten young dairy farmers and put them through a one week course of pig husbandry. Then they contracted with the YMCA for a $100 loan each with their individual bank book, the first one any of them had ever owned. With their loan, they each built a little pen and yard then took delivery of three weaner pigs each which we purchased from the Prison Service. The pig venture went extremely well as the young farmers used the previously wasted separated milk along with vegetable material to fatten their stock. The butcher couldn’t believe the quality of the pigs he was buying off the young farmers. We had a bit of trouble getting the loans repaid because traditional practice meant that the father of the young farmer had all authority over his sons’ finances no matter what had been signed by anyone. However, we learnt from that and got the father to sign up for future loans.

The clubs devised different ways to minimize the siphoning off financial gain by inhibiting cultural practices. The Rural Workers training sessions in Suva became very important, particularly in upgrading the professional skills of the Workers, but also in giving them material, ideas, resources and skills to go back and train their club officers and members.

I developed and refined an approach to project planning which I called, ‘The Trickling Up Planning System.‘ It covered, in my opinion the important facets of

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programme and project planning without getting too daunting with mumbo jumbo or technical niceties. Later, when the USAID funding agency asked us to complete an aid request form which included sections on ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’ and ‘objectively verifiable indicator,‘ I was granted leave to ignore their form and use our own ‘Trickling Up Planning form.‘ It was called, ‘Trickling Up,‘ because it was simple but robust enough for the people at village level to be actively involved in helping to make the plan.

Another major breakthrough at staff training was the chapter in ‘Rural Youth’ on ‘Values for Development.’ Later, l found that this chapter had been photocopied by the Social Development Council of New Zealand who had distributed to many community groups around New Zealand to discuss and suggest each group define its own set of values.

How it came about was that one of our Rural Workers had asked me to do something or give something to his club and my response was, “We don’t believe in doing things that way, as it will only make you more dependant on me giving to you again next time that occurs.” When I went home I wrote down a list of things we would do, wouldn’t do because of ‘our beliefs’. I wrote them out on separate pieces of paper and tried different ways of amalgamating them and grouping them. Then I called a special one week training course for the Rural Workers and suggested they translate them into the Fijian language. Then I suggested there were too many and three should be eliminated and also, I had a funny feeling there was one missing that they should try to discover. That was one very gutsy week. I don’t think anybody slept too much. At the end of the week, the statement of beliefs was well and truly owned by the Rural Workers and by the YMCA of Fiji.

The Rural Work programme in its heyday was so diverse in its innovative responses to local needs and problems that it is impossible to describe on paper all of its ramifications. Perhaps the foregoing stories give a feeling for that special programme.

The Vocational Training Programme

The Carpentry School was the first innovation of the YMCA of Fiji. Its need was identified within the first three months and listed in the First Development Plan.

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By March 1972, just ten months after the arrival of the Oliver family in Fiji, the VSA Carpentry Instructor arrived in Fiji. I had managed to get the Ministry of Youth to provide the accommodation and supply a grant to cover Bill Edwards weekly allowance. In April 1972 the shipment of carpentry tools arrived from New Zealand as a gift from CORSO. And in May the first carpentry school began with twelve unemployed young men. I had received several messages from the Technical College and the Ministry of Labour that a half-pie quick-fix carpentry course was not wanted in Fiji. The mantra was that it took three years to train a person to become a carpenter and anything less than that was too too unprofessional. However, the newspapers had carried the story that Fiji was short of 900 carpenters in view of all the large projects currently calling for tenders.

As I had gone from one construction firm to another, I had asked them what were the problems they encountered when they employed any of the hundreds of young men currently on the street looking for work. Their reply most often went like this ;“ Well Dennis, if I asked a raw recruit to go down the back of the yard and get eight 4 by 25 suitable for joists and cut them off at eight foot and take them to Harry, they would produce half a dozen disastrous situations. In the first place, they wouldn’t know a 4 by 2 from a 6 by 1, they would quite probably pick out lengths of timber that were full of knots, warped or generally unsuitable for joists. Then the chances are they would pull out pieces 12 foot long which would give 4 foot of waste and then, if they still could find their ruler and saw after their brother had borrowed it, they would cut the required piece 7 foot 11 and the whole lot would be wasted. If the YMCA could produce hammer hands that could do those simple tasks, we would employ them. “On the basis of stories such as that and with the guidance of our Carpentry School Committee, all of whom were local builders, we designed the Carpentry School curriculum.

When each class graduated after the twelve week course, they took with them a certificate, a reference and a simple kit of tools including a hammer, square, three foot rule and a saw in a tool box they had made themselves. Every one of them went straight into a job with a local building firm. The Carpentry School ran for three years until the building boom ran down. But, more innovations were on the way.

The rapid growth of programmes of the YMCA of Fiji is well illustrated in the News Bulletin of October 1972. The highlights were;-

January First YMCA Rural Worker appointed

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February Youth Workers Training Course begins at YMCA with two Y staff
Rural Work begins at Sawani and Serea with 60 members at Serea
250 members enrol at Suva Youth Centre
March Work begins with Shoe Shine Boys with Pacific Theological College students
Membership rises to 102 at Serea
VSA Carpentry Teacher arrives
April Carpentry tools arrive from New Zealand as gift from CORSO
May First Carpentry School Class begins
Construction begins at Camp site on Beqa lsland
June Y’s Mens Club visits Beqa Island and constructs triple seater dunny
July Serea YMCA Club builds a community centre
August First Carpentry class graduates/second class begins
Y’s Mens Club officially Chartered
September First Boys Camp held on Beqa Island

And then in 1974 we made new inroads to a new type of training programme by taking the skills workshops to the villages for those people experiencing the need. The discovery of the need came about when l was taking a Canadian visitor up the Wainimala River to see some projects. I had arranged to meet Meli Senokonoko at Serea at 9am where he would be waiting with a putt-putt, a long river canoe with an outboard motor to take us up the river. I arrived with the visitor at 9am having travelled by car the 55 miles from Suva. No sign of Meli. Settle in to wait a bit. Started to get anxious around 10am. Got a little towie by 10.30am. Still no sign of Meli. About to give up at 11am when Meli arrived in a fast putt-putt. He explained that the putt putt that he had arranged to hire had broken down and all the other putt-putts in his village and the next two villages were either broken down or were fully committed on other jobs. “The YMCA should do something to help as this is a very big problem for people who are dependant on the river for transport. These people have been overseas doing hard labouring short term contracts to get the money to buy their boat and the outboard motor. But when it breaks down, they haven’t got the money to get it fixed. “

I asked Meli to do a survey of the putt-putts on the river between Serea and Laelevu and let me know how many were broken down, how many were working but

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sick, and how many were going OK. A few weeks later Meli reported that on that stretch of river, a distance of about twelve miles, there were 72 putt-putts. There were 30 broken down and some had been broken down for years. In some cases the owners had taken the motors into repair shops in Suva but the cost of the repairs was so much, the owners couldn‘t afford to pay to pick the motor up. There were about 20 motors running but sick. They would obviously break down before long. It was now obvious that this was a problem that was big enough to require a response. Then, to get a better handle on the problem, I hired an outboard motor mechanic and sent him up the river for a few days to inspect every broken down motor to tell me what was the major source of the problem. He reported back to Suva after a week and said that 80 percent of the problems were in the ignition system of the motor. He estimated that he could teach motor owners about the ignition in one week, how to diagnose problems and how to fix them. The other part of the problem was that most outboard motor owners had never owned a piece of machinery before. They assumed that because it was made of steel it could take rough handling. They would need educating to treat their motor with respect and regard it like a delicate baby.

I wrote up a grant request to the YMCAs of British Columbia, Canada, for $1000 and the Ministry of Rural Development for $900. We charged each participant $10 and charged half price for a simple set of tools and any ignition parts that might be needed. Our grant requests were approved, we employed a local outboard motor mechanic and Hi Presto…we were in business, the Mobile Outboard Motor School was heading out of town.

The occasion of the first Mobile Outboard Motor School was, according to Meli Senokonoko like a faith healers revival meeting. Dead motors were brought to life, sick motors were made to run, and motors that had previously only limped were made to streak like greyhounds. The classroom was created when the village people erected a vakatanaloa, basically a tin roof held up on bamboos, then lashed a big plank between two trees. Underneath the plank were placed sheets of plastic to catch any falling parts or oil. In the first class, twelve motor owners attached their motors to the plank, then, with a friend each to help, the lessons began. Business with the purchase of spare parts was brisk with $300 worth sold.

The model we had created, was new to the people of Fiji and was studied and sometimes copied by Government Agencies throughout the South Pacific and by

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other YMCAs throughout Asia. But…much more was to come. The model leant itself to other skill needs in scattered rural villages.

Within the next year or so, we discovered a need for maintenance and use of Chainsaws in the rural areas. Villagers were felling their own trees, milling them with Chainsaws and attached roller guides to convert them to planks, and building houses out of them. So the Mobile Chainsaw School was created with spectacular results similar to the Outboard Motor School.

This led to the discovery that many village carpenters were using Western/modern materials in building churches and houses in rural villages, but didn’t understand the important requirement of reinforcing iron, and therefore didn’t use it. This left the buildings structurally unsafe so, education was an urgent need. Furthermore, when it came to fitting wooden window frames into the concrete walls, their skills were not up to the job. And so the Mobil Carpentry School was created. By now, we were on a roll. The fact that we now had around 20 Rural Workers operating in 100 villages gave us access to a flow of information that was not common to other agencies. The reputation of the YMCA was such that it was seen as the organisation that responded to rural needs. Most Government and church organisations were seen to be head office centred which sent messages down to the people on the periphery relaying the decisions from on high.

The next find was made by the Rural Work Director and myself when visiting some rural areas. We were being offered kava, or yogona as it is called in Fiji, out of plastic buckets rather than the carved wooden tanoa bowls. It is true, there were tanoa for sale in Suva market but their price went from $100 and upward. There were plenty of suitable trees available for carving in the rural villages, but traditionally the wood carvers came from one island in the Lau group. At this time, our resident woodcarver, Koto, was teaching some shoeshine boys, but we put him on occasional rural duties and the Mobile Woodcarving School was created.

By now, we were getting worried about overstretching ourselves in terms of management supervision and in our ability to raise the funds for our expanding organisation. But one more need presented itself that we couldn’t resist. There was a huge home industry throughout Fiji driven by the need for school uniforms, church choir uniforms, and organisations like the Women’s Fellowships of every church denomination. Many, if not all of the women were champion seamstresses but were dependant on their sit-on-the-floor sewing machines, or very occasionally, their

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treadle sewing machine. And if they broke down…?? same old story. And so was born the YMCA Mobile Sewing Machine School. There were scores of sewing machines in every village and many had broken down or were misaligned in their settings. Our YMCA Mobile Sewing Machine School Instructor would visit each village for one week and each woman would bring her sewing machine. They were encouraged to help one another as some had a special aptitude to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it. On the last morning of the course, the Instructor sent all the women outside while he took a piece off each machine and misaligned some of the settings of every machine. Then the women had the rest of the day to put all of the sewing machines right. Then they had a Certificate presentation ceremony and a cup of tea. This school was also copied by several other Pacific Island agencies including some Government Departments.

These five Mobile Schools added a lot of value to our overall Fiji YMCA Rural Work programme and was one of the reasons that it came to earn a reputation as “the innovator” in rural development in the South Pacific.

The Shoeshine Boys of Suva

When I was writing the first Development Plan of the YMCA of Fiji, I was aware of the number of street kids aged around 10 to 13, many of whom were shining shoes or selling garlands of flowers. But I had not had any dialogue with them so was reluctant to label them as ‘a problem in need’ if they didn’t think that they were. And then early in 1972 a member of the faculty of the Pacific Theological College contacted me and asked if I could help expose some of their students to the reality of field work.

The PTC students were all mature adults, usually already experienced in church work who had been sent by their Protestant churches from throughout the Pacific Islands to do a Bachelor Degree in Divinity. I agreed to this request and it was arranged that I would have four students every Tuesday afternoon for most of the year. The next week I welcomed Eloni and Jovili from Fiji, Jotama from Rotuma, and Jack from Vanuatu. We decided that we would try to develop a relationship with the shoeshine boys but, before we got too far down the track, I would give them some understanding of Social Group Work. For the first four Tuesday afternoons, I conducted some training in Social Group Work so that, when and if we managed to develop a relationship with the shoeshine boys, it would be the boys that ‘defined

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their problem’ and had a hand in designing the response, the solution, rather than our PTC church ministers laying on their particular favourite solution.

Then Eloni and group hit the streets and tried to connect with the kids. The shoeshine boys cleaned their shoes but wouldn’t look them in the face and would not respond to any attempts of a chat. Back at the Y we reviewed what had happened. “Look at your dress”, I said. “You look like a very official official. White shirt, black sulu (the formal wrap around), black sandals. Even policemen look more chummy”. So it was agreed that the next week they would get more laid back. Then next week came and went and once more the boys ignored the advances of the PTC Four. “Aha”, I said. “Very good. Bright cheerful shirts; colourful shorts or sulu, but, and here is your mistake. Rubber thongs, or what we call here, Flipflops. Shoeshine boys can’t shine flipflops so why should they relate to you?”

By now, Eloni and Jovili decided progress was too slow with once a week contact and resolved to drop down town every afternoon to make casual contact on a regular basis. They made very little progress until one day, with a flash of inspiration, Eloni took a tape recorder and asked a small group of boys in Victoria Arcade to tell their story so that the YMCA and the PTC could learn about the life of a shoeshine boy. Incredibly, the dam burst. Each boy told his story which we found hard to believe. This boy said he didn’t sleep at home very often because his father came home drunk many nights and beat up anyone he could find. He beat his wife, the six kids aged from 2 to 8. One boy left school after class six because he found it ‘waste time.’ He slept most nights down at the copra sheds with a group of boys. Some nights they slept under old houses. He said that if the police found them they were chased out. We were stunned with the fact that these boys had spoken out so much but we didn’t know whether we believed their story or whether we wanted to believe it or disbelieve it. Perhaps it presented us with more than we knew what to do with.

But Eloni and Jovili continued with the regular contact with the group of five or six boys and on occasions brought them up to the YMCA. On one of these occasions, Eloni bought a half dozen cream buns and brought them up to the Y with a group of boys. They all sat at the table in the Committee Room while Eloni launched into a full blooded Methodist prayer. When he opened his eyes, all the cream buns were gone and there were white cream rings on the face of every dark skinned boy. Another lesson for Eloni.

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We learned that the boys lived from hand to mouth with the takings taken on one day and spent that day. If it was wet and the takings only 60 cents, it would be only one meal that day. On cruise ship days when the takings could be $6, our boys would spend it on two or three meals at a restaurant, a game of billiards, a movie, a pack of cigarettes and maybe a icecream. We encouraged the boys to open savings accounts. We helped them fill in the bank forms and we gave them a bonus for every $5 saved. This scheme was working well when one boy who had saved $27 had his book and money taken by his mother so that she could go a drinking and gambling spree. That killed the whole saving scheme dead in its tracks.

Eloni and Jovili tried visiting some of the boys parents but few parents they found were unreceptive and said the boys were bad and told lies and good riddance to them.

Then to our surprised, a group of eight boys turned up at the Y and asked if they could sleep there. They said they had all left their homes a few months ago because of rough treatment. They had been sleeping down in the copra sheds and under other old houses, but over the past few nights the police had been chasing them around. The police had been told to clean up the town so they were picking up the boys and taking them in the paddy wagon up to the Suva cemetery, sometimes taking off their clothes and shouting at them to go home. But the boys got worse treatment at home so they had gone into hiding. Now they were looking for sanctuary. I took the case to the Urban Work Committee who agreed they could sleep in the gymnasium but that we should check out their stories For the next couple of weeks Taniela, the Assistant General Secretary visited most of the boys families and found they couldn’t care less. This was the start of a creeping invasion by street kids, until about six months later we had forty boys sleeping at the YMCA. There were no beds. The boys slept on the Board table, under the table, in the shelves, in the cafeteria but not often in the gym as it was too draughty. Every morning I would arrive at work at around 7.30am and find about five boys asleep on the table. On one occasion this boy had his bum over the edge of the table, his pants had been pulled down, he had a match stick protruding with a whole mobile attached which was quite spectacular. Did I mention that, Fijians sleep extremely soundly? On another occasion I noticed a pile of blankets untidily shoved in a shelf and was pulling them out to tidy them up only to discover a boy inside. By the time that there were 20 boys sleeping at the Y, we had employed a staff person to look after them

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Every time a new boy arrived, we would attempt to visit the family to check out their story.

One evening a Fijian man brought a skinny Indian boy up to the Y that he found down at the wharf. This boy had run away from his grandmother a couple of weeks ago and was surviving from hand to mouth. He had stolen some bananas and a loaf of bread and had caught a couple of fish which he had eaten raw. This kid was really hungry. So John, our Urban Worker took this boy to his home to check out the kids story. When they got there, a man next door poked his head out the window and shouted, “What for are you bringing that skinny boy back here. Take him away. His grandmother will bash him up. She is an evil woman. Take him away.” Then the man slammed the window shut. John was stunned. Then the door opened, and there was an old man and a little girl. “What are you doing with that boy. He is better not to be here. Take him away, take him anywhere but do not bring him here. His grandmother will thrash him. See this girl and that big scar. His grandmother did that with the chopper.” John asked the man who he was and learnt that he was the boys grandfather. Then the old grandmother appeared at the door and grabbed the boy by his ear. She screamed at him, “Why are you causing a nuisance you bad boy. Get inside and I will deal with you.” John placed his hand on the old woman’s arm and said to her, “Old woman. If you thrash that boy you will be breaking the law. If you break the law I will call the police and you will go to court and they will put you in jail.” Then he turned to the boy and told him to give it a try, but if she touched him to come to the YMCA and we would look after him. The kid turned up at the Y a week later. She hadn’t touched him but he was neglected and hungry.

All of the boys had been in some trouble with the police. As a rule it didn’t amount to much, minor and petty things. But we found that in addition to earning some money for a bite to eat every day, the rest of the game was receiving attention from the police, the courts, the welfare and probation officers and the YMCA Urban Worker. This whole game was the way the boys received attention from significant adults and was, in a sense, stroking their egos. So we decided to reverse the game by creating a Positive Behaviour Programme. We negotiated with the boys a list of all he things considered ‘good behaviour’. The list included working in the garden, sweeping the room, every full day earning cash, folding the blankets, mop the changing room and most importantly, staying out of trouble with the law. Then we put a value on every behaviour, for example 7 points for each half hour working in the

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garden, sweeping the room 5 points, and 5 points for every trouble free day. Points were never deducted; the total focus was on good behaviour. Each boy had a points book to record his earnings. Then points could be traded in for various rewards, for example 3 points for a cup of coffee, 7 points for a tin of fish, 2 points for an onion, 2 points for a basketball for one hour. The boys totally absorbed themselves in the programme. The change in behaviour was little short of miraculous. Instead of chasing the boys in and out of court and the police station, we were kept flat out while the boys had a contest to see who could get the most points in their book.

Most of the old court cases were being cleaned up, case by case, and then a local Magistrate made a comment that was reported in the Fiji Times, that “many young men from the Suva YMCA were frequently before the court on serious charges.” We couldn’t take that lying down, so did a quick piece of research and responded to the newspaper. In summary we said,” We noted that 90 percent of the charges were very minor by any definition. We intend to bring evidence to the highest authority that some of the smallest boys have been victimized by some members of the police force. We also intend to produce evidence that the very procedures of the court, causes a person to appear before a magistrate many times before the case is heard. We have experienced one case that required 24 court appearances before the prosecution and the court was ready to resolve the case. Of six recent charges made against YMCA boys, we found that they resulted in two charges proven and sentences passed, four cases were dismissed, acquitted or the charges withdrawn, and in the interval between the charge being made and the case resolved, the boys had to appear before the courts 47 times. No wonder the Chief Magistrate stated that YMCA boys were appearing before the courts too often. Whilst we have no wish to exonerate the behaviour of the boys, the solution to a reduction in court appearances lies mainly in the procedures and systems of the courts and the prosecution system. In our opinion, the boys offend against society, far less often than society offends against them… These boys have been rejected by their families, victimised by the police, criticized by the courts, and rebuffed by Boys Town. Let’s try a little compassion and practical help for a change.”

The editorial in the Fiji Times the following day highlighted our case. “The Fijian word “loloma” is one of the most beautiful in any language, not only for its sound but because of the broad all-encompassing implications of its meaning – charity, concern, compassion. This is what the YMCA is asking for this morning in a

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letter which seeks not only a change in society’s attitudes towards Suva’s street boys, but also raises some serious questions about their treatment by the police, the courts and other charitable institutions. A total of 47 court appearances to achieve two proven cases out of six suggests some sort of real breakdown either in police investigation techniques, court procedures, or a combination of both. It would not indeed be surprising, if some of Suva’s street boys developed a certain feeling of contempt for a system that brings them so often before the courts with such meagre judicial result. This is a very real danger. Courts are about justice, and deterrence, not about intimidation, but boys brought time after time before the court only to have to suffer continual delays before a result is reached could be forgiven if they came to regard the processes of the law as somewhat futile – whether they are acquitted or not. The basic fact is that the problem of Suva’s street boys are not entirely of their own making. All of us – the police, the courts, charitable organisations and society itself – are to some extent involved. That is why a totally embracing word like Ioloma is such an appropriate one to bear in mind.”

Following these press releases we wrote to the Attorney-General of the Fiji Government. Four boys and two committee members and I met with Ratu Penaia Ganilau, the Deputy Prime Minister and systems were put in place to safeguard the rights of the boys. We were received by Ratu Penaia very sympathetically and enjoyed good community and police relations for several months. It has to be said we enjoyed full and friendly relationships with the Social Welfare Department. Many a time the Chief Social Worker would accompany our Urban Worker to visit parents in the dead of night.

The good times couldn’t last. In the dead of night, I received a phone call from John, our Urban Worker to report that four boys, four of the smallest boys, were being held at Suva police station on charges of rape. John called the Chief Social Worker and the three of us, John, the Social Worker and me, tried to represent the boys to ensure they were treated fairly and did not give incriminating statements that might prove their undoing. The boys were aged 12, 13, and 14. But the police set up four interview rooms and interviewed the boys simultaneously changing the language from Fijian to Hindi when it was obvious that we couldn’t follow what was going on. After about three hours of this game, the boys were put in the cells and we were told to go home. This was probably the worst night of my life. The story, as far as we

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could make out was, a group of three tough males took a tough female into a corner of the park opposite the centre and had turns to which she didn’t object. The noise aroused the boys and half a dozen or so were offered a turn, to which she didn’t object. But when it came to the four smallest, she had had enough and said so. But the tough males egged the boys on and they had their turn. Technically, they had committed the offence. We accompanied the boys to court and were devastated when they all got four years in the junior prison, Four Miles Nasinu Reform School. For several weeks I visited the boys to ensure they were treated fairly, and then when I gave notice once too often of bad food or bullying behaviour or some such thing, I was barred from visiting the boys. Years later, when I was in Fiji on holiday, I met two of the boys, Bobby and Michael, and they told me that they had turned their lives around at Reform School and were now leading fruitful and positive lives.

Much of our work with shoeshine boys was recorded in a couple of publications. I was taking a course at the University of the South Pacific in ‘Urban Sociology of Developing Societies’ under a visiting lecturer from Israel, Dr. Erik Cohen. Each student was required to do a research project with a particular urban phenomenon, for example squatters, beggars, street stall holders, and I chose our shoeshine boys. When I submitted my research project, the Dean of the School of Geography asked for my approval to publish the report. The work was published by the School of Social and Economic Development and was titled, ‘The Shoeshine Boys Of Suva.’ That work however, in my opinion, did not tell the story of the work of the YMCA with the boys. So the YMCA of Fiji published my second book, ‘My Friends the Shoeshine Boys.‘

completionIn one chapter of the book, five boys told their story. One of the shorter stories goes like this.

ISOA’S STORY. “I was born in the village in Vanua Levu in November 1959. My parents got seven children and l number four. When it come time for my schooling they send me to Suva to my auntie and I go to class one. When I still in class one my mother and father and all my family come to Suva cos my father got job as carpenter. One Chinese man give us a house. I go up through school to form three but that teacher bad. We got beat up about two times a week. I about the middle of the class. Sometimes I sidestep school and run with some shoeshine boys. Those boys have fun and not get beat up by teacher and father.

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One Saturday I shoeshine with these boys and my father catch me and he take me home and he beat me with the stick. He take me home plenty times and he beat me with the stick. So he ask me plenty times to go home and I say O K but I not go. Only hard work cutting grass at home. When I leave home I go live with my friends shoeshine boys and we sleep under wharf. That good place only trouble it very cold and high tide not so good. So we move and sleep in copra sheds. We there two months but police chase us around so we come up to the YMCA. Most of my friends small boys. I had two trouble with police.

First time me and these boys we crook these chickens. We sneak up. cFactory Firsts: 2rook these chickens, kill them, and eat them. I get big fright police came after four days ask my name take me for the chickens. Too many feathers lie around. Joe told them. He frightened. The other time, demanding money. It not fair. This small boy I give him money some time and this time I ask him, “You got ten cents,” He say “no’, so I say “check your pockets.” So he check his pockets and he pull out ten cents and I say, “What you say you got no money,” then he start to cry and run to policeman. This boy not fair he not live here he live at home. My father not know about this trouble. My father and mother take me to church when I a small boy but not now. I fright to go to church.

I had one girl when I was still fifteen and still schooling. I went to dance at New Town Hall and this girl she still schooling and she take me to her home. She the boss she know what to do. So she takes me into the kitchen and her parents sleeping in the other room so she kiss me and then she made me sleep with her. I frightened. This the first time. So four o’clock I run away. I want to go to Boys Town to learn mechanic. Then I be alright for working around. I been drunk two times. Jim bought some beer from Marks Lane. He bought three bottles and he force me to drink so we go round back of that school and get drunk but no trouble. “

Boys Camps and a Family Camp

Early in the Fijian adventure, we planned to conduct some camps. Although I had arrived in Fiji with a strong background in organised camping, beginning with my Scouting days, then Camp Huinga, Camp Waiweranui and Challenge Camp at North Egmont, topped off with my American experience, I was aware that over half of the

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Fijian population was living in grass huts and cooking over an open fire. At one level it seemed silly to organise a camping programme. The Urban Work Committee however, pointed out that a lot of the boys of all races had not had a ‘living in nature’ experience such as a camp, and had not done any cooking for themselves. Furthermore, the Fijian boys and the Indian boys tended to play only with boys of their own race. The schools and churches were all race based leaving limited opportunities for the boys to have mixed race experiences.

The Y’s Mens Clubs of New Zealand sent us about $800 to develop a camp facility. Joseph Rahim and I had many trips around some rural areas seeking a suitable camp site and finally settled on a little piece of land next to Waisomo village on the island of Beqa. We negotiated with the chief villager, Asieli, and his father Titusi and made a deal for an area of land with a little stream nearby and bordering the coral lagoon. They agreed to build four bures about 8 foot by 12 for $100 each. Our Suva Y’s Mens club built the triple-seater-water-flush-dunny which was the only piece of furniture in the camp.

It took a while to develop the skill of flushing the dunny after a deposit had been presented. The skill was to fill the one gallon bucket with sea water out of the 44 gallon drum and discharge it with the appropriate force for the deposit to exit over the U pipe. Too gentle a discharge and the deposit would bobble on the water smiling gently at the victim and stay in the bowl. My first attempt was too vigorous and the deposit leapt right out of the bowl and landed on my foot. Not a good technique. My letter home of September 10th, 1972 reported on the first camp held on the Beqa site for 23 boys, 2 cooks, 3 counsellors and the Oliver 5. We hired a copra cutter, the “Tovolea”, which in Fijian translates as ‘to try’. She was about 45 foot long and sat squat in the water. The letter reports; “The trip across to Beqa was pretty smooth with only three boys chucking up breakfast. We were sailing into many unknowns. We didn’t know whether the bures were finished, how the mosquitoes were, or the purity of the stream for drinking water. As we approached the camp site, there was only one bure completed, one other with the thatched roof only on, and four others with only the frames erected. We threw temporary walls of coconut leaves around the roofed one and put 8 boys, 2 cooks and the counsellor and 5 Olivers in the completed bure and jammed the rest of the camp into the temporary bure. The next day, the Fijian farmer next door came and put another thatched  roof on one of the other

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frames and we put temporary walls around that one and split one group out of the other temporary bure.

The mosquitoes were fairly bad when we arrived and we were prepared for a pretty torrid time. Much to our joy, they seemed to decrease as the day wore on and by nightfall they were completely absent. We found our stream trickling with water and boiled all the water for drinking the first day. Then we found that some boys had been drinking straight out of the stream so we kept an eye on their toilet movements and, as they seemed fine, we didn’t need to boil the water any more ……

The smaller boys Richards age spent most of the camp swimming and snorkelling with the occasional one day hike. We all had a most enjoyable hike two miles around to the village of Raviravi where there was a big festival. There was the usual Queen Carival[Carnival] and we arrived to see one of the Queen’s going for a ride in her 12 foot high thrown on a punt about 20 foot long. She took off to the cheers of hundreds of kids the[n], after a short trip came back to land to be carried ceremoniously ashore. They had stalls there and we bought the kids lunch. For 10 cents each had a large plate of curried mutton and dalo. It was more than some of them could eat.

I had reckoned on taking a punt over to Navua on about the Wednesday but from the Tuesday there were force 6 to 7 winds gusting up to forty knots per hour with small boat warnings. I had planned to buy more meat, bread and some other perishables from Navua but with no transport we had to turn to other resources. Much to our delight, we learned that there are some small stores at Waisomo village just half a mile to our East and at Lalati about 1 1/2 miles to our West. We then found they only sell tinned mackerel, soap, hard crackers, flour, sugar, tea, matches and hair dye. No bread or meat. But we survived from then on with tupoi, dumplings made from flour, baking powder and grated coconut dropped in hot water, cassava, cheese, and boiled egg. Dinner was monotonous for four dinners being curried tinned mackerel and dalo or cassava.

I sent Taniela and his boys around to Lalati to buy a pig from the farmer there. While they were pig shopping some other boys and I dug a hole, fetched some rocks and chopped some wood for a lovo or hangi. He cooked the pig whole, cassava and kumala, and as dessert had vakasoso, cooking bananas in coconut cream. We invited the farmer from next door and his family so forty of us sat down crossed legged and ate the whole darn thing. The pig was a small porker and cost $40.

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We really didn’t know whether the copra cutter the Tovolea would call for us as the sea was pretty torrid and the weather office had issued a hurricane warning. There were excited calls from the boys on the beach “The boats coming. The boats coming.” It was two hours ahead of schedule and as they wanted to leave immediately camp was packed up in a great rush. All of our gear was shoved onto a dingy for several trips to the boat which was standing off the coral reef. The trip home was nightmare stuff. The height of the ships mast from water level was about 30 feet and crossing to the mainland, a distance of about 10 miles, we wallowed in troughs while the waves towered over us at 40 feet. Of the 33 on board, 23 chucked their guts out with gusto. That sure was some ending to that camp.”

We had several boys camps after that but were fortunate in having a luxury launch to transport us to Beqa. Sir Charles Stinson was a member of the Rotary Club of Suva, and when he was not being Minister of Finance of the Government of Fiji, he was transporting our grubby boys on his 60 foot million dollar launch the ‘Molly Dean’. The decks were polished bleached mahogany and all of its fittings were the very best. One family camp, however, when we used a different boat must go down in the records.

The letter home on 24th December 1972 begins the story; “Originally we were going to Rukuruku, the copra plantation on Ovalau that the Levuka ferry passes where we were to pay $80 for a four day holiday. Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Minister and his family and another family had booked two bures on our camp on Beqa intending to hire a punt from Navua to transport them over the ten miles of open sea. We suddenly realised when the Ogles said they would like to join us at Hukuruku, that if we went to Beqa, the four families could hire a decent boat from Suva and stay on Beqa for double the time for half the price.

When the Presbyterian Minister heard this he was pleased and booked a 38 foot fishing boat for $80 return. They assured us the boat would easily hold 25 passengers and we could recruit more people if we liked. So we invited two other couples, Votoa and Elini and 2 year old Tukana, and Olota a member of the YMCA Management committee, and his wife, Joan. Then…distaster[disaster]. I saw the boat they had booked. It would only take a dozen on it to Beqa and we had now recruited 23. So we started to search for a bigger boat at a reasonable price. Our hearts sank lower and lower as all the boats we approached were not available or were asking double the price.

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Then, on Friday, Alan Ogle hit the ‘jackpot.’ He got the ‘Lorna Grace’ owned by Rabi Holdings for $100 return. The ‘Lorna Grace’ is 48 foot twin turbine luxury cruiser licensed for 42 passengers. Alan Ogles VSA job is as business adviser to Rabi Holdings so we do have that little foot in the door.” That letter didn’t know the half of it. We were told to be on the wharf at 12 noon on Christmas Day to be transported on the ‘Lorna Grace’ to the YMCA Camp on Beqa island. So six families with all sorts of provisions including mosquito nets, pots and pans, bedding and lots of food sat on the wharf and waited…and waited…and waited. Alan was scurrying backwards and forwards trying to find out what the delay was. Then around 4pm, the ‘Lorna Grace’ hove into sight and tied up to the wharf. Before we could get our gear on board, all the crew had walked off and were disappearing into the town. Alan ran faster. He found that the crew had not been paid their Christmas bonus and were protesting their annoyance. Alan got busier on the telephone, his voice getting more and more urgent. Slowly the crew started to return. “Let’s go”, we shouted, “or we will lose the light.” At 6pm we were all on board and I thought ready to go when the Captain announced that he h ad not obtained permission from the Harbour Master to leave port. Another frantic phone call and a quick drive to the Harbour Masters residence as he by now left his office. Finally, at 7pm with daylight rapidly turning to night, we left the Suva wharf.

As we were approaching the Beqa reef which encircles the island, it dawned on me that the Captain didn’t know the passages through the reef and was flying blind. Some of the reef could be seen in the dark as white wave tops, but where there were no white waves did not mean there was no reef. As we approached a small islet on the reef, l was about to make a suggestion to the Captain when…crunch..graunch..shudder…we were shipwrecked. The Captain put a man over the side to feel the bottom of the launch. I should explain the Captain was Fijian and spoke Fijian and a little English. The crew were Banabans and spoke Banaban and a little Fijian, I think. The crew member surfaced and said the bottom was sound. I should also explain that the Presbyterian Minister had the hots for the other woman, not his wife, and this drama was out there in the public domain. Sickening really. Then, when the crunch and graunch arrived, we organised everyone to put on the life jackets. Which was good. Except that half of them put them on back to front so that if they had landed in the water their backs would have been nicely dry while their face would have been under water. It took longer to get them turned around than it was

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originally to get them on. The luck of a rising tide was with us. The Captain put off two men in a little dingy to lighten the load and after about half an hour we could feel the boar[t] lifting itself off the reef.

At that point I took command of the navigation standing beside the Captain and the wheel. Robert was placed on the prow with the only useful flashlamp seeking out the reef. My knowledge of the reef from the maps I had, showed a sizeable gap in the reef between the Hotel Pacific Harbour on the mainland, and the village of Waisomo on Beqa island, and I could see lights at both settlements. We inched the boat around the reef to get lined up between the two light sources. Then the villagers at Waisomo turned off their petrol generator and their lights went out. Inch by inch with Robert on the prow shouting out warnings we felt our way around to the gap in the reef. By this time we knew by the sound and the vibrations that one of the boats drive shafts had been damaged. Eventually, it was almost midnight, we crept through the gap and went as close as we could to Beqa Island, just off from the camp. The Captain asked for us all to disembark but I refused his request. Imagine ten trips back and forth in a loaded dingy across the coral lagoon, tramping over the beach which was a mixture of sand and old broken coral setting up camp in the pitch black. I don’t think so!

At this point, the two crew that the Captain had put off in the dingy about four hours before emerged through the dark and began fishing. Before you knew it, one of them had caught a sizeable fish and without waiting for a cook, began to eat it right then and there. The struggles and the scales did not make eating the fish easy, but he managed it. He had the grace to offer me a bite but I told him I prefer cooked fish.

As daylight broke, we began the transfer of goods and people to shore. It took quite a while to get all the gear on land but eventually the task was done. I don’t remember a lot about the camp, except that most days we pondered whether the ‘Lorna Grace’ would ever return. But eventually, we were rescued and continued with our charmed life.

Moving on

Our time in Fiji finished in May 1977. We hosted hundreds of guests in those six years, sometimes for meals only, but frequently as full house guests. It was great but extremely tiring. Jeans health was very poorly over quite a long period and as well as

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medication, required rests and looking after. Some snippets from letters over the last few months were:-

January 2nd 1977 “Happy new year everybody. We hope you are all out in your front yards banging on biscuit tins with sticks during the days and letting off crackers during the nights. That is certainly the local sport around here. Last night the neighbours two doors to our left had ’a go’ with the neighbours two to our right and we had a grandstand view of a two hour cracker throwing rocket firing fight – all in good fun. Aiming rockets at one another and zipp they go up the road is getting quite sophisticated. At this time of the year you close your car window when you go out driving otherwise you could get buckets of water, flour or rockets come pouring in. ‘

March 15th 1977 “We went up to Nananu-i-Fta for the weekend leaving home at 6:30am on Saturday morning and arriving at Ellington wharf at 11am. We blew a hole in the brake fluid pipe at Korovou so got the local fix-it-man to solder over the hole. He couldn’t bleed the brakes to get them tight so I only had one/third strength foot brakes so took it slow the rest of the way. We had a lovely weekend Richard caught three fish with his spear gun and we all went for long walks along white deserted beaches. We left Nananu-i-Fta at 12 noon in the boat and had the car packed on Ellington wharf at 12:30pm.At 12:35 with a new thud the foot brake went completely. We limped around several local mechanic shops until we found one backyard mechanic who was doing a private job. The brake line had three new holes but miracle of miracles this man had seven foot of brass pipe the right size to replace the whole line. So, one and a half hours later we set off with the best brakes the Holden had ever had. “

13th March 1977. “I had this urgent cable from the YMCA of USA asking me to show some people some of our programmes. So, l charted an aeroplane for the day and flew to the Fijian Hotel to pick up Mr and Mrs Donald Campbell (or was that Carpenter), previous Deputy Secretary for Defence of USA, his friend Mr Walter Diener and Mrs. Dottie Horne who is on the Eastern USA YMCA International Committee. When I was coming in to land at the Fijian Hotel grass air strip, the pilot realised that the grass had just been cut and it was lying on the track in large bunches. In we came drifting down the strip when wham. ..one wheel caught a bunch of grass and we spun around on one wheel about 300 degrees. We shifted a few

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bunches of grass before we took off for Suva. We visited the market, the University of the South Pacific and then flew over to Ovalau. From that airstrip we hired a punt to take us to Moturiki Island to the village of Nasauvuki where our YMCA club kindergarten was having a gala day. It rained, rained and rained. The ground gradually turned to mud, mud everywhere mud. The little kids danced a treat, the gals day was fun and the visitors were impressed. We flew back to Nadi through a thunder and lightning storm. The visitors then taxied back to their hotel and the pilot flew me back to Suva by 8:30pm. “

And finally, the last letter from Fiji on 8th May 1977. “I guess this could be the last letter to be written home from Fiji after six years active service abroad. It has certainly been a big week. The New Zealand party, most from Napier, arrived last Sunday night and has during the week travelled to the interior and spent a night with the members of the Nakorosule YMCA. I can just imagine the nine young Maori feeling some pulls of kinship in their bones as they immersed themselves in the life of a Fijian village. They were certainly ‘turned on’ by the time they returned to Suva.

We have been out to lunch and dinner fairly often this week as guests of the NZ party, the Canadian party who arrived on Wednesday, and Jeans IHC group. Richard and Shelley had a class party on Wednesday night from which I collected them at midnight.

On Thursday many members from our Rural Clubs began to arrive. We had set up little tin sheds for them to conduct bazaar stalls and a big tin fence within which the firewalking was performed. Then on Friday, the Fiji YMCA Independence Celebrations began. The official opening was held in the Civic Centre with the Governor General, Ratu Sir George Cakabau as chief guest. It was an outstanding success with the Nakorosule YMCA members performing high class traditional ceremonies. The Wesley Church ladies put on a cracker jack morning tea. There were about 200 guests with a sprinkling of top brass. In the afternoon, we launched the King Carnival and the opening of the bazaar, then at 5pm the Beqa YMCA firewalking team performed in the pit. At 7:30pm the Variety Concert opened in the Civic Auditorium with an excellent programme to an enthusiastic audience. The programme included dances by Fijian, Indian, Chinese, Scots, Rotuman and Tahitian groups plus an item of songs by the shoeshine boys, a fashion parade and the Centenary Church choir. The whole thing was incredibly top class standard. In

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between the shoeshine boys songs, Adi Lady Davi/a Ganilau launched the book, ‘My Friends the Shoeshine Boys’, and they were on sale during the interval. During Saturday the bazaar continued and the sports display was enjoyed.

Then last night a wonderful dine and dance at the Isa Lei Hotel with a crowd of about 200. The Governor General Ratu George and Adi Lady Lelea once again graced the occasion. When he had a dance with Shelley she was mortified. During the evening, a presentation was made to the Oliver family of a brass plate wall hanging set with gem stones from India. It is very beautiful and will get pride of place the next time we buy a wall. Adi Lady Mae Rabukawaqa crowned the winning King.This morning we had a church parade at Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral with Taniela, George Briggs and Sir Josua Rabukawaqa leading parts of the service. Robert rang at about 3pm to say happy Mothers Day to Jean – a perfect ending to a happy string of YMCA Independence Celebration.”

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Chapter Five   Back in New Zealand…. Briefly

When we were leaving Fiji, there was quite a little crowd at Nausori airport to see us off. There were tears and hugs and generous things said. Then the Oliver family boarded the plan with much waving and the plane trundled down to the end of the runway. After ten minutes waiting there, the Captain announced we were returning to the terminal as one of the switches wasn’t working. We thought, “Gosh, we have to go through all that emotional stuff again”, but fortunately all of our little crowd had gone home.

We had purchased a brand new Honda Civic car in Fiji and had seen it off on a ship about ten days before we left. The plan was to go down to the wharf in Auckland and drive to Hawera, home base of our parents. But, at the wharf, for the first hour, our car was nowhere to be found. And then we found it. it was about three foot shorter than we had last seen it. Eighteen inches crushed in at the front, and eighteen inches crushed in at the back. What was more, everything that could have been stolen off it, had been stolen off it; mirrors, wiper blades, battery. It transpired that our car had been put in a container in Suva, then the container had been closed without first strapping the car secure. Perhaps the lunch break had interrupted. The ship had come through a violent storm, so the effect had been, “put in container and shake vigorously.’ We spent the next day or so at the wharf and at the shipping office and the insurance companies office arguing to get our car fixed. At one stage we were informed that our car was considered to be ‘one parcel’ and that the limit of liability for one parcel was 100 pounds. It took a very assertive stand by us with implied threats of exposure to Fair Go before the insurance company agreed to accept responsibility. We hired a car to get us to Hawera where we rested for a couple of weeks.

We were to relocate to Wellington where I had accepted the position of Assistant National Secretary of the National YMCA of New Zealand with special responsibilities for South Pacific liaison and Asian Area of the World Alliance.

While we were in Hawera, Jean decided to renew her driving licence. She was shocked when she was told that our old licences and the Fiji licences were no good and we had to sit all the exams again. So she made an appointment for us to sit the exam and brought home all the test papers for swotting. One of us sat up every night swotting like mad and the other one said don’t panic we can drive as good as the next bloke. So we went to the tests and one of us passed so I said “You will have

 

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to drive me home.” A couple of weeks later in Wellington, I went to the Transport Departments Area office and asked for a new drivers licence. The desk clerk told me l had to sit the exams again. I told her that if she could show me the printed regulation that required me to resit, I would do it, otherwise I politely insisted on a new licence. She told me that she knew she was right and she would go and get the Area Commander to back up her claims. Away she went and came back after five minutes saying that the boss said to give me my licence. So she did.

When we lived in Fiji we were constantly asked, as all expatriates were, ‘Where do you come from?” Everybody could answer as most were on two year contracts and would be returning to the same house and town that they had left. We had sold everything, house, furniture, car, and would not be returning to New Plymouth. Over the six years in Fiji, when we were asked where we were from, I had begun to reply, “From my mother.” And we felt a little insecure when we couldn’t give a home base location to the question. We had a bit of a look around parts of Wellington and finally settled on a house in Newlands overlooking Johnsonville. It had several attractive features. lt was moderately new, at a guess ten years old; it was on leasehold land which reduced the asking price by 20 percent; it had a pleasant outlook to the North and was sheltered from the Southerly winds. We were there about eight months and we had Southerly winds for about five days and all the other days the wind was a Northerly. But another advantage the house had was that it was a short walk to the Johnsonville railway station which had a regular frequent service to Wellington.

We needed a car, especially as we both now had licences, but we had no money. So through our friend John Sutherland, a buyer was found for two of Jean’s rings which we had been buying up through good contacts in Fiji, and for the princely sum of $700 we bought a car which we named ‘jewel.’ It was an English car with very unreliable suspension, or something underneath. It broke down regularly, usually at awkward places.

In the meantime, the insurance people were trying to fix the Honda Civic. We had not realised that there were no four door Honda Civics in New Zealand so all the parts had to be brought in from Japan. Twice they brought in the wrong parts and the delays to the repairs went into months.

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While all of this was going on, Robert was in University in Auckland, Richard and Shelley were in school at Newlands College, and Jean was working in Woolworth’s in the haberdashery and relieving on the icecreams at lunchtime.

Meanwhile, I was sometimes in the National Office writing training manuals on Project and Programme Planning, and Capital Fundraising, and at other times travelling to the various YMCAs around New Zealand telling the stories of the Fiji YMCA. Most YMCAs had strong followings of members very keen on supporting the work in the South Pacific.

In October 1977, Peter Darracott, National Secretary and I travelled to Samoa where five people, all quite independent of one another had written to New Zealand asking for YMCA work to be planted there. We stayed at Aggie Greys hotel and visited with church youth organisations and Government officials trying to judge whether the Y would be welcome and viable there. The YMCA of USA International office had indicated they would provide financial support for the first few years. Their office had developed a relationship with the USAID agency so that every dollar raised by a USYMCA for development, attracted three dollars from USAID.

Peter and I met with the five people who had been writing. They all had different things in mind when they were inviting the Y. Sione Tamalii, who was the General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Samoa had in mind the Rural Work programme he saw in Fiji when he was a PTC student. Paul Wallwork thought he was inviting a fitness gym. Joe Annandale was thinking of a hostel, and Andy Forsgren had in mind a Youth Club to keep kids off the street. And finally Galufa Aseta, General Secretary of the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa also imagined Rural Work similar to the Fiji model. We had a couple of social occasions with ‘the 5’ but didn’t promise anything until confirming commitments back in New Zealand.

Our visits to the various church youth organisations were not too warm. Generally the smaller denominations welcomed us but the larger ones viewed us as threatening their territory.

The Minister of Youth, who was also the Minister of Prisons, Customs, Justice, Labour, Sport, Culture, Police and a few other things called a meeting of all the youth organisation representatives. We were continually asked what the YMCA would do in Samoa, but we said that depended what the YMCA Management Committee of Samoa decided were the issues to be tackled. We did give the

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examples of what the Y did in Fiji as one model of what could happen. Many of the questions put by the representatives of the larger churches were very cautious and there was not much warmth in their attitude. And then the Minister got into his head that all around New Zealand the YMCA had built indoor stadiums, and what do you know, he wanted one for Samoa. Once again, Peter and I were firm in making no promises. Finally the Minister applied Samoan democracy. “Right”, he said, “Enough talking. I will put the proposition that this meeting welcome the inclusion of the YMCA to Samoa. Anybody against that, stand up.” Two second pause. “Right. Passed unanimously.”

On our last morning at Aggie Greys, I went up for breakfast early being the first one in the dining room. The next guest was put at my table, the type of thing done at Aggies. He asked me where I was from. I hesitated and said, “I’m from hmm, where am I from? I guess right now I’m probably from New Zealand.” In explaining my hesitations l told him I still felt grounded in Fiji having spent six years there. He suddenly put down his knife and fork and said, “May I know your name ?” And when I replied, he continued,” This is most fortuitous. I have just been to a Regional Aid conference in Washington DC and your name was mentioned as the best deliverer of community aid in the Pacific. And here I am, the USAID agent for the Pacific sitting on a surplus that at this time of the fiscal year is looking for good projects. I think we could wrap up a deal today for $US200,000 as the start of a fruitful relationship.” Of course I had to disappoint him by turning it down as we hadn’t yet decided what needed to be done. Getting enough aid was never the problem. Arranging a long-term commitment without excessive strings was something else.

Wellington experienced its coldest winter in 100 years and the wettest in its recorded history the few months we were there. I had purchased a car coat of imitation fur/leather and many days only took it off to get in the bath.

Richard and Shelley had a great time at Newlands College, not doing school work but exercising their liberty in the absence of the discipline they had endured at the Suva schools.

In the meantime, the invitation from Samoa was confirmed and I applied for the job. I really don’t know if anybody else applied but I was interviewed by a panel of National Y people and was appointed to begin the job in February 1978. So once again it was time to pack up all of our possessions and head off to the tropics. By this time, Robert had given up University in Auckland and had taken himself to Sydney,

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Australia. He had had a string of unfortunate experiences in Auckland. In one year, the week before his final exams, a close acquaintance had committed suicide. The next year the week before his final exams, his flat caught fire and burned to the ground. The third year the week before the final exams, Robert quit University, Auckland and New Zealand. Richard also was needing to find his independent feet. He had had enough of schooling. He had gained all of the necessary skills to make his way in life. He began a Farm Cadet programme with a farmer a couple of miles outside Hawera where he could make Jeans mother his home base.

During this period, my father died after experiencing a string of health problems over a number of years. My mother decided to move to Tauranga where she would be a bit closer to my sister Laureen.

We decided to retain ownership of the Newlands house and rented it to a fireman who had a lot of daylight hours at home. Over the next four and a half years he was the prime renter, sometimes arranging other people to keep the house organised. We supplied the paint and he painted the house. We had bought it with furniture installed and this got a little tired over the period. And so we set sail once again. What a great life!!

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Chapter Six   Adventures in Samoa

Jean and Shelley and I moved to Samoa in February 1978. The first thing that must be said is that February is not a good time of year to move to the hot hot hot tropics. The local YMCA Committee had found an apartment we could rent that was on the outskirts of Apia. It smelled damp and when Jean opened one kitchen drawer, about twenty large cockroaches scuttled for cover. When that process was repeated with two more kitchen drawers, Jean gave me five days to find better accommodation or she would quit Samoa.

As luck would have it, that same morning we met up with Dick Cahoon, the local Peace Corp Director, and when I told him my plight, he commented that one of his volunteers was having to quit Samoa and their accommodation for health reasons. He hadn’t told the landlord yet so perhaps we should go and meet him and make a deal. So we visited Foni Retzlaff and arranged to rent the house at Puipa‘a. The location was about 5 miles out of Apia on the airport road, by the lagoon, a cluster of six houses with a rainbow mix of tenants. While we were there, the mixture comprised Samoan, part German/Samoan, Israeli, Australian, Papua New Guinean, German, Japanese American, Chimoran, and a Kiwi or two.

Fogi had told us that anything that needed fixing should be referred to Vincent, his all-round fix-it man. I noticed that the water in the toilet bowl had a small trickle coming down from the cistern continuously so got in touch with Vincent to fix it. I thought it would take a washer. Vincent arrived in a pickup with a man just as we were leaving to go to town for some urgent groceries. I explained the problem to Vincent and showed him the evidence, then we left for town. When we returned about 40 minutes later, Vincent was nowhere to be seen and neither was our toilet bowl and cistern. He had taken the whole system off the floor and wall and taken it away. It was now 6pm on Friday night, our first night in the house and it was a case of meeting the neighbours very urgently. Turned out the neighbour was Foni Retzlaff so we used his downstairs toilet for the weekend.

Then we noticed the refrigerator was not turning off. Its thermostat was stuffed. So we called the fridge place and they sent three men and a pickup. The dog from two doors down, a Doberman called ‘Shoshi,’ was beginning to adopt us and he had the most alarming, deep growl and bark. As the three men were carrying the fridge to the pickup, Shoshi, growled and barked at the workers. They dropped the fridge and ran for the pickup. When we secured the dog, they emerged from the

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vehicle and we found the drop had broken one of the fridges pipes. Away they went. When they returned the fridge one week later they were very proud of the neat job of repairing the pipe they had broken. And the thermostat? You have to be kidding. Still crook. Motor still going without rest. Another job to be done.

Probably the most spectacular oddity was the interior wall of the lounge nearest to the sea. l should explain as my letter home of 12th February said, “The house is so close to the lagoon, that if I lay in bed with a ten foot fishing line, the other end would be in the water. ” Anyway, this wall was painted with shiny sky blue paint. When it rained, bubbles formed under the shiny blue paint and orange stuff, probably paint, oozed its way down the wall in little runs. A bit of scraping soon  demonstrated that the wall had not been sealed against dampness, and when the rain permeated the wall, the orange paint took up the moisture and burst its way through the blue paint. The remedy? Scrape, scrub and muscle all the paint off, seal it with a coat of oil based sealer, then paint over the top. Great, said Foni, but there are no local workers who could do that job to the required standard. So muggins me, said that if Foni supplied the materials I would do the job in the evenings over the next month or two. So I did. It was not easy, but after about six weeks work, I was able to show Foni the finished result. He was so impressed with the improved ambiance; he increased the rent by $50 a month. That man is currently (2005) the Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa and doing a dam fine job.

I was not expected to start any YMCA programmes for the first couple of months, and spent a fair bit of time reading facts about Samoa and interviewing various people about how they saw the needs of the young people of Samoa. When I met with Sir Angus Sharpe, the Commissioner of Police, he said that most crimes were committed by young men as they were all around the world. Then he said, “You are going to ask me about the brutality of the police in Samoa. Everybody asks about the brutality of the police in Samoa. I sacked the fifteen most brutal last week. But I do admit I do feel like the Duke of Wellington when after reviewing his troops said, “ I don‘t know what they will do to the enemy, but they sure scare the hell out of me. ” That is how I feel about our police.”

A couple of other interesting facts came to light. Of the 120 prisoners held in custody in Samoa, 85 go home every weekend. Only the really serious offenders are kept in and very few of the others get into trouble at weekends, and the rate of recidivism is relatively low. This all started in the 1930s when New Zealand was the

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Administrator of Samoa and the Great Depression began the financial squeeze. The New Zealand Government said it couldn’t afford to feed prisoners during the weekends so sent them home as a cost saving scheme. It now seems an enlightened policy of penal reform. Mind you, Monday to Friday, I understand the work and the tucker is pretty grim inside those thick prison walls.

There was a very pleasant group of young volunteers working in Samoa. 128 Peace Corp from USA, mostly teachers, 24 New Zealand VSA, 24 Japanese Aid workers, a number in fisheries, and 12 Australian AVA.

Shelley was enrolled at Samoa College, a government Secondary school in Apia, and as three other children from our Puipa’a compound also attended Samoa College, her transport to school was assured. School hours were 8am to 1:30pm, but most days for the first week or two Shelley stayed a bit later to do detention. On her first day in class for the 5th form, the teacher was walking around the class whacking each pupil on the head with a ruler and when he got to Shelley she told him that if he tried that on her, she would take him to court. From that moment on, for the smallest of infringements, for example one day late returning a library book, Shelley would be kept behind and would do hard labour pulling out large weeds with her bare hands. Needless to say, at the end of the year she sat and passed New Zealand School Certificate with flying colours.

By about our third week, Jean started work as bookkeeper at the Methodist Land Development Scheme. She worked three mornings each week. We didn’t assume the position was paid as a supervisor was being paid $3.30 a day. And we were right. Within a few months, that work was reduced a bit as Jean took a part-time position with Price Waterhouse in Apia. But the Methodist Land Development position led to a lifelong friendship with Lalomilo and Donna Kamu. Years later we stayed with the Kamu’s in Birmingham, England where Lalomilo was doing post graduate studies. Our letter home after one month reported, “The news for the week is our papers for our personal effects arrived (hurray) and the ship arrived (hurray) but our stuff was not on it (boo). We have sent telex and cables to find out where it has got to. We are hunting the maps to see if there is another Apia in Africa or Russia. We expect our stuff is still in Auckland and will come on the next ship but we are kicking up a stink to make sure something happens.”

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Inventing the YMCA of Samoa

I spent the first few weeks without an office but used a table in the coffee bar at O.F. Nelsons supermarket for two or three hours each day where various local people found me to discuss ideas for the YMCA that was beginning to emerge. Then in the afternoons I would visit people around town building up a network of people and interest in the idea of a YMCA.

Then in April, we found an office in a location with good visibility to the passing public. A small wooden hut in front of Wendts Plumbing was made available for rent at $40 a month. It measured about 12 foot by 18 foot but one corner was walled off for a lady tailor. There were no glass windows but wooden flaps that pushed outwards and propped open with lengths of wood. We found later that there was a large pig that enjoyed leaning its head over the door step looking into the room and there was no way that you could shift it. It would just amble off when it was ready and tired of the inside view.

The Management committee was meeting regularly with good attendances and before long we had almost forty people on the Management, Urban Work, Rural Work, Trade Training and Training Centre committees. Valentino Pereira was appointed as Assistant Secretary and Susana Moimoi as part-time typist. Things were looking up. A strong foundation for YMCA work was built during the first year. We published a newsletter about every three months and the report for the first year showed the highlights :-

1978 Feb   Dennis Oliver arrives from New Zealand.

March   Management Committee and sub-committees meet to research Development Plan

April   Valentino Periera appointed Assistant Secretary

May   Office established in small hut at Wendts Plumbing.
New Zealand High Commission donates carpentry tools
Committee visits Cardinal Pio to gain support

June   Development Plan produced and distributed to key players and Government Heads
Committee meets with Minister of Youth to gain support.

July   Social Survival Skills courses begin with flood of applicants.
Part-time typist Susana employed.

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August   Lottery Board donates $600 for typewriter and duplicator.
Committee meets with Prime Minister seeking land for YMCA Centre.
CORSO of New Zealand donated grant for Rural Work programme.

September   Assistant Secretary Tino attends National Youth Seminar
Invitation received to start Rural Work in Vaovai village.
First Social Survival Skills course graduates and second class begins.

October   Committee meets with Minister of Lands re building site.
Rural Work begins in Vaovai village
Youth Enterprise programme begins with three girls in sewing business.

November   First issue of YMCA News printed and distributed.
Rural Worker from Vaovai visits Fiji for three weeks to study work.

December   Sustaining Members recruited. (My mother was the first…naturally!)
YMCA need for land considered by Land Board.

1979 January   VSA Carpentry Teacher, Bruce Allen arrives from New Zealand.
Foailuga village in Savaii invites YMCA Rural Work

February   Carpentry School begins in fale at Chanel College with full roll and long waiting list.

The need for the Carpentry School was similar to the situation we had seen in Fiji. The Samoa Technical College was training a class of budding carpenters on a three year course based on New Zealand standards. As soon as each class graduated, which was about twelve young men per year, the majority headed straight for American Samoa where the pay was about ten times higher. The local building trade got very little benefit from the Tech and local standards were basic and not improving. Too many bush carpenters, not enough tradesmanship. So with tools from the New Zealand High Commission and the use of a basement at the Catholic school, Chanel College, VSA Carpentry Teacher Bruce Allan began business on February 19th 1979. Bruce was immediately an amazingly good ‘fit’ for the job. His

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rapport with the twelve young trainees was magic. They hung on his every word. They grew in knowledge and skills every minute of the day. They also knew that they were the lucky twelve to have been selected from the sixty who applied. There were no power tools in the school as the work that most would be going to would have few power tools that only senior carpenters would be allowed to use. At the presentation of certificates for the first class, the June Newsletter reported that all of the twelve had gone from the school straight into employment. Four went to jobs with Wallwork Construction, three to Atoa Construction, two to Public Works, and one to SPDC. The second class ran from June 11th to August 31st with a full class of twelve.

The school with Bruce’s management skills started to take on community projects to give the trainees relevant practical experience. The first project involved shifting an interior partition in the Marist Brothers residence at Mulivai. Bruce said it provided the trainees an opportunity to experience to learn about wall framing, fixing wood to concrete, making door and window openings, framing for joinery, and fixing and cutting wall cladding. This added significant benefits to the classroom projects work. Once again the class graduated straight into employment. The next class took on a project building a hen house at the village of Fagalii on the outskirts of Apia.

Then tragedy struck. My letter home of 28th October, 1979 reported, “We have had a very sad weekend. Bruce Allan, the Instructor with the YMCA Carpentry School was killed in a motor accident on Friday night. The first I knew of it was when the Police came out home on Saturday morning at 10am to inform me and asked me to go with them to the hospital to identify the body and authorise a post mortem. Bruce had been riding his motor bicycle at about 8pm and ran into a taxi head on. The road was wet, the light was bad and a whole combination of things led to the smash. Apparently he was taken to the hospital and lived for a while, though unconscious, and required massive blood transfusions which were however too late. He had a relatively uncommon blood group and they had to make radio announcements to ask for donors which added to the delays. There is no blood bank here. When blood is needed, known donors are contacted if they have a telephone and radio announcements made to bring in live blood. We think Bruce died about 10pm. The New Zealand High Commission notified VSA in Wellington who have notified Bruce’s parents. The New Zealand High Commission will do all the arranging of sending the body back to New Zealand.”

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And then we had a second shock. Bruce’s parents wanted Bruce buried in Samoa rather than having his body returned to New Zealand. Bruce had had a twin brother who had been killed in an accident in Australia a few years earlier and the hurt would have too painful to have to deal with things in New Zealand. Furthermore, Bruce’s letters home had told them of the great fulfilment he was experiencing in Samoa. So the Administration Officer from the New Zealand High Commission in Samoa and I began planning the funeral.

There were no funeral service businesses in Samoa. It was all ‘do-it-yourself.’ The NZHC man said he would arrange the grave bit of it if I arranged the church service. He did, however, keep in touch with many of the graveside issues. For example, who did I know with six shovels? Where do we dig? Where do we get permission ? Well we found out there was an old European/part European cemetery and one got a permit from the Public Works Department who told you where to dig. When his workers got down about four foot they found it was one solid rock and they couldn’t go any deeper. So they contacted PWD who said they would blast their way down until it was pointed out that the body next to ours looked as though it might come through as the ground was very light and friable. So it was agreed that four foot would do provided we put a concrete top on it within a couple of weeks. Which we did.

In the meantime I was arranging the church service with Father Joe Pusateri, a member of our YMCA Board of Directors and at that time President of the Rotary Club of Apia. We used the Apia Protestant Church and the congregation filled it to capacity. The Prime Minister, Tupola Efi attended, as did Aggie Grey, and Derrick Quigley, the New Zealand Minister of Lands who was visiting Samoa at the time.

The only hearse in the country was owned by the Government so we hired it for the occasion. The problem was it was having problems with its starter motor so it didn’t dare switch off the engine or it might have needed the indignity of a push start. So I kept it at the door of the church with the motor running until the exhaust fumes became so bad I sent it up the road a bit. In the meantime, the church service was being conducted by Father Joe, and Sione Tamalii, General Secretary of the Methodist Church, and Norman Kemp, the Minister of the Apia Protestant Church. The pall bearers were VSA volunteers and staff from the NZHC. They sat on the right side of the nave and the casket. On the other side sat the trainees from the Carpentry School. When the service was concluded, I called the hearse to back up to

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the front door and Norman asked the trainees to start taking out the masses of flowers that completely covered the casket. They went back and forth several trips with the flowers and on the last trip picked up the casket and took that out to the hearse leaving the pall bearers standing there. Needless to say, the pall bearers were mightily put out somewhat.

So we all headed up to the cemetery. Just before the church service, the NZHC man had telephoned me to ask had I got the 4 by 2 wood and the ropes to use at the graveside. I had asked him what that was for and he said, “You don’t just drop it down you know.” Anyway, he arranged for that gear to be there, when we all arrived graveside. The casket was placed on the 4 by 2s and Norma[n] gave the  committal service, ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ etc, and when it was time to lower the casket, the Carpentry trainees picked up the casket and started walking away with it. Norman said, “Excuse me. Where are you going? Come back with that.”PANIC. PANIC. But the trainees turned the casket around head to feet and placed it again on the 4 by 2s. The head of the casket had been at the wrong end in relation to all the other headstones. And so it was lowered by the ropes into its final resting place while the trainees filled in the grave.

Many of the entourage then came to the cup of tea function which our ladies put on in Tinos flat. A couple of our local Board members wives guarded the door, and sure enough, after the grace had been said by Sione, the women from Fagalii of the hen house project, all picked up a plate of food and were heading out the door until they were stopped by Julie and Tui and told to put it back. A day full of drama.

The Trade Training programme continued and expanded to include a Carpentry School in Savaii, a Motor Mechanic School in Apia, a mobile Outboard Motor/ Chainsaw/ Sewing Machine School. All of the tutors were locals except our Peace Corp volunteer Donald Coppersmith who tutored the Motor Mechanic School. Donald had an artificial arm with a hook for a hand. This was very useful if the spark plug was too hot to touch, or you wanted to test the spark and other party tricks. Donald enjoyed Samoa because back home in the States, most often people didn’t mention his arm, pretending they hadn’t noticed it. In Samoa, the first thing people said was, “Heck, look at your arm. What happened?” And after Donald explained that he had an accident with a gun when he was a kid, that was accepted and life carried on.

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After Bruce’s death, I concluded the class as Acting Carpentry Instructor. Then we appointed Gus Sheppard, an old part-Samoan, but he was eventually replaced by Faumui from Foaluga.

The Rural Work programme operated at a very modest pace for the first two years. We had, I think, about six clubs who were doing a variety of things, especially increasing their agriculture production. We kept records of what every member had in his garden when he joined the YMCA and every twelve months thereafter.

In early 1980, our members from Foaluga told us the price they were getting for taro was very low, $7.00 per case, and made it hardly worth the effort. I made enquiries and found that the only outfit marketing taro to the export outlets was the Governments Marketing Agency. Taro was selling on the New Zealand market for $30 to $40 a case. After more questioning, I found that the farmers were so discouraged by the low payout that they would put one or two taro on top of the case and fairly rubbishy stuff underneath. In fact the Government Marketing Agency had to repack every case and reject about a third, send a third to the local market and the remaining third went to New Zealand. I told our members that if they packed only their best taro, I would arrange for it to be shipped to Auckland and marketed by agents there. I would not pay them in advance. I was not buying their taro as the Government Agency was doing, but shipping and marketing it on the members behalf. They did tell me that a local part-Chinese man had done that before but on the last shipment he jumped aboard ship and he and the money hadn’t been seen since. There was a fair bit of arranging to do with this; trucks, ships, agents, international transfer of money, who had how many cases, final payout. The YMCA Newsletter for August 1980 reported,

“The YMCA of Western Samoa is helping its members earn funds by exporting taro to New Zealand. $17.00 per case was paid out for a shipment sent in June.

YMCA had exported three shipments of taro in recent weeks and had paid out $12.89 per case, $12.28 and $17.00 per case. On the last shipment our taro sold for NZ$32 per case, and by the time costs for trucks, cases, shipping, wharfage, and fees are paid, we are still making very high payouts to our members.

The Agents in Auckland reported that YMCA taro is well packed, in good condition and with only well shaped tubers selected for packing it is fetching excellent prices.

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Member of Parliament Tofaeono Tile suggested at a meeting of the Legislative Assembly that the Government get the advice of the YMCA on taro exports as Government was only paying $7 per case. Subsequently, the YMCA had a visit by an officer in the Prime Minister’s Department and shared its information.”

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[Photos]

On board the S.S. Ormonde with my sister Laureen sailing to England.

With my clarinet aged about 13.

Canoeing the Wanganui River with Alan Philip.

Adventures in Scouting from around aged 6 to 18.

With Ivan Pivac and David Fraser setting out on an 800 mile bike journey.

The gymnast from which a YMCA career was launched.

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[Newspaper article]

Rags To Riches Story of the NP YMCA

After 15 years perseverance by the New Plymouth YMCA the major gaol was reached

[Photos]

A mind-blowing experience taking part with half a million protestors in an anti- Vietnam Rally in Washington DC in 1969

Around 30 shoe shine boys made the YMCA of Fiji their hoe [home] for sleeping and social support.

[Newspaper article]

TARANAKI HERALD.
TUESDAY DECEMBER 8, 1970

YMCA
SECRETARY
LEAVING

It was a shock to see my resignation in the New Plymouth was the top item in the regional news.

[Caricature]
One year after this photo was taken, the YMCA of Fiji had 30 members of staff working in 100 Villages with 10,000 members

[Photo]
Presenting a copy of my first book “Rural Youth”’ to Jone Naisara. Minister for Youth and Sport in the Fiji Government.

 

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[Photos]

The hut the YMCA of Samoa rented in front of Wendts Plumbing for the first three years.

Prime Minister David Lange visited the Hastings YMCA and meets board members Cathy McGregor, Ross Shear and me with local MP David Butcher.

We contracted the villagers of Foaluga to build this 70ft fale as the Headquarters of the YMCA of Samoa.

Business Development Minister Roger Maxwell presents the Quality Award to Hawke’s bay YMCA President John Donkin, me and Deputy Director Cathy Parker.

[Newspaper Article]

Change of Pace for YMCA boss.

Wrapping up a 41 year career with the YMCA, creating new YMCA‘s in Fiji and Samoa and reinventing the YMCA’s of New Plymouth and Hastings/Hawke’s Bay

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Challenging the Electoral Act of Samoa

I continued to take university courses whilst we were in Samoa through the Extension Services of the University of the South Pacific. I did an introductory course in accountancy which supposedly was purchased from Victoria University intended to knock out 80 percent of those that started it. It was certainly tough. I couldn’t understand some of the weekly questions. Neither could the manager of Price Waterhouse. But I passed the course and learnt that I didn’t like accountancy

A course on Land Tenure Systems of the Pacific was very interesting. I did a research project on the use of Methodist Church land in Samoa. The main file of land owned by the Methodist Church was in a shoe box with bits of paper, old envelopes and the like. To pick up one piece of paper it would read, “and the land bequeathed to the church is all that piece from the sharp large rock beside the very tall coconut tree go 300 paces due east then turn to a bit north….’ And things like that. Two other students, a Roman Catholic Priest and a Congregational Pastor were not permitted access to their church’s land files. As Jean worked unpaid for the Methodist Church and as Sione Tamalii, the General Secretary of the Methodist Church was on the YMCA Board; my access to their files was never questioned.

The method of study was unique. I would meet with other local students, usually mature young adults, mostly male, at the Malifa USP Centre. This comprised a couple of classrooms, an office and the satellite room. We would meet weekly for an hour and a half and spend the first half hour in the classroom going over the weekly questions with a local tutor. Then we would go to the satellite room where a large table with seating around it for twenty students, four microphones around the table and big speakers around the room. Then crackle, crackle and the announcement through the speakers,” this is USP coming on air, the course is Land Tenure Systems of the Pacific, lesson three, Professor Ron Crocombe; this is a station call; come in the Solomon Islands,” crackle, “Yes we are here Ron with 12 students.” “Come in,” and the call went to Vanuatu, Tonga, Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Cook Islands, The Solomon Islands, Samoa, Fiji and Niue, the ten island nations served by the USP. When all the stations were in, the lecturer would give a ten minute summary of the main points then throw it open for questions. That was the fascinating part. I was sitting in a classroom of one hundred students in ten different

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Island Nations separated only by thousands of miles of ocean but not limited by our imaginations, one student body pursuing common interests.

When I did a course on ‘Introduction to Constitutional and Legal Systems’ an assignment put the question, “Name three countries in the South Pacific, identify who gets to vote in national elections, and the authority that gives the power for the vote.” Well I thought it would be easy to do Fiji and Samoa for two of them. The Fiji system was interesting as every citizen got two votes; one for a candidate of their own race, Fijian, Indian or General, that is “the others’, in a district, and then one vote for any race candidate in a larger electorate. In the Samoa electoral system, only the chiefs, the matai had a vote and only matai could stand as candidates. The University had supplied a copy of all the Constitutions of the South Pacific so I looked up the Fiji and Samoan ones to see where the power to vote was given. The Samoan Constitution didn’t mention voting anywhere, and what’s more, wait, this is unusual; this contradicts the right of the matai to vote and to deny the untitled, the commoners the right to vote. The Constitution of Western Samoa, Part 11, Clause 15. of Fundamental Rights states,

“(2) Except as expressly authorized under the provisions of this Constitution, no law and no executive or administrative action of the State shall, either expressly or in its practical application, subject any person or persons to any disability or restriction or confer on any person or persons any privilege or advantage on grounds only of descent, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, social origin, place of birth, family status, or any of them.“

The conferring of a matai title is most often the business of the extended family, giving that person ‘family status.‘ Some District Alii titles, that is a high chief, not a talking chief is conferred by the matai of a district, a group of villages.

I finished my assignment with the puzzle of how the Electoral Act, which was passed after the Constitution was ever accepted as being constitutionally permissible. I chatted with several friends, several of whom were practicing solicitors and the opinion was expressed that the chiefs could probably get away with anything but, at any rate, the only way to test the constitutional legality of the Electoral Act was for it to be challenged in a court case on the basis of a practical issue effecting[affecting] a person and their right to vote. I spoke informally with most of our YMCA Board members,

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most of whom were not empowered to vote but had university qualifications. If they didn’t have a title, they were commoners and couldn’t vote.

Weeks went by, then Georgina Moore, a member of the YMCA Board came to me and asked what had I been talking about regarding the Constitution and the Freedom from Discrimination provision. As a part-Samoan, because her father had been registered as a citizen in 1935 or some such ancient date, she had qualified to vote according to a particular clause in the Electoral Act, and she had always exercised her right and had voted at each election since Independence. Now her husband Jim had taken a title and she had been advised that her right to vote had been taken away as she now had a family chief. She was furious. What could she do?

I directed her to Aeau Semi Epati, the solicitor that had thought the idea of challenging the Electoral Act would be worth a try. Not too much hope, but worth a try.

As soon as the news got out that Gina was challenging the power of the chiefs, the world and all of its citizens except two turned its back on her. Semi talked with her and I talked with her. Her own family crossed the road to avoid her if they saw her coming in a public place.

The case went to the Magistrates Court and was heard by a young Australian magistrate and we lost the case. Gina and Semi then took the case to the Supreme Court where the case was fully explored over a two day sitting.

The next day the newspaper, the Samoan Times had the headline, ‘ONLY UNIVERSAL FRANCHISE WILL SUFFICE SAYS CHIEF JUSTICE’ Wow. People didn’t know what to do with Gina. Should they rush over the road and shake her hand or duck for cover to see how much sh!! hit the fan.

Within a couple of weeks the Government announced that they would be taking the case to the Court of Appeal. This comprised three big guns, three senior judges from New Zealand hearing it in full court over three days. Before long we learnt that the Government was bringing in Constitutional experts from New Zealand and Britain to defend the Electoral Act and retain the chiefs their privilege of the exclusive right to vote. This heavy defence to discriminate against untitled people got me annoyed and I wrote a letter to the Editor of the Samoan Times. On 9th July 1982, the Samoa Times published this letter;

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“With the sitting of the Court of Appeal just around the corner, it is timely to point out to citizens and taxpayers that public money is being used to defend discrimination against the majority of citizens and taxpayers.

On the one hand we have the Attorney Generals office employing two overseas experts to assist them in appealing the judgment of the Chief Justice in which he declared sections of the Electoral Act discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional, and on the other hand we have Semi Epati and Ruby Drake fighting the case for the majority of Samoans who have been discriminated against without the support of overseas experts and without access to public funds.

That would seem to me to be a grossly unfair situation. And it comes at a time immediately after the public announcement that the government is so hard-up it is virtually bankrupt. I am sure the citizens and ratepayers of Samoa will be interested to learn from the Attorney Generals office just how much we are paying for the services of the overseas experts to defend the case for discrimination against the majority of Samoans.

I would like to make a move to restore to some extent fair play in the drama about to begin by donating fifty tala towards the fund to help pay for the services of Semi Epati and Ruby Drake in whom I place my trust.

It would be good if the office of the Samoa Times could be used as a collection point for the receipt of similar donations.  Dennis Oliver”

I attended the three day sitting of the Court of Appeal and watched Semi and Ruby put the case to the three Chief Judges sitting in their fineries. The overseas constitutional experts were very convincing. In essence their case was that the meaning of all words was shaped and prescribed by the cultural environment and the passage of time. Further, that there were always basic assumptions behind every proposition, some of which were stated and others which remained undeclared but were obvious to those that chose to see them. In the event, the Attorney General won the case and we were back to square one.

Before the judgment was delivered however, a lot of stuff went on. For one thing, Tino on the Y staff who had the occasional drink with Tupuola Efi, the Prime Minister told me that, a source, who would remain nameless, wanted to encourage me to pursue the issue. One day, the common people must get the vote. This may be the day, and if not it would help the country inch towards that day.

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Secondly, after the hearing but before judgment was delivered, the Samoa Times published an Editorial which in part said,” JUSTICE AND JUDGMENTS. Now that the hearing of the appeal is over perhaps now is the time to devote some comment to a question raised by a correspondent last week in a letter to the editor in which he queried the fairness of a system, where public funds are used, what he described as “discrimination against the majority of Samoans while “Semi Epati and Ruby Drake are fighting for the case for the majority of Samoans who have been discriminated against without the support of overseas experts and without access to public funds. “

The appeal is the very first one on a constitutional matter and an interpretation by the Court of Appeal, even if it were against the conclusion by the Chief Justice, would still be of importance to everyone whether one is an elector, voter, matai non-matai or other. ……..

But coming back to the question on monetary costs perhaps the government if not the Court will take guidance from the decision of the Chief Justice that the costs should be fairly borne by the public in general since the interpretation will be of equal importance to everyone, irrespective of whether franchised or not, to know what the relevant sections of the country’s Supreme Law actually mean.”

Judgment was made against the Chief Justices decision but costs were awarded so that the government paid for Semi and Ruby‘s services. We had raised one thousand tala which was put into a trust fund for any future court cases involving the protection of fundamental human rights.

About seven or eight years after we left Samoa, universal franchise was enacted in Samoa but only Matai could offer themselves as candidates. And that’s progress??

Tackling the Suicide Problem in Samoa

I first learned of the suicide problem in Western Samoa when Jean and I attended Aggie Grey‘s birthday party in 1978. Everybody that might have money was invited to Aggie’s birthday and they were invited to make a donation to Aggie’s favourite charity, usually the Little Sisters of the Poor. We happened to share a table with another New Zealand couple who we knew from attending the Apia Protestant Church each Sunday. After early exchanges I mentioned that David didn’t seem too

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happy, and he told him his job as local magistrate and coroner left him with the ‘bad news’ of society, including the Suicides. There had been three suicides in the previous three weeks, all by young people, and it seemed to be a problem that no one would own. He had sent messages ‘upstairs’, and my geography indicated that was either the Chief Justice or the Prime Minister, and had received nothing as a response. He found the silence distressing.

I filed this information into the back of my head for action when I had cleared the deck from doing my main job, that is, help local leaders create a YMCA in Samoa. I kept in touch with David while suicides country wide increased year by year. Suicides were rarely mentioned in the newspapers and official government statistics fudged the problem by hiding the figures away by, for example; three by accidental death; four by misadventure; five from unknown causes etc.

Then David finished his term in Samoa and Barry, another Kiwi took over. Barry kept me up with the play and sent messages ‘upstairs’ with the same zero response. He shared with me a letter from Professor H.B.M. Murphy of McGill University, Montreal, who confirmed that “the international statistics of suicides during the 1970s do not show any other country to have a suicide rate in males 15-24 which is as high as the Western Samoan one.”

Three years had elapsed since I had first learned of the problem and I decided that as no one else seemed to be taking responsibility to tackle the problem, I was now in a position to give it a go. A local man, Motupua’a Jack Lauaki had been appointed to the position of General Secretary of the YMCA and my role was redefined as Training Officer, being available to give Jack a hand when required. And to keep out of his road, I needed something not strictly YMCA work to keep me busy. I asked the YMCA Board for permission to tackle the problem and they gave approval but one member resigned as the issue was rather contentious and may get some people angry. They could well think a Palagi, an outsider European, had no right to meddle in Samoan private lives. My opinion was that human lives were sacred and custom and tradition were man-made, man-changed and frequently served some to advantage more than others. I was aware of the danger of ethnocentrism and the trap of thinking ‘there was only one right way’ which happened to coincide with my way of thinking. But you don’t walk away or turn a blind eye if lives might be saved, whatever the cultural milieu or the risk of consequences.

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I sent out letters and visited people that I felt ought to be involved including representatives from the Health Department, the Justice Department and the Fellowship of Churches. Sister Patricia Stowers and Andy Forsgren from the YMCAs Board joined the committee. We met in Aggie’s conference room in June 1981 and decided we would be an autonomous group but would keep our constituent bodies informed. We didn’t want to be pushed around by this group or that group but needed to do the job and if necessary, cop the flak.

The first problem to be tackled was the state of the official records. The Coroners Court had good records from 1976 but they were fairly scatchy [sketchy] prior to that; the police records were incomplete and were sharply at variance with others; and the Health Department at first glance had hardly any records at all. These were reconstructed at a later date, but in the meantime to get us started we decided to use the Coroners records back to 1970 and preferably beyond.

Through the office of the Chief Justice who was a member of the Samoa Suicide Study Group. I was helped in our research by the secondment of a Probation Officer in her spare time to get the records into a useable state. It took me almost ten months of two days a week to get on top of this job. On one occasion when I wanted to go back to 1960, I was shown a store room with a great stack of rotting records piled up against the back wall about three feet or one metre high. I had two prisoners seconded to me and we went through the whole stack setting aside the suicide cases. That job took one month and the only thing we learned was that there were four to six suicides a year from 1960 to 1970.

By April 1982 I had studied 237 suicides from Coroners Courts records from 1970 to 1981 and had gleaned from them sufficient information to begin action. In summary the basic facts we discovered were :-

From 1970 to 1975 the number of suicides increased from 6 to 11 per year
In 1976 they jumped to 23 then by 1981 had climbed to 49.
From 1975 young men aged 15 to 24 had comprised 50% of all suicides
In 1980 the Suicide rate for young men in this age cohort was 94.8 per 100,000
In 1981 the suicide rate for men 25 to 34 was 167.02 per 100,000 (Compare these rates to New Zealand’s at 25 per 100,000 which is frequently cited as one of the highest in the OECD)

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From 1976 onwards the weedicide paraquat was the major suicide vehicle in 83% of cases
The precipitating event in 55% of cases was a rebuke or scolding by a parent of the suicide, frequently in front of his peers
Of the 360 villages in Samoa, 261 had not had a single suicide since 1966
19 villages accounted for half of all suicides since 1966
7 villages had suicide rates between 60 and 110 per 100,000
the top 20 villages were widely disbursed throughout the two islands of Samoa

Each of our study group/committee carried out investigation of why these figures were so alarmingly high. One member tracked the correlation between paraquat sales in the increase of suicides. But, however one put it, you couldn’t say that paraquat caused suicide. Others looked at the tensions caused between authoritarian conservative parents and young people exposed to Western liberal ideas. I carried out my own research trying to figure out what were the dynamics in the red-hot villages that experienced high suicide rates. Suicide is a matter of the distribution of power and feelings of powerlessness. Matai/chiefs have power and they exercise it without written rules, limits or job descriptions. Because only the matai had the vote, prior to each election many villages would bestow titles to every Tom-Dick and-Harry to get their candidate elected but might not honour some matai after the election.

The bare facts of the power ratios were:-
Prior to 1961 the ratio of chiefs to commoners nationally was 1:24
By 1981 the ratio of chiefs to commoners was 1:12
The four hottest suicide villages in 1981 had a chiefs to commoners ratio of 1:2.5, that is for every five people in those villages there were two chiefs.

The other members of the committee were not in favour of this material because, they reasoned, it was unlikely that we could change the chiefs to commoners ratio. I disagreed with that view in the belief that if the chiefs thought their public prestige was in danger of being diminished, they could put the clamps on the wholesale bequeathing of titles. I did however; promise the committee that l would take ownership of that information and that the other committee members regarded it at arms distance.

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The Strategy

Up to this point only a handful of people knew that a special group had been set up to study the suicide problem and few knew that the rate of suicide was way up the top of world figures. The more we discovered about the problem, the more we realised that we had dynamite information to share, but we couldn’t actually ‘fix’ the problem but could perhaps give people enough tools to fix the problem themselves. There was also some nervousness that we might create a ‘fascination effect ‘making suicide a jazzy way to get ones name in the news. Overseas experts warned us about public exposure of suicide but we thought people won’t actually do anything until they said, “By gosh we have a problem, we should get fixing it.” We also heard via the grape vine that some members of parliament, big chiefs, had got wind of what we were doing and were concerned that we were about to give Samoa a bad name. We considered ourselves lucky that we were independent enough to not be influenced by sources outside our group.

We planned a publicity campaign using radio, newspapers, and public meetings spread over twelve days in the Samoan and English languages. This spread of days was deliberate as we figured that if it was confined to a couple of days the impact would be over before you knew it, but if you dragged it out too long it would become a bore and a drag, that is sort of normal.

We deliberately left out two significant facts; Firstly, in spite of persistent questioning we refused to describe what a lethal dose of paraquat looked like. Our reading of the Coroners Courts cases and a reading of Polynesian myths was that there was some indication that the victims were taking a gamble with the paraquat, “Does God love me, yes or no? Do my parents love me, yes or no? Will there be a miracle and I will survive?” And the other reason we didn’t attempt to describe the size of a lethal dose was that different people reacted different ways. We had a boy that drank a large mouthful and survived and another girl who barely tasted it and she died.

Secondly, we didn’t describe the dreadful pain that paraquat causes. People screamed themselves to death as their organs dissolved and they drowned in the liquid. And the reason we didn’t tell was because quite often the pathology indicated that revenge was in the mixture of their motivation. They wanted to get even and

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punish the triggering agents, usually their parents, and the more painful the death, the more effective the revenge. Pretty sick stuff.

Perhaps more importantly, in spite of persistent questioning by newspaper reporters, overseas magazines, members of the public as to why this was happening, we refused to guess the causes. We would say, “Listen to the facts; listen to where it is happening; then ask them and ask yourself. Nobody knows any better than that.“ Our thinking was like this:-

the reasons for this suicide rate are complex
the committee is a group outside the problem offering information
the people closest to the problem know more details than we do
the people most affected have the right and responsibility to dig for causes and solutions.

The publicity campaign hit the airwaves with five radio programmes, eight newspaper articles and two public meetings. When I gave my bit about the ratio of matai to commoners, the other members left the stage and left me on my own. I accepted that as a sensible gesture.

The headlines in the Samoa Times the next day read, SUICIDE FIGURES INDICATE MATAIS

The story then ran on to say that Mr. Dennis Oliver, the co-ordinator of the study group called together by the YMCA named the four villages of Neiafu, Falefa, Toamua and Vaisala had the highest suicide rates and had a matai to commoner ratio of 1 to 2.5.

The word started to get around town that Oliver was in danger of getting himself kicked out of the country. He was giving Samoa a bad name. Now he was giving the chiefs a bad name and that wouldn’t be taken lying down.

In the meantime, following the publicity from the Suicide awareness campaign, the news was that there was no suicide for one whole month, the first time for about three years. Then it was two months…we waited scarcely daring to breath. And at the end of three months, it started up again as if nothing had happened. But the rhythm had been broken and it was time to move into a different phase.

The YMCA appointed an Adult Education Officer who went into some hot and moderately hot villages to encourage communication connections between the various social groups, the older men, the women, the younger men and the younger

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women. And the suicide rate started to come down. From 49, down to 35, down to 22 and then it got stuck around the 20 mark.

I have visited Samoa several times since we left in 1982 and each time I have visited the office still working on the suicide problem. For several years, the Catholic Church’s office for young people ‘carried the torch’. The YMCA was involved only on the periphery. In the year 2004 an independent NGO had an office working with the suicide and keeping it down to a minimum.

I accept a Matai title

Several times during our years in Samoa l had been asked whether I would take a matai title. Whilst this may have been in a way an honour, depending on the rank of the title, it would also have been an obligation to one particular family group or village, giving them an advantage over others. I also thought it was inappropriate for Palagi that is outside foreigners to take Samoan titles which were meant for Samoans. I had observed that the people who were offered titles were seen to be a good investment as they indicated a good return on the honour bestowed. They were expected to deliver, to serve, to procure. I had the occasional overseas guest of the YMCA who went on a planned visit to some rural clubs and came back with some minor title.

When the heat came on from the big chiefs in parliament because of my involvement in Gina Moores case against the Electoral Act, but more importantly because of my leadership and public exposure with the Samoa Suicide Study Group, just when I was feeling very exposed, a strange coincidence occurred. A deputation of chiefs and orators from the village of Foaluga arrived at the YMCA asking me to take a title. Jack Lauaki told them that I had repeatedly refused to take titles and he was about to send them away. l noticed the group and asked Jack what they wanted. He explained the situation and turned to the group to encourage their exit. “Wait,” I said. “How big is this title?” Jack had a brief discussion then indicated that it was a title that had not been filled for several years, it was an Alii title, that is high chief of a District, but that it was a non-active role. He had not heard of the title but they said it was ‘big’. So I agreed to take the title and it was arranged that I would travel to Savaii the following week to go through the appropriate ceremonies.

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There was quite a lot of discussion about the appropriate size of my lafo that is gift to the chiefs and orators of Foaluga. A good Samoan would expect to make a lafo of say $5000 to $10,000. As a non-Samoan, I would be expected to make a modest lafo and as it was our personal family gift I made it $500. This was all made up in $2 notes stuffed into a large envelope. Then I was expected to obtain a new lavalava coloured sky blue to represent my new beginning in a new role.

In the meantime, an old friend, Trevor Humphrey had telephoned from New Zealand to say that his doctor had advised him to take two weeks holiday to retain his mental health and Trevor wanted to know, could he come to Samoa. By this stage most of our personal possessions were packed ready for shipping back to New Zealand. Come, we said, and bring your own knife, fork, spoon, mug and plates. All of ours are packed. So come he did.

We were picked up, Jean and Trevor and me in a midsized truck by the store keeper from Foaluga and we crossed over in the ferry to Savaii. When we approached the village, the people were getting ready for the celebrations. Firstly, we were lead into the fono matai, the house where chiefs meet. I was placed at the head, sitting crosslegged and we went through the kava ceremony. All the orators were sitting along the side and began an oratory competition to decide who would be the main orator. I had had my orator appointed to me. He was a fine specimen with a proud head of silver hair and a broad chest with fine Samoan oratory. Only snag was he didn’t have a word of English, so we couldn’t communicate, but perhaps that wasn’t important. When all of the orators had had their say, the appointed orator delivered his pitch through the traditional route of flattery and reverence to the ancestors. Then I was offered the bowl of kava, which I drank, then the old chief at the other end, then all the orators. Then my orator presented my lafo which was suitably received.

After the kava ceremony, a great feast was presented with two roast pigs and lots of other tasty Samoan food. When the food was finished I was asked to dance the siva, the Samoan free-lance dance wearing my sky blue lavalava. After a brief solo, everybody took the floor and danced their little feet off. Trevor was a hit with the local girls who saw him as an available Palagi man apparently unemcumbered [unencumbered] by an attached female. He managed valiantly to fight them off. It was a BIG BIG day. By now nobody called me Dennis. I was FAATAUTELE.

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The next day we drove up the coast stopping at Vaipua where we were presented with two more roast pigs and several mats. Then on to Falelima where we gave away two pigs and received three more with several more mats and fans and other gifts. More dancing and feasting at Falelima, transferred to a bigger truck to receive the gifts then on to Sataua where after more dancing, swapping roast pigs, feasting and receiving more gifts, we bedded down for the night. Trevor didn’t get a lot of sleep.

The next day, we were crossing the lava fields when our truck ran out of petrol. We sent Tafito on ahead to get a can of petrol and he came back after half an hour with the whole petrol tanker. The problem was, we had no hose to transfer it from the tanker to the truck. Tafito hunted around and found an old jam tin. So for the next 20 minutes we filled the jam tin from the tanker and threw it in the tank of the truck. It worked and off we went again.

We arrived back at Puipaa with about 30 mats, lots of fans and orators wisks and staffs and two or three roast pigs. I dealt with them with the bush knife, gave the heads to the village next door, gave other chunks away and stuffed the rest into the fridge.

The next day I returned to the YMCA and Jack heard some of the others call me Faatautele. His father had compiled a book of Samoan titles in their rank order. Without telling me, Jack decided to ‘look up’ the Faatautele title. The next day, one of the Foaluga men called at the Y and called me Tagaloa Faatautele. Jack looked relieved then told me that he had consulted his fathers chronicles and hadn’t found Faatautele. He was beginning to have doubts about the whole deal. But now with the Tagaloa added, he had located the title Tagaloa Faatautele, it was on page one of his father’s list.

I was presented at our farewell, a traditional fine mat of a very fine standard, suited to the status of the Alii title. This is a treasure beyond financial measure, judged to be well over a century old. In a sense it goes with the title. We were also presented a large tanoa, a kava bowl 570mm across all carved from the one piece of wood with 22 legs.

Since that time, when I am in the company of Samoans at any ‘official’ event, I am addressed as ‘Tagaloa’, a rare privilege for a Palagi.

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Chapter Seven   Inventing Community Management Associates

A series of events led me to believe that I needed another professional identity outside the YMCA so that my services would be available to those that wanted to employ those services without actually affiliating with the YMCA.

The first of these events occurred when the Asian office of the World Alliance of YMCAs invited me to present an address on the Rural Work Programme of the YMCA of Fiji at a Regional development conference held in Chiangmai, northern Thailand in October 1976. By this time, the Fiji work had developed to include 100 villages with ten thousand members doing a wide variety of activities. The first printing of my book “Rural Youth“ was printed and circulating around the 20 or so national YMCA movements throughout Asia. The work was often referred to as ‘the Fiji model’ because, apart from some rare exceptions, this was the first time the YMCA had broken away from a large building in a metropolitan city centre and was instead going into the villages where many of the people with the most needs were living. I wrote my paper titling it, ‘Community Action For Development’ and posted it to Asian office a couple of weeks before the event. I flew to Thailand through Sydney, Australia and had three days in Bangkok while the group assembled before taking the bus trip overnight to Chiangmai.

There were 60 participants at the conference from 20 different countries. Some YMCA Rural work had been done in India at the Martandam Rural Training Centre, and some at outposts of the Chiangmai YMCA. But the Fiji model was of great interest to the participants.

When I checked around with the participants who had read my paper which had been distributed before the event, some said they had read it and marked various parts for questioning; others said they had scanned it but really hadn’t studied it; and others said they had not had a chance to look at it. This put me in a quandary as how to present it and, in the end I did an unsatisfying job by reading it at a great speed.

The three other papers presented were by Professor Doctor Whatsitorother which made me more nervous than would have otherwise been the case. Two of the others addressed the meeting on the first day and didn’t disturb the conference too much. I was the first speaker on the second day and immediately the conference sprang to life. In fact the final speaker had very few of the conference attend his

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address as they had organised themselves into sub-regional groups to figure out how they could introduce the ‘Fiji model’ into their national movements. I felt a bit guilty about the next speaker being deserted but the dynamics had flowed beyond my control. Hey, there were 60 little YM organisers there buzzing about, why would one not expect that things would become over organised. This was however, a YMCA to YMCA service outside my usual orbit but not yet signalling that I needed another professional identity.

The next two events moved a little more sideways outside the YMCA orbit. Geoff Bamford, at the time was the Regional Representative of the International Labour Organisation of the United Nations. He secured my services from the National office of the YMCA of New Zealand to help the Government of Vanuatu prepare the Youth Departments section of the National Development Plan for the next five year period. This was in 1981 while I was still working in Samoa. I had met several politicians from Vanuatu while I was working in Fiji when they were students at the Pacific Theological College. Jack Hopi had been involved on the shoeshine boy project and he became Minister of Forestry and the Speaker of the House. When he was in Suva he was called Jack Tungan but when he returned home he took the big title for the island. Sethi Regenvau had also been at PTC and had become Minister of Education. I had met Walter Lini at a Pacific conference but this was before independence and before he became Prime Minister.

The Ministry of Youth had two and a half staff and a VSO volunteer from Britain with whom I met for the first day. The first decision for them was the nature of the structure of their work. Prior to this date, a lot of their energies had gone into promoting and supporting dance bands. There were a few local bands with several electric guitars and drums that existed almost solely because of the Ministry’s support. When I asked what was happening with youth groups outside the towns I was told there was quite a lot done by many groups but the Ministry wasn’t involved. It was then decided that it would be an appropriate role for the Ministry to support those groups who were involved in development activities including leadership training. That would be better than the Ministry setting up their own programme which might be seen to be in opposition to what was already being done.

It was then arranged that over the next ten days I would fly to five different islands to observe what work was being done to get a grasp of the baseline. The

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VSO volunteer accompanied me to the islands of Melekula, Espiritu Santo, Aoba and Ambrym and of course the office was based in Efate, the town of Port Vila.

We met with various youth groups and asked them about the programmes they were doing. A village group in Ambrym were making very good quality cane furniture and had secured a market for it. Transport was a bit of a problem as copra boats didn’t favour such a flimsy cargo and the furniture was too bulky for the little Twin Otter airplane. I asked to have a look at their financial records as they said they kept good records. The detail of expenditure was impressive. When I asked where were the records of income, I got blank stares. When I continued and asked where their income came from, they said, “foreign aid.” I figured the Ministry could help with transport and two-sided financial records.

On Malekula I had two interesting experiences. A village group was building a concrete water tank about three metres high and three metres across using split bamboo as the frame to give it shape. They had been led to try this by an Appropriate Technology ‘expert’ sent by a foreign aid agency. One local fella took me aside and asked whether I thought it was a good idea. I had my suspicions of the bamboo as it was bound to disintegrate and there was no steel reinforcing so the structure was potentially unsound. I asked the local fella if they had a water shortage and he led me around the corner where there was a perfectly good fero-cement tank built a couple of years previous by a VSA volunteer. It illustrated to me the danger of some of these ‘experts’ who were working on their own ego’s without listening to the locals tell of their needs.

The other quaint experience happened when l was waiting outside the Norsop district hospital on Malekula for a person who had hitched a ride for this part of the journey. I was sitting on a large white painted rock enjoying the sun when a local fella came along. “Good morning sir,” he said. I explained I was waiting for a person to come out then we would be flying off to Santo. He asked where I was from and to save confusion I said I was from New Zealand. “Well sir, this is most fortunate. I have been listening to the news on the radio and many people in New Zealand who have been attending rugby matches have been fighting with the police, there has been violence and hundreds of people have been put in jail. Please sir, could you tell me, what is a Springbok?” l explained that it was a South African rugby team that had been selected without any black fellas and that their country was not good to

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black fellas. I wonder what had been going on in his head? I can’t imagine what he thought might have been a Springbok.

When I visited the island of Aoba, Walter Limi’s family had built a community centre but not too much was taking place there. That night, after a dinner with some of the local elders, I was asked whether I drank kava. Well I must have drunken one hundred gallons or more in Fiji so not wishing to look like a green beginner I told them yes, I drunk kava. One man took off in the dark into the bush and came back with a whole kavakava plant. They then ground the bottom part and the roots into a bowl and added two cups of water. Wow, I thought, this will be powerful. One cup of the brew was handed to me, I gave the traditional hollow clap, took the cup and drank it right down. It was a bit dank and bitter in the mouth. Apart from that I felt no effect. They then added six cups of water and shared out the rest to one another. Fifteen minutes later, l was ready for bed and announced my retirement and they said “One more for the road.” Well I figured that the mixture had been watered down a fair bit so l agreed to another bowl. They went and got another whole kavakava plant. After the grinding down and the two cups of water I accepted and drank the second cup. After they had completed the round I went to leave only to find my entire lower body wouldn’t respond to my commands. The whole thing was anaesthetised and totally non-responsive. I went into a mild panic and tried to crawl myself to bed. It wouldn’t work. Finally two of the men carried me to my bed in one of their huts. With a real struggle and a little help I made a cup of coffee on the petrol cooker and tore off lumps of bread and swallowed them down. Feeling very groggy I got under a blanket and dropped off to sleep. The next day I didn’t appear to have any side effects so carried on with the journey.

I had the final week in the capital Port Vila with the Youth Department staff working on white boards helping them write their section of the National Development Plan. It finished a modest eight pages but it was workable, achievable and the staff had the skills to deliver it. In the office in which I was working were 200 copies of the Ministry of Agriculture section of the plan. Each copy was 200 Wpages thick, written by two German experts over a six month assignment, and no local person could understand it.

The next assignment was in the Cook Islands where I trained all the Youth Workers in thinking and planning skills. There were about 20 participants, mostly the leaders of village church youth groups. I used the example of the opening exercises

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of the training course in the introduction of ‘Trickling Up’, the book that I wrote also in 1982. Their Youth groups were mainly involved in activities which included choir competitions, bible drama plays, brass bands, sports competitions, cultural dancing, and bible study. WWhen they described the problems that many young people experienced were unemployment, juvenile crime, lack of respect to parents and elders, alcohol abuse, premarital sex, I pointed out the dissonance between the problems and the responses. The remainder of the training course addressed the problem of making their programmes relevant to their country and that time.

These three events, the Thailand conference, the Vanuatu and Cook island assignments indicated to me that another professional identity outside the YMCA would be useful. So, I created ‘Community Management Associates.

When we returned to New Zealand in 1982, unemployment was of real concern and youth unemployment was reaching figures not seen since the great depression of the 1930s. Many programmes were being funded by government to absorb the potential energies. The Hastings YMCA became heavily involved in programmes training young unemployed people (more of that later in the story), and through involvement in those programmes combined with an ongoing programme of study as an extramural student with Massey University doing a Diploma of Training and Development, I developed the skills to deliver ‘training of trainers’ packages.

I conducted a Training Needs Analysis of what the effective trainer needs to know and do and packaged it into 5 two day courses. Within a year or two there were scores of courses popping up to train unemployed people but few trainers had training skills and few if any were providing the training.

Then the Government offered each trainer $800 to get themselves trained. I offered training through Community Management Associates and for the first course about 15 people enrolled. The courses were held on a Friday and Saturday each course being a fortnight apart. I had designed specific thinking tools for each course and these became the base with group work and feedback being the main processes used. The course was a real winner. The next course had 20 participants from Hawkes Bay, Wellington and Wanganui. Another winner. The next course had 50 apply so I broke it into two classes a fortnight apart. Before the years end each course had about 80 people apply from all over New Zealand, North and South Islands. I was sharing the proceeds of the courses charged through Community Management Associates with the YMCA of Hastings as my employer as ‘their time

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and my time’ were inseparable. The five courses were :- ‘Creating Relevant Programme’ ‘Effective Communication for Trainers’, ‘Changing Peoples Behaviour,‘ Delivering Excellent Training,’ and ‘Managing the Organisation,‘ With 80 people now applying for the courses

I decided to take some courses to where the customers were. With the help of YMCAs who acted as local organisers I conducted courses in Hamilton, Timaru and Invercargill. I continued running courses in Hastings, sometimes in the dining room of a local hotel and sometimes at the Hastings YMCA head office. The Hastings YMCA put their share of the extra income I earned through CMA into a Staff Development Fund. Every person who had served on the staff for three years received an overseas YMCA experience paid for by the Staff Development Fund. About eight staff in three groups attended training courses in Hawaii, twelve had a ten day experience with the YMCA of Fiji which included village experiences, local transport and some time in Suva, and two had a week in Samoa for YMCA celebrations living with local families.

By 1988, training courses for the unemployed were being conducted in every city, town and village in New Zealand, many operated by people who had good craft skills but few tools of how to actually plan and present training material and experiences. Responding to this need, I wrote my fourth book, ‘TRAINING THE UNEMPLOYED – a practitioner’s manual’. It drew heavily on the five courses I had conducted around New Zealand and included chapters on Job Market Research, and Values for Human Development. I sent the manuscript off to a few publishers and had an encouraging response from two. Both said they would consider publishing it if I would identify where I thought they could make sales of 3000. Well I had some ideas but they didn’t add up to 3000 and anyway, I thought sales and marketing was their business. I thought writing the book was my part of the process. All I was offered was ten percent of the cost price of printing each book. So the publishers would get 90 percent and the retailer would double the cost to him so that the writer would only get perhaps one or two percent of the price of the book in the shop. We decided that we would get fancy covers printed and photocopy the text and only produce what we could sell as orders came to hand.

Then I tendered a contract to Train the Trainers to the Regional Employment and Access Training Council, REAC, for Gisborne and the East Coast. Because of the high Maori population in Gisborne and the East Coast, I took one of my

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Hastings Maori staff to help me on each course. Hera Marshall was my main companion and when she was not available Jim McClutchie filled the role.

The courses were absolute winners. We all had a dynamic time learning, trying, developing new skills, having fun and enjoying each others company. The Gisborne courses were conducted in a local hotel. Then we held courses on Tokomaru Marae, Tolaga Bay Marae, Puha old school house, Ruatoria, Rongopai Marae, and another Marae around the corner from Te Puia Springs. I believe we did a cracking good job with these courses with people completing the courses with a range of skills essential for the job that they didn’t have before the courses. One of the bonuses over the period was that we sold close to one thousand copies of “Training the Unemployed’ at $25 a copy which was nice for CMA financially, but it also meant that people who attended the courses also had a full manual to take home for their continued learning.

In 1994, 95 and 96, I conducted training courses in Fiji and Samoa for the key leaders of local voluntary organisations to increase their management skills to deliver development projects and programmes. These were funded through contracts gained from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the New Zealand Government. I have tendered for several contracts through MFAT but have won few because I am not on their doorstep in Wellington and my face is not known to their faces which keep changing all the time. The courses in Fiji and Samoa were hosted by the local YMCA Manager who made all the arrangements and publicity and enrolments. At the three courses we had about 15 to 18 participants from a variety of organisations. Partly because of the energy required through the group work process, the courses were demanding and very fulfilling. Once again people left the courses with new useful skills.

In 1985 l was invited to present a paper at the East-West Centre, Honolulu, ‘Reducing Suicide in Western Samoa. The East-West Centre is located in the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the conference included studies of suicide in Samoa, Micronesia, Truk, Palau, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. Three people presented papers about the Samoa case : John Bowles, the Psychiatrist that served on our Suicide Study Group in Samoa, and Cluny Macpherson, a Sociologist from the University of Auckland and me. I found it interesting that Cluny could write so much about the Samoa case, describing the theories of what was going on in Samoa society and families, John could give

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countless graphs and tables, and I described how one could ‘fix’ it, or at least help the community tackle it. I found it bizzare that in Truk the favoured way of committing suicide was to tie a rope to a door handle and lie down in the noose with your head twelve inches off the floor. A report of some 216 pages was produced called ‘Culture, Youth and Suicide in the Pacific’.

I had printed A2 copies of THE TRICKLING UP PLANNING SYSTEM to be used as a wall planner guide to thinking. These have proven very popular and useful to a wide variety of users. These range from community organisations, small business start-up people, individual mum and dads, kids and youth workers old uncle Tom Cobly and All. This has been the major tool for group work learning at training courses in New Zealand, Fiji and Samoa.

In 1991 l modified the Trickling Up Planning System to make it a little more ‘tailor made’ for individuals. The need for this came to the surface when several staff members at the Hastings YMCA commented that most dealing with groups of young people were giving them some planning ideas, but their different ways did not quite coincide. it was considered essential we develop one planning tool. So with trial and feedback I wrote ‘PILOT YOUR OWN SPACECRAFT’ and packaged a two or three day course to present it. The booklet was used extensively by hundreds of unemployed young people. Those staff that used it said that it was quite common to see ‘a light come on’ in the heads of many young people as they realised that they now had a tool to take control of their life. Daughter Shelley developed quite special skills in using ‘Pilot’ and has used it on contracts with the Department of Corrections in the Hawkes Bay Prison, particularly with young prisoners who tended to blame others and their social environment for their predicament. Then she moved on to a contract equipping women returning to the workforce with thinking and job hunting skills using ‘Pilot’ as a major tool. She also used Pilot with families attached to Flaxmere College as they took delivery of a computer to link into a community network. The sponsers thought it important to train the families in ‘thinking‘, not just using the computer. We have probably trained close to six hundred people in thinking and planning skills and there is some satisfaction in seeing some people take a better grip on their life with their new tools.

In 1995 I conducted a five day course for new Executive Directors with YMCAs from Wanganui, Dunedin, Tokoroa, Wanganui and Hawkes Bay. It was very fruitful with lots of group work/feedback using a variety of thinking tools and case

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studies. In addition to the Trickling Up Planning System, I had developed an organisational appraisal tool I called, ‘The Six Essential Systems for the Effective Organisation’. This followed a flow from the Goal System, the Performance System, the Resource Allocation System, the Communication System, the Review System and Reward and Renewal System. I had picked up the draft idea at a Massey University Course and used it with the National YMCA Office to conduct team appraisals in most YMCAs around New Zealand.

We had fun analysing various scenarios looking at the interface between the role of the Executive Director and the President or Chairman of the Board. This was frequently an interface with a lot of friction and one where the interdependent relationship was often in need of renegotiation. We gave the scenarios cheeky titles following the example of Games People Play, including, ‘Let’s Make ED Piggy in the Middle’, ‘The Adventures of Superboss – The Managers Manager’, ‘ If I’m the King Of The Castle, You Must Be The Dirty Rascal’, and ‘ We’re a Rubber, a Rubber, a Great Big Rubber Stamp‘. Ten years later, only Gerry Gibbs from Wanganui was still active operating a successful YMCA but, I like to think, many of the others still use some of the tools to help them shape success in their life.

In 2002 I presented a paper at a Development Conference at Massey University organised by the New Zealand international Development Studies Network (DevNet). The report of the conference called ‘Contesting Development: Pathways to Better Practice’ was 342 pages long. My paper was called “The Three Levels of Participation” in recognition that it was no longer sufficient to consult the chief about the community, nor only the village council, but it was best practice to also seek ideas and get feedback from the grassroots, the non-office holders, the un-seen, un-spoken ones. The exercise was a bit like a sausage factory giving graduates a chance to strut their stuff but there were some bones to chew on.

Family life in Samoa

Jean had an interesting job in Samoa with Price Waterhouse, the international accounting firm, three days a week. Some of the time she was charged with training local people how to keep their financial records so that their annual audit was less costly than need be. She was also involved in some audits that were not quite run of the mill. For example, counting the cattle at a government corporation and finding

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them several hundred missing but all the staff looking well fed. On one occasion, Jean had driven me the 25 miles to Faleolo airport and was driving back to Apia through a village when she noticed up ahead a rope across the road and a matai marching back and forth. The truck ahead of her took evasive action and drove on the grass around the back of the village then back on to the road. Jean followed in the car and then back in the office asked a co-worker what was going on in his village. The co-worker explained that the next door village had beaten their rugby team the previous Saturday and his mates were stopping every bus, taking off any passengers from that village and thrashing the hell out of them.

A friend of ours volunteered to be a rugby referee but when he gave a decision the crowd didn’t like, they rushed to the picket fence, ripped off the pickets and chased him out of sight. From then on, he wouldn’t referee another game unless the police wagon was on the sideline with the back door open and the motor running.

Shelley worked hard at Samoa College and passed NZ School Certificate the first year then the second year passed University Entrance with flying colours. She started a course with an international computer firm but they didn’t continue it. She then got a job with O. F. Nelson’s as the accountant’s assistant. This had her running around Apia picking up invoices or other pieces of paper the accountant wanted. Within a couple of months she was asked to help the advertising manager write the newspaper and radio advertisements. One month later, on the departure of the advertising manager she was promoted to fill that position. That was on $25 a week. Then about a month later she was told she was relieving the bookkeeper in the copra sheds. A truck would pick her up at 5am and breakfast would be supplied. The truck came and away she went. When she came home that night, we asked her what the job involved. She said, “I was in this glass office with $80,000 in notes and men would come in one at a time with a slip from the tally clerk and I would give him several hundred dollars according to what was on the slip.” When I asked her how she balanced the slips with the money left over, she exclaimed, “I hadn’t thought of that. Nobody told me to do it.” She certainly appeared to be earning her $25 a week plus breakfast of a mug of hot chocolate and several thick slices of fresh white bread. When they asked her to be the pay clerk for the building construction firm, we thought they were pushing their luck a bit. Never in the history of whatever have so many rapid promotions been made in such a short period of time….all on $25 a week

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At the end of her third year, Shelley decided that life in Samoa was not the life she wanted so she moved to Sydney, Australia, to be with brother Robert.

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Chapter Eight   Back home to Hastings New Zealand.

As we were completing our contract in Samoa, we had been in touch with the National YMCA office in New Zealand enquiring about YMCA positions that would have been suitable. Peter Darracott, the National Secretary advised of several jobs; a cosy one as ED in Christchurch which only involved maintaining the status quo; one in Rotorua which looked a bit messy; or then he said, there is Hastings. Hastings YMCA is in an old indoor sports stadium built over twenty years ago, had not been maintained and had been run down for several years. They had debts of $200,000 and were going down at the rate of $4000 a month. The local Board had dwindled down to five members and had passed the responsibility over to National Office. The bank manager was threatening to close the place down. National would pay me for six months to go in and rescue the place. Sounded intriguing, so I said I would have a crack at it.

While we were in Samoa, our house in Newlands, Wellington had been rented by a fireman who kept great care of it. The house had given us an anchor to which we could ground ourselves even though we knew that we would in all probability we would not be going back there. Perhaps we thought of it as a ‘bolt-hole’ if all of our expectations failed. In the event, over the final few months in Samoa we asked our friend Geoff Gould to see if he could sell it. Geoff had been the Partner in Price Waterhouse in Samoa with whom Jean had worked.

A week or so before we landed back in New Zealand, Geoff informed us he had a sale offer. We asked him to go ahead. So when we arrived home, within a couple of weeks we hired a rental furniture truck and with a couple of helpers from the Hastings YMCA we drove to Wellington to clear out the furniture from the Wellington house.

In Hastings we had a couple of weeks house-sitting in Cyril and Fiona’s Whitaker’s house, and then moved into a motel while we looked around and decided what to do. The contract with National Y was for only six months. Heavens only knew what would happen after that. We consulted some Real Estate agents about the merits of renting versus purchasing a house and the upshot was we decided to purchase. We had all the money from the sale of the Wellington house available so we explored our options. The advice we received was to buy in Havelock North as

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the resale was likely to be more secure than other areas. And we found our delightful cottage tucked away in Glen Park Place where we just managed to beat Max Baty, our old friend from New Plymouth, to the bid on the house and secure it as our new home.

Within the first week I walked through the organisation and the building of the Hastings YMCA and I was not surprised it was losing a lot of money. The old indoor sports stadium was really run down. It was draughty, leaking water in some areas, it was cold and unwelcoming and it was obvious that the cleaning had become an uphill struggle. As I walked through I said to myself, “the YMCA is in the business of developing human potential. Everything it owns should be a tool towards that mission.” And the Hastings YMCA indoor sports stadium did not in my opinion lend itself as a valuable resource towards that mission. Great for stacks of apples, bales of wool, hoards of people, herds of sheep or any large bulk of stuff. Human potential is best developed in small groups which occasionally might gather in large groups.

On the third day on the job in Hastings I met with the five Board members and put my thoughts recommending we sell the stadium. They laughed at me. “Who would want to buy this’ they said, “It’s run down, cold and draughty and in need of thousands of dollars in repairs.” My response was that it was potentially an excellent “events centre’ for the city of Hastings. It was centrally located, had a large area of land, parking for around one hundred cars, the structure of the building was sound and it was the correct size for large indoor sporting events. It was the only events centre in Hastings built for indoor sports. The City Council could not afford to see it go for a warehouse or packing shed.

On the other hand, the best work of the YMCA in terms of developing human potential was with small groups, it used to be gym classes of fifty kids operating in groups of about eight each with a voluntary leader. But the gym classes had mostly moved out of the centre and were operating out of school and church halls outside of the orbit of the YMCA. The YMCA had become locked into operating a building while most of the people had moved back into the community. There was one gym club under the name of the YMCA using the stadium twice weekly, but twenty kids could easily be relocated and didn’t justify retaining the large empty barn of a place. Badminton used the stadium one night a week and ladies badminton one morning a

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week, but they were not YMCA members and had no sense of reciprocity, of belonging. They rented space at their convenience.

The staff that were employed, Tom McGarry, his wife and a couple of subsidised workers had tried a lot of stunts to keep the place busy. Junior basketball went really well for a few weeks then faded away. There appeared to be not enough leaders to carry it through. Indoor soccer was a rage for half a season, then disappeared. Tom and his wife’s management was full of enthusiasm but very sloppy. Jean was commissioned by National YMCA to try to assemble the finances so that the last three or four years could be audited. The Board minutes were loose in a drawer all mixed up, no year dates, only christian names, (Dave, Harry and James), and most times no clear decisions made.

In a large space at the back of the office a group of unemployed youths were on some type of training programme. The group was called ‘Popeye’ and was run by a staff of four ‘liberals’. I am not sure what the purpose or the programme of the group was. They appeared to have a connection to a person who sometimes attended Board meetings. They appeared to mostly ‘hang around.’

The Board of Directors, after having a good laugh at my suggestion of selling the stadium explained that a couple of years previously they had tried to sell the building to the City Council provided the YMCA could still run all their programmes there at a moderate rent to Council. Shades of memories passed; they must have picked up that idea from New Plymouth where my predecessor had got tired of paying the mortgage on the New Plymouth YMCA stadium and had given the building to the Council on the provision Council paid off the mortgage. Council got a $3 million building by paying off the $70,000 mortgage. The Hastings Council, however, wasn’t buying into that scenario. Perhaps the Hastings YMCA management hadn’t demonstrated enough rigor and discipline? What I was proposing was an entirely different kettle of fish. We didn’t have enough programmes worth saving against the deadly weight of the empty stadium and the $200,000 debt.

With some reluctance, the Board agreed that we put the proposed sale to National office for approval and that the YMCA gym club could be relocated. National approved the sale idea but it was the first time for a long time that a YMCA centre had been sold so a weekly reporting procedure was put in place.

I convinced the Board that we had to play hard ball with this one. It would be splendid if the City Council bought it and retained it as an events and indoor sports

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centre, but if some other outfit wanted to store gumboots or bales of wool in it, the purchaser would define its next use. There was some disquiet about the public money raised by Guy Bailie [Baillie] for the building of the stadium being flogged off but my response was that we would realise on the sale and use Guy’s money for a relaunched new model YMCA.

We approached one major national Real Estate company and gave them the exclusive agency provided they advertised extensively in national newspapers. It was a bit of a shock for most people to open up the Dominion newspaper and to see the large advertisement with photograph with the heading STADIUM FOR SALE.

For a week or two, nothing much happened. We received an indirect message that people at the Council would not be fooled by the old trick under a new guise. Still nothing much happened.

In the meantime we had redefined the mission of the YMCA with a major focus on training young people who were unemployed. We set up two ‘think tank’ groups to explore the options, one for Urban Work and one for Rural Youth. Shades of Fiji. We brought in people from outside the normal orbit of the YMCA. Grant Spackman was a ‘new blood’ volunteer with a strong background in orcharding. He was made chairman of the Horticulture committee. The Urban Work committee included Numia August, a Maori elder. And then we had one or two discrete enquiries about the sale of the stadium. Nothing very real, more curiosity seekers. Then a real nibble.

The Maori Affairs programme ‘Kokiri’ were looking for a new base. They were working out of a rented shed with out-buildings and were ready for expansion. They probably didn’t want anything as big as the stadium but were also considering other programme areas such as apprenticeship training packages. We let the word indirectly leak to Council that an agency was investigating the stadium and may divide the sports area into smaller rooms. ZOOM.

We received a call from Council that they would like discussions about the sale of the stadium. A couple of Board members and I met with the Mayor and Chief Executive. They were very offhand trying to show they were not really very interested. But as our discussion progressed they realised our intentions were real. I put it to Council that it would not be appropriate for Council to attempt to buy the stadium at a bargain basement price as the sellers were the past and present supporters of the YMCA, all Hastings City ratepayers. Neither would it be appropriate

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for the YMCA to screw Council for the same reason. It was then agreed that both Council and the YMCA would get a valuation each independent of the other and that the price of any sale would be the midway point of the two valuations.

It was now obvious a sale and purchase was on. An agreement in principle was written by our lawyers. Our valuation came in at $495,000. I thought it a bit light and that the Council’s valuation would be higher. We met with Council again and after opening talks I opened our valuation, shook hands with the Mayor then he opened their valuation which was $475,000. So the deal was made and after fees were paid we had almost $480,000 to clear our debts and begin again with a new reinvented YMCA of Hastings.

The Mayor, Jim O‘Conner [O’Connor] called a press conference. “Ladies and gentlemen of the press this is to announce that the Council has bought the YMCA.” I interjected, “Correction Mr. Mayor. The YMCA which is over one hundred years old and in 120 countries of the world is not for sale. Council has purchased the indoor sports stadium previously owned by the YMCA.” And so it went. Over the next few years Council spent over $1million upgrading the stadium and it is still the Council’s main indoor sports and events centre. We had relocated the gym classes, two a week, to the Intermediate school hall and transferred our gym equipment there. The badminton club, which was not a YMCA group, arranged to continue in the stadium under a rental agreement. The staff were ‘let go’ and the Hastings YMCA was now in a position to reinvent itself.

Two things were happening at the same time. I had set up three ‘think tanks’ to consider how the YMCA could pursue its mission without having to own an indoor sports stadium. It was still available to rent but we were not now tied down to trying to make the building ‘work’. The three ‘think tanks’ were ‘Urban Work’, Rural Work’, and ‘Youth Work’. Sound familiar ? Yep, same as Fiji and Samoa. And the reason was, the most significant factor influencing young people in Hastings was unemployment. Amongst young people, the percentage of young people who were unemployed was around 25 percent and the number of young Maori over 30 percent. A very significant number could be employed on apple orchards, certainly on a seasonal basis if they had the skills to be employable. And there were other rural options. There was quite a lot cropping of peas, tomatoes, onions, squash and other vegetable for processing by Wattles Canneries, the largest food processor in the Southern hemisphere. And there was a growing wine industry with hundreds of acres

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being planted in grapes of various varieties every year. These three groups met every fortnight, researched the facts and the possibilities of each sector and started to draft a Development Plan for the future of the YMCA of Hastings.

While all this was going on, I was sorting out my future because the contract with National YMCA concerning Hastings was for six months only and that tenure was drawing to a close. Peter Darracott had resigned from the position of National Executive Director and the position had been advertised. I had applied for the position with some mixed feelings. Although it seemed as if it would be a natural progression from New Plymouth, Fiji, Samoa and Hastings, all with a fair measure of success, to the National position, I really preferred a ‘hands on’ job where I could directly make things happen. The National position really involved trying to shape the direction and evolvement of the YMCAs in New Zealand, rescuing those that were close to financial and management failure and building on the strengths of the rest. Much of the time, those that were failing was because of the wrong mix of people employed and/or on their Boards of Directors. And they were very often incapable of taking advice from National office. There were a lot of brick walls to bash ones head against.

I was advised by the National selection committee that I was on the short list of three to be interviewed and the date was set for the interview in Wellington. The day before the National interview was to be held, one of the Hastings Board members, Raiford Gardiner, called a meeting of the Hastings Board members and urged them to offer me the Hastings position to ‘start again from scratch.’ Hastings offered less money but a much more attractive adventure building and shaping a reinvented YMCA in a major provincial centre of New Zealand.

I accepted the Hastings position and informed the National selection committee that I was withdrawing my application for the National job. I formally resigned my position with National office, a position I had held for eleven years, through the periods in Fiji, Assistant National Secretary, in Samoa and in Hastings, and didn’t get a letter of acknowledgement or thanks in return. The Acting National Director ‘had the pip’ with me because he thought my application for the National position had adversely affected his chances for the job. However, I was now doing what I enjoyed and was good at, taking a major part in creating a new organisation, a reinvented YMCA.

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Reinventing the Hastings YMCA

It took the next six months to ‘let go’ the old YMCA, relocating what we could, and retaining things like holiday programmes and gym club in the absence of the ownership of the stadium. We prepared a new operational budget in which there was very little income except for holiday programmes and summer camps but all the usual expenditure.

The budget estimated that we would loose $45,000 for the first year while we searched for ideas or marketing opportunities. As the year progressed, some newly recruited Board members who had been brought in to bolster the Boards skill bank started to get nervous as the cash flowed out the door. We were thinking, researching, tentatively exploring things but losing money week by week. A couple of new Board members who looked promising stopped attending meetings without apology.

We recruited two Youth Workers, Brian and Jaquie as all the previous staff had been ‘let go’. The office stayed located in the back room of the upstairs of the stadium while we searched for new programme facilities. Some Youth Work programmes were relocated to the old mayoral chambers in the Municipal Centre.

In the meantime Cyril and I were hunting for a building on a main route with high visibility with five or six rooms that we could use as offices and an urban training centre. We had the comfort of having $300,000 in the bank and no debts, the complete reverse of when I found the Hastings YMCA $200,000 in debt and going down at $4000 a month.

We had several false starts until we found the old Ryan homestead on Pakowhai Road, pretty well next door to Hastings Girls High School and Lindisfarne College. It sat on four acres of orchard and lawns with a tennis court and a grand old 1930s house with five bed rooms, two living rooms, large kitchen and three outside sheds. I think we paid $180,000 for it.

But then we found that in spite of the fact that it was obviously ‘in town’, it was in fact in the town plan actually in the County Council and zoned ‘rural.‘ It required County Council approval before we could own it. At first, when we mentioned an urban training centre, the Council turned us down as our proposed use did not fit their criteria. The case was to go to Appeal so Cyril prevailed his friend Rodney QC to present our case. We employed the services of a Resource Planner as part of our

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presentation and in the long run won our case for a few hundred dollars instead of the customary thousands in Appeal cases.

And then National YMCA set up a task force to design a national employment training programme. The task force included several Executive Directors from around New Zealand. The finished product was specifically industry targeted, incorporated advice from industry groups about the level of skills required at the bottom edge, included measuring tools so that skill development was logged and included only industries in which there were prospects of job openings. Part way through the planning process I was invited on to the task force and when the proposal was put to Government, Hastings was chosen as the site to pilot the scheme.

We called it ‘TRACKS‘ as it was the route from where they were to where they wanted to be. We created four courses; forestry, construction, hospitality, and horticulture.

By this time, Grant the Horticulture Committee chairman and I had purchased 70 acres of land on highway 50 at Maraekakaho for a Horticulture Training Centre. A couple of years later, Cyril and I purchased the 100 year old house on the corner of Hastings and Eastbourne Street for our Hospitality Training Centre. We had a colour scheme designed by Grey Wild that was as beautiful as a rainbow and called it ‘Rainbow Cottage’. Prior to setting up in Rainbow Cottage, we conducted Hospitality Training courses in Michaels Place, the function Centre owned by the Napier YMCA and Zacks Place, a café-cum-meeting place upstairs in the Flaxmere Shopping Centre.

In the fifteen years I worked as Executive Director of the Hastings then Hawkes Bay YMCA, from 1982 to 1997, a large part of our programme was on courses contracted to government agencies to train unemployed people. The titles given to the type of training changed from time to time including STEPS, TAPS (Training Assistance Programme), TOPS (Training Opportunities Programme, and a few others beyond recall.

We would identify a job market opportunity, check it out with the government agency, most often the ETSA office (Education and Training Support Agency), put up a proposal in competition with other groups and most times win a contract to deliver the course. Most contracts were for three years reviewable annually with goals to

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meet such as a percentage of trainees going into employment or more advanced training. If we didn’t deliver the results whether or not our training was at fault, we would lose the contract and have to let staff go who had been employed to deliver it. Very often a change of Government would lead to a change in training programmes, a change in the Government agency contracting them, and a wholesale loss in course contracts. Not an easy thing for staff. Over the years we offered training courses in the following:-

Horticulture
Advanced Pip and Stone Fruit 
Nursery Practices
Farm Skills
Forestry
Literacy and Numeracy
Hospitality
Bar Service
Outdoor Pursuits
Small Engine Maintenance
Basic Carpentry
Construction Skills
Small Business
Work Based Training
Car Learners License
Heavy Trade Drivers License
Heavy Trailer Drivers License
Job Search

Recruiting staff to conduct these courses became an essential task that was the key element in determining its success or not. Most times we employed a person with sound trade skills in the industry (horticulture, hospitality etc), then trained them up to become trainers.

As many of the trainees were Maori, we made a point of maintaining a balance of the staff employed having equal numbers of Maori/ Pakeha, and male/female. In fact at one point not only was that balance equally placed, but we also had one male gay guy and one female gay girl.

Whilst most times we advertised job vacancies, occasionally we would rely on our networks of community contacts. When we needed a driving license trainer I put the word out amongst staff that we were looking for a person with a clean driver’s licence, who related well with young people, who had nerves of steel, was a good team player and preferably was a Maori woman. I had a few women brought in for me to meet to see if they suited. Finally, I said to staff that the previous candidates I had met, if they had been likened to a drink would be like ‘flat beer.”‘Look again,” I said. “I want Champaign.” Then they looked again and found Hera and she bubbled like the good stuff and joined our staff for several years. Like many key staff people, Hera was so well suited to our style of work and our organisations culture that she

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changed jobs within the Y, moving up the ladder, expanding her range of skills and eventually flying out to bluer skies and other career options.

Defining the Mission

Over a couple of years we spent some time at staff training sessions and at Board and committee meetings asking ourselves what exactly was the business we were in. I had become keen on ideas that helped to redefine ones values and operated some value clarification games at Board and staff meetings. I exposed the ‘Values Statement’ of the Fiji YMCA Rural Workers which had enjoyed a lot of milage [mileage] in a variety of settings. We had moved out of the trap of thinking that the YMCA was a building, but were starting to assume the YMCA was a programme, or maybe a lot of programmes, but where did that end. We needed to define (a) our specific difference, (b) our prime value, (c) our mission (the desired outcome of our efforts), and (d) our vision.

Finally we put it together;

“Building on the international Heritage of Christian Action, and

Believing in the infinite capacity of people to grow and change when they are treated with trust, love and respect,

The Mission of the YMCA in Hawke’s Bay is the development of people towards the fullness of their potential,

Through the creation of special programmes,

Towards a community based on diversity, equality and service.”

We also developed statements about ‘Biculturalism’ and a set of values that underpinned our work. The working out of these statements required a considerable amount of emotional and intellectual energy over several months and resulted in strong bonds being built in staff and Board members.

All of this organisational reporting does not give the feeling of the many human stories that were unfolding day by day. The next section will in part correct this omission.

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Some human foibles and other stories.

This story is in two parts, with the first part taking place in Fiji. I was frequently telling our caretaker Balram that the urinal stunk and needed cleaning. One particularly hot day I had three times said to Balram, “Balram; that urinal stinks. Clean it.” Finally after the third time of cleaning, Balram approached me and said, “You know what the problem is with that urinal Boss? See, all these people are peeing in it!” I could see his exquisite logic; it was true people were peeing in it and that did make a stink. But I also understood that was what urinals were for.

Fast forward from 1977 to 1983 and the location was now Hastings. We had purchased seventy acres of farm land at Maraekakaho to develop as a Rural Training Centre, particularly in horticulture training.

A good friend of the YMCA in Napier was Wally Hunt, an absolute character of a Kiwi if there ever was one. Wally was employed by the Hawkes Bay Community College as a Community Worker. He approached us and said he was excited about the YMCA getting out of its comfort zone and would like to help set up the Rural Training Centre. There were big old trees to be felled, fences to erect, shelter trees to plant and maybe irrigation to explore and install. He suggested that if an approach was made to the Community College he felt they would loan his services to the YMCA of Hastings to oversee the development. We wrote to the Community College and it was agreed we had Wally’s services for six months.

Then Wally suggested we apply to the Labour Department for six PEP workers who could do all the labouring tasks. Wally and I filled out the appropriate PEP forms, an exercise that took us several days and then took them up to the Labour Department. Frank was on the front desk and enquired about our project. He referred us on to Bubbles who was in charge of administration who also asked us about the project. Both seemed genuinely interested in the project. Bubbles told us that new project proposals had to go to the head of the Department, Eddie. So we delivered the proposal to Eddie who said he would let us know.

One week passed. Finally after several telephone calls Bubbles told us our proposal had been declined. Wally and I visited the Department and asked ‘what was the problem’ as we were determined to get it right. We amended the document and resubmitted it. Another one week wait. Another rejection. Another amendment and another proposal submitted. On the fourth time we were visiting the Department to submit yet another amended proposal, Frank said, “You guys here again?” I replied,

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“Frank, we are coming up here until we get this thing approved. What would be your goal for us today?” Frank replied, “My goal for you today would be to get it approved.” We then approached Bubbles who expressed support for our tenacity. She agreed that it would be a good goal for us today to get approval. I checked with Wally; yes, it was his goal to get this project approved today. We entered Eddies office. I put the proposal face down on his desk. I said, “Eddie, before you turn that over let’s level with each other. Its Franks goal to get this thing approved. It’s Bubbles goal to get approval today. Wally says ‘let’s get this show on the road’. My goal is to get approval today. What is your goal Eddie ?” Eddie replied, ‘To avoid hassles “My Giddy Aunt. I thought. It‘s the Balram principal at work again. Stop them peeing and there will be no smell. Deny approval of projects to avoid hassles. Believe it or not, we got approval that day.

Learning the Training Game

Many of our staff were new to the training game, particularly with the tough characters we were charged to train. Each course went for about 22 weeks when after a one week break we would get another 40 kids. Each of the staff developed different ‘behaviour change‘ techniques or went under. Randy played a game that whenever one of the trainees talked tough he-man to him he mimicked it back. This cracked up the rest of the group so much they then imitated one another and cracking into laughter at the same time. Christine very effectively used her womanly charms and appeared close to tears if any of the tough boys acted up. In a small voice she would say she was scared of that behaviour and the he-man would go all gooey and would apologise and offer protection from the others. Hera would negotiate, negotiate, negotiate until the offender gave up. Too much reasoning and reasonable talking would make them reasonable.

But very often the trainees were teaching us lessons on how we were to behave to win some.

Peter was a very nice guy, a scientist with a PHD in ornithology or something similar who had become intrigued with the work we were doing with young people. He started with us as a volunteer working beside other staff. Then after a month or so asked to be given a chance with a training group. So he got eight tough teenagers for 22 weeks. At about the twentieth week he came back from town and enquired whether we had seen his trainees. We asked where he had seen them last. He said he had left them outside the shops in Hastings sitting in the rental van. On

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questioning he admitted yes, the keys were in the van. Why? Because the trainees wanted to listen to the radio. We asked him how many weeks he had been leaving the keys in the van and he said about four or five. We asked if any of the trainees had been driving, knowing that they didn‘t have a drivers licence and the insurance disqualified them from getting behind the wheel. He told us that the first couple of weeks with the keys in they hadn’t touched anything but on about the third week he came back from a chore to find one sitting in the drivers seat. But no problems. Then the next week he came back from a chore and the van had been moved a couple of parking spaces. The trainees told Peter that his parking metre[meter] had expired so they had moved the van to a paid-up space. This had now happened several times. And now trainees and van had disappeared. A few more enquiries and we learnt that the trainees were in Wellington. We had to report the theft of the van to the police and the trainees were given a warning by the police. The next staff training session covered the process of shaping behaviour. According to the book this is defined as successive approximations of the desired behaviour receive reinforcement that is rewarding to the receiver. “Peter”, we said, “your behaviour has been very successfully shaped by the trainees.” A little at a time Peter had come to accept the trainees shift from not sitting in the drivers seat, to sitting in the drivers seat, to moving the van a little bit, then a bit more, and each time the trainees treated him as a very understanding and good friend, then ……… ‘here comes Wellington.’

As time went on we became much smarter at managing all sorts of behaviour, learning from the trainees and learning from one another. Most of the staff were also doing university papers through the extramural services of Massey University so that we were able to relate theory to practice.

Take the case of Phillip. He was one tough hombre, several times ‘come to the attention of the police’ and one more black mark would in all probability go straight inside. He was big for his age and he was Maori. He was in love with a little blonde Pakeha girl who was also on the course. One word from her in her sweet little voice and he would walk over broken glass. But one day she started flirting with another Pakeha boy in the same class. Phillip went berserk. He picked up a table and threw it into the wall; he picked up a chair and threw it through the glass window; he was just picking up his second chair when Kotuku tackled him in full rugby flight and crashed him to the ground, immediately two other men on staff helped bundle

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Phillip up and marched him to the back door and pushed him out telling him he was sacked. We all breathed a sigh of relief and were starting to tidy things up when Phillip walked in the front door. “You can’t sack me,” he shouted, “this is the only place in my whole life that I like to be in. I hated my home, I hated my school, I hate my family, I hate my relatives, I hated my teachers. Nobody has ever treated me so good as here. If you throw me out or if you call the police, I will come back because this is the only place I feel good. So there.”

I responded. “We don’t have to take you. We can choose who will be here and who will not be here. The decision is mine. But if I give you a place in this course, you have to give me something in return. I suggest you go out the back and think about what you can give me in return for a place in the course then we can consider it.”

Phillip went out the back and was heard muttering to the plum tree for a good thirty minutes. Finally he came inside and asked to speak with me. “I don’t know what you want but you can’t blame me for the way I behave. If you only knew how I was treated as a kid you would know that I can’t help acting that way. It‘s the way we all behaved in my family and I can’t help it.”

“Alright,” I responded, “if you are not responsible for the way you behave go out there and find me the person who is responsible and I will negotiate with them. Look, I am responsible for my behaviour. Hera is responsible for her behaviour, Randy is responsible for his behaviour. Bring to me the person responsible for your behaviour and I will negotiate with them, otherwise it’s no deal.”

He went out the back again for a good hour. When he came back in he agreed that there was nobody else in the world responsible for his behaviour and we negotiated a good deal which we both honoured. He became my good mate and telephoned me from prison a year or so later where he had taken the rap on a rape charge which I doubted he had done. He asked if I could help the prison improve the meals as he thought they were lousy. I’m afraid I lectured him a bit about taking the consequences of his own actions. I don’t know whether he has been out of trouble since but one would hope so.

When the behaviour of trainees became a culture of threatening violence, we applied a ‘Good Work’ programme, similar to the one we used with the shoeshine boys in Fiji. We negotiated with the trainees the points appropriate for each good behaviour and the list of rewards offered. At the start, a large group of tough boys

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grumbled and said they wouldn’t take part but we said it wasn’t compulsory and they could miss out on the points and the rewards. There were no points given or deducted for bad behaviour. But once the others started getting points and trading them in, over the next couple of weeks all the trainees were entering in the game and doing good work. The change in the culture was absolute. And before long they started to see how many points they could accumulate. There was certainly a huge payout from one university course I did in Suva that taught me about operant conditioning and behaviour change strategies.

Other Hastings/Hawke’s Bay YMCA programmes

In addition to the Employment Training programmes, we gained a contract to operate Be Your Own Boss courses in Hastings. This took over the training course originally operated by Hans in Rainbow Cottage and was coordinated by Ross in a room we rented near Watties. Ernie was the Chairman of a very active committee. The package consisted of a one day seminar titled ‘The risks and rewards of running your own business.” We ran this every ten weeks or so and would most times attract about forty participants. This was followed up with a six week full-time course on ‘writing your business plan.’ Participants had to come with their idea for a new business and we would present modules giving instructions for the various parts of a business plan, including such elements as ‘who are your customers,’ ‘who are your competitors’, ‘what advantage are you offering,’ all of the marketing questions leading to a cash flow and breakeven analysis. Those that completed their plan would then have it assessed by a panel of the committee and those that couldn’t complete their plan encouraged to look for a job.

From 1992 to 96 the following numbers were recorded:-
1000 attended the one-day course
420 attended the 6 week course
280 completed their business plan
230 plans were approved by the panel
185 new businesses started

Most of the businesses made for their owners little more than the minimum wage but about fifty did very well and a handful were worth many thousands of dollars. One woman went from being a solo mother on the Domestic Purpose Benefit

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to building a business, to going into a business partnership to within a few years, selling her interest for almost one million dollars, all that and marrying a new partner into the bargain.

The Community Employment Group who awarded the BYOB contracts told us that the only gap in the New Zealand map without a BYOB contract was Central Hawke’s Bay. They had approached the Council and the Chamber of Commerce who said they didn’t want any new businesses competing with what was already there. We offered to give it a shot and asked each of our Hastings committee members to approach an equivalent in Waipukurau. So the accountant, solicitor, bank manager, marketer each did that, we formed a Waipukurau committee, employed a manager, Jenny, and got a Be Your Own Boss contract for Central Hawkes Bay.

Jenny came to me after a year or so and said, “They are going to pull down the Railway Station in Waipukurau.” I didn’t see how that concerned us, so she said,” it would make a great community centre. Right on the main road, close to the shops, ideal for several community organisation.”

I had to agree, and as we didn’t have a railway station, recommended to the Board of Directors that we investigate the idea. A Board member and I looked through it and under it and banged walls and got on the roof. The structure was sound but it needed repiling and the old cafeteria extension pulling down. We then called a community meeting in Waipukurau and about forty people turned up. Most were enthusiastic about restoring the building and the only group who were against the idea, later on gave a $400 donation towards the restoration. We then had to find about $30,000 and a cheap source of labour. We approached the Ministry of Youth Affairs and gained a Conservation Corp contract and applied to various charitable trusts and the Council for financial support. The Supervisor we employed for the Conservation Corp, Malcolm was a real cracker and the eight young people soon got to work restoring and painting the station. The repiling cost about $6000 but over the next two or three years we gained the amount of money needed for the restoration. The railway station then became home to the YMCA Be Your Own Boss office, the Conservation Corp, Aged Concern, the Maori Wardens, the Information Centre, and the Apostolic Church used clothes shop. Each organisation were charged a very cheap rent and were charged to restore the interior of their own room. The YMCA

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President and I had signed the lease from the Minister of Crown Agencies and ten years later the YMCA was still the official lessee.

When we first ‘reinvented’ the Hastings YMCA and moved out of the stadium our holiday programmes had about thirty to forty children during each school holiday period. Once we had become established at the Pakowhai Road property, we started using Frimley School for our base for holiday programmes. In addition to the usual Fantasyland and field games offered we added jet boat rides and aeroplane rides and horse rides. We found with bulk bookings and a fair amount of goodwill we could give a kid a ten minute aeroplane ride arranged through Cyril and the Aero Club for about $7 and similarly through Ross for a ride in a jet boat. Before long we had to operate from two centres so used Mayfair school as well. Then the next year we added Havelock North, then Waipukurau, then Napier. The 1996 Annual Report recording total daily attendances for Waipukurau being 900, Hastings 1100, and Napier 600 giving a total number of attendances in Hawke’s Bay of 2600. Much of the credit for this spectacular growth was due to the organising abilities of Nigel, our full time Youth Worker.

For several years prior to 1990 we had been conducting a drivers licence module as part of our Pathways programme. We had arranged to have the Transport Department Licence Tester visit the Y every so often to apply the test to the trainees. We always experienced a one hundred percent pass rate. Then in 1990 the Transport Tester told us that the police had decided to have a blitz to catch all the people driving without a licence. They had caught 350 in the first two weeks and now didn’t know what to do with them apart from prosecuting them. We offered to hold evening classes and suggested the police advise the offenders and give them a few weeks grace to get their licence. WOW. Worked like a charm. Every Tuesday and Thursday evening from 5 to 7pm about thirty people at a time came to the Hastings YMCA to swot and study for the written and oral tests of the drivers learners licence. And every five or six weeks the Tester visited, applied the tests and everyone kept passing. At one stage we had in separate rooms lessons in the Maori language and Samoan language. The annual reports for the next few years reported the following passes:-

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1990   98
1991   93
1992   48
1993   56
1994   102

In 1995 the large meat works Tomoana closed with hundreds of workers made redundant. Most of them lacked the skills to pick up another job so we expanded our drivers licence courses. The annual reports for the next two years recorded:-

1995   115 Heavy Trade licence
135 Car learners licence

1996   85 Heavy Trade licence
64 Heavy Trailer
16 Wheels and rollers
6 Self Laying Tracks
115 Car Learners Licence

Somewhere in there the Police got in touch with us to inform us that the Black Power gang had many of its members unlicensed and wondered if we could help. Winnie, brave soul that she is, volunteered for the job. So she donned her black leathers, tied up her blond Dutch hair, saddled up her motor bike and drove over to Waiohiki Marae, a favourite pad of the gangs. Fifteen husky brown blokes, each with a school desk, stood as she entered and wished her ‘good morning Mam.’ Their behaviour, application and diligence was exemplary over the six lesson sessions. Needless to say, after the six weeks the gang members sat the tests and all passed. I cannot find a record for the number trained in 1997 but as that is the year I retired the massive changes that resulted possibly led to the demise of the drivers licence courses. Life goes on regardless.

 

One of the early additions to the Hastings YMCA programme was the resurrection of the Y’s Men’s Club now called the Y’s Service Club as it now included several women. The club numbered about 15 members including several staff as it was seen as a conduit to do some international project work particularly with the YMCAs in Fiji and Samoa. For several years from about 1988 there was a constant flow of international visitors from USA, Sri Lanka, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Canada and exchange students (Y’s Service Educational Exchange

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Programme) from Denmark and Norway who were hosted by Ross and Ngairie [Ngaire] Duncan. The Duncan’s daughter Fiona had a period in Denmark as an exchange student.

In 1990 members raised $500 as a donation towards a cattle project in Nakorosule, Fiji which was matched by National YMCA then doubled again to $2000 by the Governments Voluntary Agency Support fund. Members and staff raised $440 towards the Samoan YMCA Hurricane Ofa appeal.

Fund raising efforts included a hangi (Maori feast), cutting and selling firewood, jet boat rides and the sale of used stamps. But the long time regular was the sale of Christmas trees. Most years Ben Parker would gain approval for the thinning of a forestry block, a working party would be organised to go up country and cut out say 200 and bring them to town. Then members would sell them on the roadside outside the Y with Malcolm dressed up in the Red Mans uniform.

The club funded a Fiji women’s garden project, the Fiji YMCA kindergarten, the Samoan hurricane relief and the cattle project. A group of members travelled to Fiji and travelled to the interior of Viti Levu to visit the cattle project which was expanding and was a real winner.

The highlight of 1993 was the hosting of a visit by Terry Waite, the representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury who was held captive for almost four years in Beirut and whose case for peace in the Middle East was a world wide concern. The club hosted a dinner for 220 people where Terry spoke following entertainment from the Samoan choir and $500 was raised by an auction.

Ross and Ngairie [Ngaire] Duncan attended the Y’s Men’s international Conference in Oslo, Norway and visted[visited] clubs in Perth, Singapore and Bristol. Malcolm attended the International conference in Singapore, and Cathy and Dennis in Australia. Local conferences were organised in Hastings and Taupo for clubs from Nelson and Christchurch which the International Secretary General from Geneva attended.

Every year the club sponsored two or three children to Camp Opoutama and in 1996 helped sponsor a staff person, Wattie to a conference in India. Unforunately [unfortunately] the club continued to dwindle in numbers and the leadership became stale depending on the loyal two or three to keep its head above water. In 1991 the club decided to go into recess and has stayed that way ever since. A ‘Good idea’ whose race was won.

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One of the programmes we invented was the Graduate Placement Programme. It happened like this. One day a young man came to my office asking if he could volunteer for work experience. He had completed a Bachelor of Business Studies at Massey University specialising in marketing. He had graduated six months previously, had applied for over thirty jobs but the few that had replied said that his lack of work experience would mean they were paying for a raw recruit at a fairly high rate of pay because of his degree. I decided to give him a go and set him the task of writing a marketing plan for the Fitness Gym in Napier. The Gym was losing about $70,000 a year and there was no clear plan for how to climb out of the hole. Bob surveyed the opposition gyms, visiting them and looking over their facilities, equipment, brochures and the service they provided, then in consultation with our Gyms staff defined our target membership group and how we could connect with them. So the process took about three months while Bob continued applying for jobs that came up. At the completion of that plan, we had come to the knowledge that about twenty percent of university graduates take at least six months to find employment whether within their scope of degree or not. Many employers considered they had been too long ‘in school’ and not enough time ‘at the coal face.’

So we suggested for his next assignment Bob write a proposal to help university graduates acquire work experience within their chosen field. This took him a couple of months with data supplied by the Vice Chancellors Committee of New Zealand Universities. We then set about applying for funds to run a programme and we scored a win with the Community Employment Group with a grant of $15,000. The programme ran for two years with Bob as Coordinator.

The 1995-96 report told of twenty graduates on the programme in a wide range of qualifications. Those with Law degrees proved difficult to place because of client confidentiality concerns and the like but we did secure a couple of placements for them. Of the twenty in Work Placement, thirteen found employment within their chosen field, and five gained employment outside their field. The programme ran for a second year with similar results but it failed to spark the third year as funds could not be found to pay a Coordinator.

Another small programme that we operated for a few years was Awhina Koka Tamariki, Nurturing Mother and Child. It came about by Hera and me reading information about the lack of Maori women using extramural maternity services at the regional hospital. By memory the percentage of Pakeha women who attended the

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pre-birthing courses was about ninety percent while the Maori figure was about ten percent. Hera asked a number of Maori women why they didn’t use the service and found three reasons why they stayed away. Firstly they felt it culturally inappropriate to talk about ones private parts to a group of others, particularly people they had never met before. Secondly whereas the Pakeha women brought their male partners for some parts of the courses as everyone was encouraged to, a significant number of Maori women did not have a steady partner or at least one that would take part in ‘all that women’s stuff.’ And thirdly, very few of the Maori women had private transport and the public transport service was hopeless. Some how or other, we inherited a group of about twenty Maori women all single mothers, who came to the YMCA every Wednesday morning where they held classes on a variety of subjects which they felt would be helpful. When one of the women had a male gang member move in with her treating her roughly, two of the other women moved in also and nagged the guy into a hasty exit. They got the Housing Authority guy in one morning and gave him an earful till they got a better deal. They frequently got various government servants in to straighten them out. I very quickly learnt that when they were having self-defence classes in the next room to my office, it was inadvisable to use the phone with the door open when twenty Maori women were yelling “F..off” at the top of their voices. Their list of lessons included ‘bringing up kids,’ budget cooking, self-esteem, make up, communication with children, and cervical cancer screening. The programme ran for about four years with a succession of leaders. It always required a budget to pay for the part-time leader and eventually it evaporated. Everything has a life cycle.

I think it was 1991 that the Lottery announced the availability of grants to conduct social research. We had become aware that we were doing little for older folk so we applied for a grant of $6000 and got it. We commissioned a marketing person to survey the ‘fifty plus’ group to learn what social needs they thought were not being met. The survey didn’t really teach us anything that was not obvious but it did stir up some ideas outside the limits of the framework. In talking to a fellow Rotarian about our search he told me about the University of the Third Age, the U3A and I sensed it was a winner. I thought I would recruit a special group of senior citizens to explore it further. I overheard Ken say to a group at Rotary that he found retirement totally boring and he wished he had more to do. “Ah ha,” I thought. “That’s

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my man.” Ken was a man of the world, well educated, degrees in law, strong community involvement. So the next day I telephoned and his wife Jill answered the phone. I asked to speak with Ken. She asked who is calling and what is it about. I told her it’s about an idea of study groups of retired people setting their own groups to learn about things of interest. “You are talking about U3A. I set one up in Darwin,” she said. I suggested I come to her place straight away so that the two of us could plan the future of U3A in Hawke’s Bay. When we met she agreed to chair the steering committee so at the next Rotary meeting we co opted David and Noel and I asked Ross and Cathy from the YMCA to help with the organising. We called a meeting in Havelock North and about one hundred people turned up. Courses were formed there and then as things were said such as, “anybody that wants to learn conversational German get into this corner.” About eight study groups were set up that afternoon. It was like spontaneous combustion. An idea whose time had come. We called meetings in Hastings and about forty people attended, Taradale about fifty and Napier was put into the planning stage. The 1993 annual report recorded that language courses were popular, German, French and Spanish, in addition Art History, Current Affairs, Music, Creative Writing, Geology, Marine Route Planning, Gardening, Mah Jong and a host of other subjects were on offer. Within the first twelve months we had helped U3A establish itself as an autonomous organisation and it has thrived ever since. I have had two people tell me that U3A ‘saved their life.’ When retirement overcame them a great abyss of emptiness gaped before them. Then they were asked to tutor a USA group in a hobby in which they excelled. They immediately regained their sense of self-worth and have continued with their interest with renewed vigour.

At a time when we had about fifty stroppy teenagers engaged in programmes at the ‘Y’, Hera asked me why I thought so many young Maori kids were getting into trouble with the law. I suggested that we should set up a piece of research to answer her question. We asked Pita Naera to work with us on the question. Pita was the manager of our horticulture training unit at the time. It so happened that all of the fifty trainees were Maori, fortyfive of them male. At the time we thought that was a marvellous group to put the question to. Later we were to realise that this was a mistake because without the comparison of Pakeha young men we couldn’t describe any behaviour or motivation as ‘Maori’ as compared to other groups. Anyway, we put

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to about ten trainees the open ended question, “Thinking about a young person you know who has been in trouble with the law, what do you think were the main reasons for his unlawful behaviour?” When we had the responses we selected the ten ‘reasons’ that were most frequently mentioned and applied the research questionnaire to all trainees. The form said, “Thinking of a young person you know who has been in trouble with the law, have a look over the ten possible reasons listed below and rank-order the three reasons you think were the most important. Put a (1) by the most important reason, a (2) by the second most important and a (3) by the third most important. The trainees were mostly administered the questionnaire in a session with their staff trainer. The trainees were very serious about thinking about the right answer. We had told them that no one was going to mark their work ‘right or wrong’ and they were not to put their name on the sheet so that their responses were confidential. We then set to work recording and analysing the responses. I wrote a draft paper to which Pita and Hera collaborated. The main thrust of it was that the trainees considered the three main motivators were:-

‘proving their worth to their mates’
‘seeking the attention of significant adults’
‘acting out the label that has been slapped on them’

We called these ‘a cycle of mutually reinforcing motivators.’ When we expanded on these ideas it turned out to be a three page piece of research and I tested the local newspaper on their interest. They were keen and within a week or so had published the paper in the Hawke’s Bay Herald Tribune. It ran in two parts over two night, each part nearly half a page in size. Then the Christchurch Press, a major national newspaper asked for approval and ran the story.

We hadn’t thought through any possible consequence but certainly did not expect a backlash from the Maori community. I was rubbished at several Marae as an interfering colonial/Pakeha who did not know what he was talking about, had not consulted the elders, the source of Maori wisdom and had found a couple of pathetic pushovers in the likes of Hera and Pita. All of this was related back to us through an informal network. Nothing in writing and nothing in the press.

The YMCA Board of Directors became very upset and asked us to do what we could to heal the wounds. We had in the past had contact with several kaumatua, Maori elders, so we sent out an invitation to meet at the YMCA so that they could tell us where we went wrong. About eight kaumatua attended and following opening

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greetings and a prayer they got stuck into us. Hera came in for an unfair wallop of scorn and criticism as she was fluent in the Maori language and Maori ways. Most appropriately she sat with her head hanging while the scorn was poured on. They considered that I was an ignorant Pakeha that didn’t know any better. But the proof of the pudding that our research was embarrassing but accurate was when Aunty Lulu shouted, “And who did you ask to get this crazy theory? Did you ask the kaumatua, the source of Maori wisdom ’? No, you asked a bunch of young punks. What do they know about anything? THEY KNOW NOTHING. THEY ARE RUBBISH.”……. WOW. That fair took my breath away. Yes, the young people had got the message, thankyou very much. So that was a major source of the label that had been stuck on them. Rubbished by the kaumatua, rubbished by most of their teachers, most of their parents, most of their family. No wonder Phillip didn’t want to leave the ‘Y’, in fact point blank refused to leave.

I applied for funding from various agencies to operate a programme in which young people could exercise good behaviour while operating within the positive sphere of ‘the cycle of mutually reinforcing motivators.’ We were unsuccessful, however. Looking back I can imagine the howl if we had scored funds to operate a programme to ‘change Maori behaviour.’ Marina was friendly with Dr. Peter [Pita] Sharples who commented the amount of venom expressed by some ethnocentric Maori indicated that they were jealous of our freedom to think without restraint and that we were cutting very close to the bone. I now acknowledge that it was wrong to call the behaviour ‘young Maori’ as I have no idea how it compares with ‘young Pakeha’, ‘young anything. ‘I can really only call it ‘young people’ but the verbal labelling by the Maori kaumatua must be seen as significant.

The insights from the piece of research became part of the framework when I was designing the two day training-of-trainers package, ‘Changing Peoples Behaviour.’ Included was the story of the two groups of trainee teachers in New York who were given a few rats to train on some spinning wheel and ladder tricks. One group was told the rats were lazy, thick and unresponsive and would take ages to train. The other group were told they were lucky they had the smart rats that would very quickly learn the tricks. And that eventuated; the slow group took three times longer to learn the tricks. But the secret was…they were the same rats. Only the behaviour of the teachers was different manipulated by their expectations. Sad but

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true. Everything is connected to everything else. Everything is coming from somewhere and going somewhere.

Camp Opoutama was a special case. Right at the start, after selling the stadium, one of the Board asked for my opinion of Camp Opoutama and how could we make it more popular, more widely used and easier to maintain.  Camp Opoutama had been established in the 1960’s and had been in the process of development ever since. It comprised a large dining room/recreation hall, kitchen, toilet block, six little A-frame huts each sleeping eight, and a couple of bunk room huts which slept twelve each. The location was absolutely superb, only one hundred yards from a stunning, safe beach on the Mahia peninsular, virtually a private beach with about five kilometres of golden sand. Any American YMCA would pay millions to get a site like that.

The problems in the main were supervision and care-taking with little or no finance to pay for it and the three hour twisty road journey to get there. By the time you had done the driving you were too tired to do much and dreaded the return journey. It wasn’t too bad for the children’s camps over summer as an arrangement with NZ Rail took them by train to camp and return. They were dropped off in-bulk at the Opoutama rail platform where Mr. Todd in his old truck picked up the boys luggage and the boys, leaders and staff walked the one kilometre to camp. There was a half-developed flat above the kitchen which could be further developed and used as a caretakers residence. I remembered the experience we had in New Plymouth putting staff into the Egmont North Chalet, giving some retired people a location change without cost to themselves, so we put the word out that there was a room for an honorary caretaker to occupy who could then spend lazy days fishing, golfing and generally beach-buming. We had an early response and put a local couple in residence. We wrote a Job Description which included the duty of cleaning up after school or other hirage groups had used the camp and added a fee to the hirage charge which was paid to the Honarary Caretaker. The idea struggled. The accommodation was second-rate and attracted tenants to suit. But bit by bit we changed the accommodation, transferred it out to one of the bunk rooms and transformed it to a tidy little cottage. The standard of the Honarary Caretakers gradually took a turn for the better. The 1985 annual report tells of 172 boys and girls

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attending summer camps and $11,444 taking in hirage fees from schools and other community groups.

An environmental disaster was waiting around the corner. In 1988 Cyclone Bola struck New Zealand and wiped out several sections of the railway line. This resulted in the hirage of buses for future camps with the three hour twisty road putting many of the children into road sickness before they got to camp and dreading the thought of the return trip while they were in camp.

The 1989 annual report stated, “Camp Opoutama had a year of mixed blessings as Hurricane Bola wiped out the rail line and caused several camp hirage cancellations. Summer Camps had 205 campers attending with 16 leaders and 12 staff. The Camp Director position rotated around with Dennis Oliver, Marina Ropiha, Ross Sheard and Hans Doevendans taking a camp each. The Hospitality Training Unit did a marvellous job in contracting the cooking of meals…

The Jaycees held a couple of working parties at camp and did wonders painting the main lodge. Service Clubs, particularly Lions, Rotary, Altrusa and Birthright sponsored 63 needy children to camp.”

By 1991 the numbers attending summer camps had fallen to 114 for two reasons; that twisty gut-wrenching bus trip and an increased camp fee because of the cost of bus hirage. In that year five Optomist [Optimist] yachts were donated by Hastings Lions Clubs, Havelock Rotary, Hastings Boys High School and a couple of well- wishers. The programme was expanded to include horse riding, yachting, milking a cow and new orienteering games.

By 1997 the numbers attending summer camps was up to 165 with 70 of those sponsored by Service Clubs. But 1997 also delivered a minor catastrophe in the form of a bush fire that destroyed much of the pine plantation in which the camp was set. This left an ugly scar that damaged the cosmetics but should not have in any way detracted from the camp experience for the kids.

Enter one of my most unusual projects and one of the few that didn’t work out in the end. The 1991 Annual Report records it thus. Train Project. “Up until 1988 we took our kids to Camp Opoutama by train on the regular Hastings to Gisborne service. It was good fun. We paid $9 a head and the kids really enjoyed the trips, the camp virtually started at the Napier Railway Station. Then… Railways took the passenger service off the Gisborne line. Not economic they said. So since then we have hired

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buses to take our kids to camp. It cost up to $26 a head and, that twisty grinding road many squeamish stomachs didn’t enjoy the trip. It pushed the price of our camp beyond that of the competition and detracted from the fun of camp. So we made enquiries about the cost of hiring a train or buying a train (you should always cover all your options). The cost of hiring a train was astronomical, more than three times the cost of buses, but the cost of buying looked possible if we marketed the use to sports bodies, schools and public functions such as festivals around Hawke’s Bay.

In August the Board of Directors agreed in principle the setting up of a TRAIN COMMITTEE to continue investigations and if practicable go ahead and BUY A TRAIN. We have on order from Railways a DJ Mitshibushi [Mitsubishi] 900hp diesel/electric locomotive and four FM guard/luggage vans for around $75,000. We couldn’t get carriages so the FM vans will be converted to carriages by cutting in windows, fixing seats and other internal conversion jobs. This could cost another $80,000 or so.

We have been approaching business firms for sponsorship and the Apple and Pear Marketing Board Consumer Products Division have agreed to sponsor our first carriage. Imagine seeing a 30 meter long can of Just Juice coming down the tracks. Other sponsors are being approached. Some of the negotiations with Railways have been protracted as they have gone through restructuring and we are not always sure who-is-in-charge-of-what, and just when we figure it out they change. But we are slowly making wheels turn and hopefully, later this year the rolling stock will come to town.”

The report then goes on to report the Committee which sections for maintenance, conversion and sponsorship. It should also be reported in that year the Hastings YMCA had $130,000 on term deposit plus $57,709 in its Bank operating account. It should also be known that the Taieri Gorge Rail Society operating out of Dunedin, one of New Zealand’s most successful railway societies operated with several DJ Mitsubishi locomotives and ran excursions trips virtually every day to thousands of tourists. So the general idea had been tested and proven already in New Zealand.

The 1992 Annual Report continues the saga. “This has been another twelve months of two steps forward and one step back. This time last year we had been knocking our heads on a brick wall for six months to get plans of the FM vans out of Railways. Then Michael Laws MP offered to help unblock the bureaucratic red-tape. Bingo! Within a few weeks after one phone call by Michael Laws the plans arrived

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and we were able to move forward again. In November Lee Hall, Floss Duncan and Dennis Oliver travelled to Wellington and delivered the first draft of the conversion plan to Railways. The following day the group visited the Railway Workshops in Petone to inspect the DJ locomotives in stock and then visited Steam incorporated Workshops in Paekakariki. They spent several hours talking with their secretary and excursion organiser. This led to a decision to defer purchasing the locomotive until the guards vans were converted. Railways had a surplus of locomotives and the options should be explored at that time.” The 1992 Annual Report showed the Hastings YMCA with $180,000 on term deposit and $ $70,000 in the operating account.

Enter the 1993 Annual Report. “The train project now has a full head of steam, is on track with a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Successes scored during the year were: – * having delivered the plans for conversion in November 1991, Railways asked in February 1992 for proof that the plans met their specification. This created a huge job for our consulting engineer Lee Hall who completed the job in October. * In March Railways restructured for the third time and several important contacts were lost.* In June John Nimon joined the committee and offered the use of his workshops for the conversion and refurbishing. A real bonus. * In August through the good offices of Bruce Jans we received approval to use Whakatu Coldstores siding as a permanent base for storage.* In November we were told by Railways that all 127 FM vans previously surplus had been sold. * In December Jeff Whittaker MP for Hastings approached NZ Rail management and secured availability of two FM vans * In February 1993 we ordered and paid for two FM vans for $25,600. They arrived on March 9th 1993″ The financial report for that year took a blow to the chin when $60,000 was taken out of the term deposit to bail out the Napier YMCA which was up to its armpits in debt. I had been asked to help out the Napier YMCA and in the first week found I couldn’t pay the staff as they were up to their limit of overdraft and had $30,000 of unpaid debts including unpaid GST and PAYE tax for two years.

The 1994 Annual Report picks up the story. “The early part of 1993 was very busy working on the conversion of our two guards vans to carriages. Three Task Force Green workers were employed under the supervision of Joe Hepi to do the work. The workers dismantled the vans off the bases with the van tops being taken to William and Kettle Woo/stores where they were stripped of all unwanted attachments and the base and bogeys were waterblasted, painted and shifted to Whakatu

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Coldstores sidings. In the meantime our consulting engineer Lee Hall was working on the conversions plans to meet NZ Rail specifications. In September a letter was received from NZ Rail strongly advising that we obtain approval of the conversion plans before we undertook too much work on the vans. Accordingly we reluctantly paid off the Task Force Green workers until the plans are approved. Hopefully we can pick up the action again when the plans are approved.”

The 1995 Annual Report stated that the plans were approved by the Design and Development section of NZ Rail of May 30th 1994. The conversion job was cranked up again and structural steel work completed on the first van. The work transferred from Nimon’s Roadair to Macdonalds Engineering where our Task Force Green workers were supervised by Macdonalds foreman. Gisborne City Vintage Rail Society bought a copy of the conversion plans from Lee Hall as they also had two FM guards vans.

The 1995 Report was the first of the Hawke’s Bay YMCA with the amalgamation of Napier and Hastings. The amalgamation wiped out the $60,000 from Hastings to Napier and reduced the previous Current Asset figure from $182,000 to $83,248. History will show that this was not a good deal for the Hastings YMCA as Napier was a sinking ship taking in more water faster than it could bail. The 1996 Annual Report optimistically reported that the train project was on track for completion that year. The exterior and structural work on the two carriages was completed and work was in progress on the interior, fitting the air conditioning ducting, outfitting the toilet, reassembling the guard rails ready for the trail run. The Report also says that discussions with Tranzrail were encouraging in terms of contracting the services of a locomotive and crew to take the kids to camp. The end was neigh.

The only mention in the 1997 Annual Report said, “We have come to the end of another year after many meetings and countless pages of correspondence, it is probably fair to say that at this time the YMCA Train Project has run out of steam….but it is only a pause while we restore the bunkers. The main reason for this is our fund-raising efforts along with other financial constraints has meant that we have to put the work on hold. We have secured covered storage and the two carriages are completed to the seating and finishing stage awaiting some more puff from us to complete the project. The electrical and air conditioning units are the major requirements still needed along with the operating licence and secure pricing

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arrangements with Tranz Rail for the trains operational phase. With a bit of push and shove in the next few months we will again be up and running.” Following my retirement in August 1997 the person that took over the position of Executive Director of the YMCA of Hawke’s Bay ‘lost the plot’ and virtually everything went to the wall within a few months. The Train Project was abandoned.

The growth in quantity and quality of the Hastings/Hawke’s Bay YMCA was exceptional both in dollar terms and in the breadth and variety of programmes. Hawke’s Bay YMCA became the third largest in New Zealand after Auckland and Christchurch. The income over the period went like this:-

1983 $84,000
1985 $232,000
1989 $851,000
1995 $1,188,000
1997 $1,305,000

The programmes grew from two sites, the stadium and Camp Opoutama, to nine sites including Camp Opoutama, a restaurant/training venue in Wairoa, Napier Latham Street Centre, Pakowhai Road in Hastings, Rainbow Cottage Hastings, Be Your Own Boss Rooms Hastings, Railway Station Waipukurau including the Be Your Own Boss office and Conservation Corp depot and the Horticulture Training Centre at Maraekakaho and Farm Skills Training Unit also at Maraekakaho.

The staff grew from one, me, to thirty full-timers, twenty one part-timers and many on contract on holiday programmes and the Fitness Centre. Every year we invented new programmes, lost a few but gained more as we identified new needs and designed programmes to meet those needs. A major tool through the whole period was our serious approach to staff training and professional development. I set the pace by continuing to take one or two university papers each semester and applying myself to get a string of passes.

The various stages were:-

* at age 40 I had sat and twice failed School Certificate
* at age 50 I had attained a Diploma of Rural Development and Bachelor of Arts from the University of the South Pacific

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* at age 60 I had added a Diploma of Training and Development, a Diploma of Business and Administration and a Diploma of Social Sciences (Psychology) from Massey University
* at age 70 I had completed a Master of Philosophy in Development Studies and a Master of Business Studies in Human Resource Management from Massey University.

Staff training was held every other Friday afternoon and all staff were expected to attend. The subject each time was aimed at meeting current needs that staff were experiencing but special sessions were held on ‘Understanding the Nature of Prejudice,’ ‘The Treaty of Waitangi,” Values for Development,’ ‘The Communication of the Effective Trainer’,’ Managing Behaviour’ and similar topics. All staff were encouraged and financially helped to undertake professional development papers either through Massey University or other approved sources. Several completed a Diploma of Training and Development through Massey. Many were surprised that they had the brains to do university papers. Jim went to High School 28 days but completed some university papers. Marina went from the Fourth Form to the wool shed to our staff and completed some university courses. The message was clear. WE ARE ALL LEARNERS HERE. We were no different to the trainees, the members, the Board of Directors in that regard. The Board gave me the first fifteen minutes of each Board meeting for some input to their growth as Board Members.

In 1994 we decided to enter the Business Development Quality Awards as an exercise to test our systems for rigor or weakness. The Award was fairly high –  flying with provincial play-offs and a national final held at Parliament House. The basis was built on the American Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. There was quite a lot of documentation resulting in a twelve page folder. The Award examined the following :- Leadership, Information and Analysis, Strategic Quality Planning, Human Resources, Management of Process Quality, Quality and Operational Results, and Customer focus and Satisfaction. After submitting the document we had a half day visit by an examination panel then waited for the results. The Hawke’s Bay entrants met at a function Centre in Napier to hear the results to be announced by the Minister for Business Development, Roger Maxwell. There were about a dozen entrants including the Management section of the District Hospital and the Management section of the Polytechnic, the Eastern institute of Technology.

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The Minister said, “The winner of the regional award redefined its market, repackaged its services to meet an emerging market demand, moved from a traditional conservative role to one of constant innovation. The Executive Director ‘walks the talk’ and his staff believe in the mission. They are in constant dialogue with their customers and use formal feedback data to modify their services to meet the need. Eighteen of the twenty six staff are undertaking advanced studies through a university constantly refining the quality of their work. And the winner is the Hawke’s Bay YMCA “. I travelled to Wellington a month or so later for the National Award ceremony but another agency took the National Quality Award. We were very proud of our achievement and put a photo of the Silver Pyramid Award on our letterhead paper and business cards.

The amalgamation of the Hastings and Napier YMCA’s to create the YMCA of Hawke’s Bay looked straight forward enough on paper but in the long run was very difficult and led to a general down hill slide. At the outset it was known that Napier was in debt by over $60,000 but as Hastings had almost $200,000 in the bank on term deposit the plan seemed to be to apply success formulae One on problem Two and all would come out fine.

On amalgamation Napier had two training programmes for the unemployed, a Health and Fitness Centre that was losing $70,000 a year, a function centre, Michaels Place that was rented out at $30,000 a year and which only paid for its own outgoings, and a child-minding service linked to the Health Centre. That Service was unlicensed and was threatened with closure by the Education Department.

In the first few months we lost one of the employment training programmes as it failed to meet its contract outcomes, but got the child-minding service licensed and some income support from the Education Department.

We changed the Manager of the Health Centre, spent $6000 on new carpet and continued to lose $70,000 a year.

We sold a paddock next to the Centre on Latham Street for $100,000 to the IHC and that compensated for one years financial loss.

None of the staff were aware that budgets had been struck a couple of months before we amalgamated so when I told each one how far they were over their budgeted expenditure they expressed surprise and shock and horror. I thought that if new budgets were drawn up in consultation with the staff of each unit, we would stop

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the rot. It didn’t quite work that way. We now had the same old staff doing virtually the same old things and now we could measure the rot. And it was all down hill.

I managed to do a bit of big-time selling by offering to sell Michaels Place for $480,000 to the Samoan Congregational Christian Church on the condition of $128,000 down and the balance over twenty years at five percent interest. The YMCA had a loan from the Bank of $125,000 on Michaels Place so the deposit was intended to wipe that loan. Unfortunately, what none of the Napier Board Members knew was that all the services, electricity, water and sewer for Michaels Place were connected off the Health and Fitness Centre and the problem of getting them separated and on independent lines cost over $100,000 and took about four months to complete.

By this time the Bank was getting extremely towy, to put it mildly. In the first year our Current Assets slipped from $83,000 to $58,000 and the following year to $50,000. There was some light at the end of the tunnel and the general trend was things were slowly becoming less worse but it is still an open question whether the amalgamation was the right thing to do. We will never know otherwise as that is the only thing we tried.

In the 1997 Annual Report, the last one prior to my retirement I told the story of how I approached the problem of graffiti on the street and suburbs of Hastings. I like the story so will repeat it here. “About a week prior to the Christmas before last, I was driving home along Frederick Street, Hastings noticing again all the graffiti, especially on all the power transformers and said to myself for the umpteenth time, ‘that graffiti is disgusting, someone should do something.” Then I had a second take and said, “Hang on, I am somebody and I can do something, ” So, after Christmas I organised twenty volunteers and got $800 worth of paint donated from paint firms and over a couple of weeks cleaned up a lot of the graffiti around town. The activity got quite a lot of publicity, the Mayor called a public meeting and the Council now have a permanent team keeping our town fairly graffiti clean. The message is this – ‘Everybody is somebody and no matter what the problem is, something can be done.’ And I guess that is the type of thing that I have been doing for the past 41 years with the YMCA. From raising money and building a $2 million stadium in New Plymouth; to setting up the largest Rural Youth programme in Fiji in one hundred villages and ten thousand members; from tackling the suicide problem in Samoa and

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cutting it in half; to helping the YMCA in Hawke’s Bar re-invent itself to serve 4,500 people every year – helping people realise that they are all SOMEBODY and that SOMETHING CAN BE  DONE…and they are doing it. “

Becoming a Life Member of the New Zealand YMCA National Council in May 1996 I was awarded Life Membership in the National Council of YMCAs of New Zealand. The testimonial read;

‘Dennis has devoted most of his adult life to the YMCA Movement. Dennis was born in Wanganui, is married to Jean and they will have been married for 40 years next month.

Dennis started as the General Secretary of the YMCA of New Plymouth in 1956. He started as the sole employee with 150 members doing gymnastics, and finished with a staff of five with 1500 members in a $250, 000 stadium and three permanent camp facilities.

Probably what changed Dennis’ life was being awarded a senior staff scholarship to go to the United States in 1969 to study camping. This involved spending some time at the YMCA University at Springfield. During this time Dennis and Jean made some very strong friendships which endure until today. Dennis’ awarding of the scholarship was directly attributable to the work of George Briggs who was the National Secretary at that time.

What followed was that Dennis was given the task of starting a YMCA from scratch in Fiji. He started as the sole employee with 50 members in what was known as the Suva Youth Centre, and finished with 30 staff and 10,000 members. Activities included work with shoe shine boys, sports clubs, rural clubs in 100 villages on ten islands and mobile schools for carpentry, wood carving, outboard motor repairs, chainsaw operations and sewing machine repairs.

In February 1978 until August 1982, Dennis was the Pioneer General Secretary of the YMCA of Western Samoa. Once again, Dennis started as the sole employee with no facilities and no programmes, and finished with a staff of 30 and over 6,000 members with 50 lay leaders and 300 club officers. Activities included 32 rural clubs. increasing agricultural production by 200 percent, exporting taro and kava, two carpentry schools, motor mechanic school, small engine mobile school, courses in social survival skills, preparing immigrants for life in New Zealand, research in suicide

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and street kids. For the second time, Dennis was involved in the creation of an Autonomous YMCA directly affiliated to the World Alliance of YMCAs.

Dennis and Jean returned to New Zealand in September 1982, and for a few months was the Temporary Manager of the YMCA of Hastings. What he found was a YMCA with a stadium which was losing money, a debt of about $200,000, programme degeneration and inefficient management practices.

He was officially appointed as Executive Director of the Hastings YMCA in March 1983. He was able to get the Hastings City Council to purchase the stadium, which meant that all debt was eliminated and they had a large sum of money in the bank. He started as the sole employee, no programmes and no facilities. It is clear from all this that Dennis certainly likes a challenge. He was responsible for the design and management of programmes for unemployed young people, summer holiday camps, the organisation of committees and financial management. As Hastings Executive Director he was responsible for a staff of 16, conducting programmes for 300 unemployed people each year at 4 specialised training facilities and summer camps for 220 children.

In October 1992 he was appointed part-time Executive Director of the Napier YMCA and this led to the merger of the two YMCAs to what is now known as the YMCA of Hawke’s Bay in March 1994. The combined YMCA had approximately 47 staff operating 30 programmes in 8 different locations from Opoutama near Mahia in Northern Hawke’s Bay, through to Wairoa, Napier, Hastings, Maraekakaho, and Waipukurau. The annual turnover is in the vicinity of $1.2 million.

Dennis’ life would not be complete without mentioning his other activities which can be directly related to his YMCA work. He has had various consultancies in such countries as Vanuatu, the Cook Islands, Suva, Honolulu, Western Samoa as well as training courses in New Zealand.

Dennis is a great believer that you are never too old to learn. He has made a practice of encouraging his staff to take extramural studies at Universities, particularly Massey University. It is quite common for him to be employing staff who left high school as soon as they could, with no qualification, finding themselves studying extramurally at Massey University. I think that there will be several people in this room who will know that part of the reason for their success is the encouragement that Dennis has given them in pursuing academic qualifications which relate directly to the work that they do.

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In addition, Dennis has had material published in academic publications as well as writing four books.

In recognition of Dennis’ work in Western Samoa, the chiefs and orators of the District of Gagamalae on the island of Savaii, bestowed on Dennis the Samoan matai (or chiefly) title of Tagaloafaataulele. I can tell you that having attended a meeting with Samoan leaders in Napier, at which Dennis was present, they recognised that Title when they addressed him.

In 1994, Dennis entered the YMCA of Hawke’s Bay in the Business Development Quality Award, and was the Regional Winner, winning a silver pyramid. To many it was a surprise that a community organisation such as the YMCA could apply, but it is a tribute to Dennis that the Hawke’s Bay YMCA won this Regional Award.

We know that when you retire in the not too distant future, it will not mean the end of your involvement with the YMCA.’

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Chapter Nine   And so to retirement

After forty-one years and three months employment with the YMCA I retired on my 65th birthday, August 13th 1997. A community function was organised by YMCA people, including Shelley and was held at Windsor Lodge, Hastings with almost one hundred people attending.

I had organised to bring Eloni Goneyali over from Fiji and together with a group from the New Plymouth YMCA my career was put out for public view. It was a great night with a good meal and lots of good speeches, many by past and present staff. After each speech by a Maori woman there would be a Waiata, a tradition Maori song and this added lots of colour. Eloni gave a speech and some of our Samoan friends were present giving it the Pacific flavour that I find so appealing.

A few moments before my speech was due I felt uncomfortably hot and prickly down the back of the neck. I commented about this to Jean, took off my suit jacket and stood and gave my speech. What I didn’t know then but learnt later, that feeling was my first heart attack.

I should mention that the last six months of employment had been incredibly stressful as two Board members tried to pick up the threads of the many elements of my work including the eight contracts with Government agencies worth over $1 million. We had contracts with Education and Training, Community Employment Agency, and Youth Affairs, all of which we were successful in delivering the contract goals. I didn’t necessarily have a ‘sweet-heart’ relationship with the various civil servants who were employed in those agencies, in fact with many of the Employment and Training staff there was a level of discomfort and even overt friction between us. But we tendered for contracts, won them and delivered results. And when the two Board members found that some people disliked me, one of them decided to start to untangle the contracts.

Anyway, one heart attack (which I didn’t know about) led a few days later to another weird feeling giving Jean alarm bells whereupon she took me to the doctor. The nurse took my blood pressure twice, called the doctor and he took my blood pressure and said, “Shit,” which gave me the impression it was serious.

He told Jean to put me in the car and drive to Napier hospital to give me a cardiogram. Sure enough, two heart attacks and an appointment for an angiogram a week or so later. In the meantime pills and a nitro lingual spray to keep things safe. I had the angiogram which found that I had two arteries with eighty five percent

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blockage and one with ninety five percent blockage. Eventually an appointment was made for an angioplasty at Greenlane hospital Auckland for November.

Jean and I drove to Auckland and I checked into Greenlane while Jean stayed in the old nurses home right next door. The surgeon visited me the evening before the angioplasty and | asked what sort of things went wrong with this procedure. “Some times the artery collapses (I didn’t bother to follow that one up) and some times the artery fractures.” Well, it turned out my artery fractured so it was straight into a triple bi-pass operation.

A couple of days later I regained consciousness and thought, “Heck. Whose been messing around with my leg, and what’s with all the tubes coming out of me?” Jean had had to give approval for the bi-pass operation as I had been out-to-it from the anaesthetic for the angioplasty. A couple of days later the nurse asked how far I was walking and if not why not. So it was up and at ‘em and five days after the operation we took an airplane home and arranged for Shelley and Richard to drive to Auckland to regain our car.

I should mention that I had a stream of visitors in Greenlane including my Samoan friends Fiaiva and Motupua’a and Saunoa. Shelley and Richard, Trevor Humphries, Jack and Maree and other friends also visited. For a couple of months I nurtured my health back with a little walking, then more and more. My heart-health has been good ever since.

The Safer Community Council

A couple of years before I was due to retire, I made plans to get involved in community organisations outside the YMCA and Rotary. Hastings District Council announced that it was setting up a Safer Community Council with the support of the Crime Prevention Unit of the Prime Ministers Office and called a public meeting. I attended the meeting along with around eighty other community people and learnt that another meeting would be called with two people elected as community representatives onto the Council. The Samoan community nominated me and Rotary seconded my nomination. About six people were nominated but in the event I won a place on the Safer Community Council as a community representative. The other members of the Council were Two City Councillors, the District Police Commander, representatives of Health, Education, Maori Iwi, Social Welfare, the Business

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Association, and the Council Community Development staff person. The Council met every six weeks and addressed safety problems brought before it by Police or Council or others. One of our first Pilot Projects was a Safer Streets Project for Flaxmere West. This was a very depressed area of Flaxmere where Council had allowed a developer to build small tinny[tiny], cheap houses on small stony sections so that poor people could own their own homes. The area was overstocked with small brown kids, a few tough gang hangouts, broken down public spaces, lots of graffiti and absolutely bereft of any vegetation. It was a place that anybody with get-up-and-go would plan to move on as quickly as possible.

The SCC (Safer Community Council) had employed an Executive Officer so we set him to conduct a community survey to learn what the locals thought was wrong with the area and what improvements they thought could be made. It was hard to get responses from the adults. Very few had any contact with the schools and almost none attended teacher/pupil meetings. Most did not attend church although the few Pacific Islanders did. One of the only places one could talk with the adults was at the tavern and a structured survey was not treated with much respect there.

So we did what we could with a few adults. But we had great surveys with about sixty kids. They said there were three main things wrong with West Flaxmere, all of which should be fixed up. Number one, there were two many fast cars. Local boy racers were frequently burning up the main drag in their beat-up jalopies. Number two, there were two many wild dogs. These dogs were unregistered and roamed in packs by day and night. The dog catcher from the Council most times didn’t come when called to West Flaxmere. And number three, there were no flowers. This blew me away. These kids had figured out that the smart areas of town had flowers and the people there were proud of their place. Along the whole of the median strip of the main Flaxmere Avenue, in the roundabouts, along the street sides, in the houses front yards, nowhere were there any flowers and they were not proud of their place.

We got the Police onto the fast cars and put in some road humps where it hurt. We gave some community people a cell phone and told them to ring the dog catcher day or night to catch and deplete the dog population. And I made it my mission to get the kids flowers. I put the motion that the City Council provides flowers in the median strip, and the roundabouts and other public places. The message came back six weeks later

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that the City Community Facilities Director had no money in his budget for flowers for Flaxmere West.

So I then asked the Director for an estimate of how much was required and I would try to raise the money. The message came back six weeks later that it was a waste of time raising the money for flowers because (a) there was no irrigation so the flowers would die in the stony soil and (b) the locals would vandalise them anyway. So I said I would also raise the money for the irrigation. How much did it need? The message from the Director was it would be a waste of money as the locals would steal it. With all this message sending back and forth a whole year had gone by since the survey was conducted.

Unbeknown to me at this time, the Director was under investigation for a couple of indiscretions and before I knew it he was down the road and a new temporary appointment made. I then found out, fifteen months after I started my push for flowers, that there had been irrigation in place all along and the budget for things like flowers had been underspent for the previous two years. Daffodil bulbs were planted by the hundreds along the median strip, home owners were given dozens of daffodil bulbs and lessons given on how to look after them and the kids and people of Flaxmere West got loads of flowers of which they could be proud.

In the meantime we had contracted a community agency to set up a local committee to support community events and to conduct holiday programmes during the schools mid-term breaks. These were very successful with sixty to one hundred kids attending most days. Over the long haul there was a distinct improvement in the level of community pride in Flaxmere West although most would still consider it a long term goal to move out and up to other areas.

The next pilot project we took on came about when we were notified that the Crime Prevention Unit had $1 million up for grabs and suggested about four programmes it could be applied to. It turned out that I was the only Safer Community Council member who bothered to reply to the memo and I suggested we apply for funds for a Restorative Justice programme within the Hawke’s Bay as we had an effective chapter of Restorative Justice operating in the Bay.

We had an initial meeting with a couple of the Hawke’s Bay Restorative Justice committee and put up a proposal. It was proposed that a programme be set up within the Hawke’s Bay prison on the understanding that many young prisoners had pleaded guilty but had not had an opportunity to express their remorse to the

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victims nor to ask for forgiveness nor to offer recompense. It was acknowledged that many victims did not want to meet their offender but only wanted to forget and put distance between the event and the present. But for a few, it would be a ‘turning event.’

The programme employed Jackie Katouness for the project and she was absolutely brilliant. Jackie came from a very tough background, had done time and had done a complete turn around when she had come face to face with a victim. This was a person she knew and respected and she was shocked that her actions had hurt this person.

We didn’t reach our goals that we had set with the pilot because a lot of prisoners had been sent to Hawke’s Bay from other areas. But what developed was The Sycamore Programme which involved small groups of prisoners and small groups of victims, usually not connected to one another who share their feelings of guilt and hurt, remorse and forgiveness. There is a beautiful experience of healing and compassion that is difficult to compare to any other situation. The Sycamore Programme is now a nationwide event and is probably doing more to turn peoples lives around than any other.

At a Safer Community Council meeting the District Commander of the Police expressed his concern at the number of young children roaming unsupervised throughout the main shopping area of Hastings on pretty well every day of the week. It was obvious they were playing truant and that no one was chasing them up. When they were spoken to by Police they had a range of alibis but most commonly they said they had been sacked out of school and they were not allowed back. Their parents were either not aware where the kids were or didn’t care. The Coordinator of the Safer Community Council called a meeting of school Principals but as it was close to Christmas nobody turned up.

After the summer holiday break, another meeting was called with a better attendance. We learnt that every school had an allowance to chase up their truants and in fact they were obliged by law to do that. The trouble was each school had only enough allowance to employ one/sixth of a person. So there and then it was decided by the fourteen schools represented that two persons would be appointed as Truancy Officers and that those Principals present would become the Truancy

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Committee. This programme is now an ongoing one and the problem of kids around the shops has virtually been eliminated.

In the year 2003, Hastings was identified as one of the four worst places in New Zealand for youth offending. The Crime Prevention Unit in the Prime Ministers office and the New Zealand Police Headquarters decided to launch several pilot projects to tackle the problem of youth offending and Hastings was selected as a pilot site. The Safer Community Council put together a special committee to steer the project and named it Heretaunga Tiaki Tamariki. Several weeks were spent negotiating between the Hastings District Council, the Crime Prevention Unit and the Police Headquarters. The committee comprised a District Councillor, the District Police Commander, the Manager of Maori Taiwhenua District organisation, a counsellor from the family court and me. The design of the project entailed employing two social case workers who would each develop a contract/relationship with five young people referred by Police or Truancy Service or Social Welfare. The programme was aimed at level three offenders, that is they had been in a bit of trouble but, in the opinion of the referring agency, was able to be turned around. The project was a ‘wrap-around’ programme, that is it took into the orbit of its work all those people or agencies that touched the life of the ‘client.’ The Project Leaders report of 2005 describes the process as, “We offer young people in Hastings alternative pathways to that of offending. We work with our young clients and the people significant in their lives — brothers, sisters, peers, parents, grandparents. schools, courses, sports groups, employers, Police, Courts, Iwi Services, other community groups, churches, truancy services, health providers, alcohol and drug counsellors, and government agencies such as Child Youth and Family. “

The programme started at a careful pace for the first few months then settled down to ‘treat’ the ten young people referred to it. Not all people referred were accepted on to the programme. If the persons responsible for caring for the young person wouldn’t sign up and accept some contract responsibilities, the contract was not made.

As the programme progressed it became obvious that younger clients were more receptive than the older ones. The early clients were aged 14, 15 and 16. As the programme progressed the clients were 11, 12 and 13 years old. Most had not been active in the school system for a couple of years. They had bunked school or

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travelled from one school to another after being expelled from each one so that their level of literacy and numeracy was years behind where they should have been. Once each contract was signed up, a case plan was formulated which included some achievable goals and frequently some involvement with a ‘helping agency.’ These included a therapeutic art programme, working with horses, some practical life skills programmes such as woodwork and planning, and literacy and numeracy lessons on computer programmes with Kip McGraph.[McGrath]

Much of the time, it was difficult to get the kids to the places of training and then difficult to get them out. They lapped up the lessons from Kip McGraph [McGrath] but given half a chance would switch over to space stations. The work was slow and expensive. The Police Headquarters and the Crime Prevention Unit each contributed $75,000 per year. So for $150,000 we dealt with about ten troubled young people. But the results after the first two years were impressive.

Over the first two years we dealt with 21 kids on the programme; before entering the programme they had committed a total of 140 offences; during the programme they committed 49 offences; after exiting the programme they had committed a total of 4 offences. As time rolls by it is likely that this trend will not be maintained but its indications are certainly hopeful.

After three years service on the Management Committee I resigned from the Heretaunga Tiaki Tamariki Trust to give more time to other community organisations.

At a meeting of the Safer Community Council in April 2005 Inspector Dean Clifford stated that it was time Hawke’s Bay had a Community Patrol as these had proliferated throughout the Country over recent years. He suggested that Havelock North would be a good place to start as it had a modest and manageable crime rate and had a strong community spirit. He suggested that it would be preferable that Police not be seen to be initiating the establishment of a Community Patrol and that it would be best if the organising came out of the community.

I put my hand up and offered to ask Rotary to sponsor the first public meeting. This was agreed to and l put the request to the Rotary Board of Directors which they agreed to do. The first public meeting was held in July 2005 followed by another public meeting in September. About thirty three names were received as volunteers but as each person was required to have a Police check on their criminal history, four names were eliminated on the first round.

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During the second public meeting, I had asked for offers from people willing to serve on the committee. Nine people offered to serve and we agreed to meet on September 28th to elect officers of the committee. I was elected Chairman/Coordinator with other members elected as Secretary, Treasurer. In drawing up the first roster I decided to appoint four Team Leaders who would ensure that each person rostered was ready and equipped on the night.

The Community Constable for Havelock North had been very supportive during the establishment phase and continued to help at monthly meetings. The Chairman of Community Patrols New Zealand had attended the second public meeting, had conducted a training session and had presented us with a Handbook Manual and magnetised car signs.

The committee set about raising funds by approaching some business firms and the District Council and Police funds. The area of concern for patrols was defined by the fact that Havelock North was the Social-Centre-Drinking-Spot for all young people of Hawke’s Bay, particularly on Saturday night/Sunday mornings from midnight Saturday to 4am Sunday morning.

Havelock North had five drinking establishments within one hundred metres of each other, all attractive and each tuned into particular slices of the population. The young ones frequented the Happy Tav and the Loading Ramp. The workers socialised at Turks and the mature socialites gathered at the Rose and Shamrock and The Diva. Professional Security Guards patrolled the village centre which was also covered by Closed Circuit Television. In addition each drinking spot had their own ‘bouncers,’ but where the trouble occurred was along the six exit routes from the village where frisky teenagers smashed letterboxes, pulled out tree saplings, left smashed bottles etc. Not really serious crime but very annoying to the old folk who happened to reside along one of the exit routes.

The first Patrols were rostered for early November 2005. Two cars, each with two Patrol volunteers started their patrol at midnight and cruised their patch through the early hours of Sunday morning. The scene at the drinking spots and the village centre was amazing. About 400 to 500 mainly young people were socialising their little socks off. Groups of young people were leaving their private parties in the suburbs and wandering into the village at 1am, 1:30am and 2am to catch a bit of the local action. There was little evidence of any drunkenness or violence. All of the pubs closed at 3am or a little earlier and from 3am to 4am scores of youngsters wandered

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about the village wondering what to do next. Dozens queued up at the chicken and chips shop and from 3am to 3:30 the Mobil petrol station sold over two hundred hot meat pies.

And then at 4am on our first night one of our patrols caught four youth interfering with a car. The Dominion Post newspaper reported it with the headline “PATROLS NAB YOUTH ON FIRST NIGHT. A new Hawke’s Bay Community Patrol struck instant success on its first night, nabbing youths who had absconded from supervision and were breaking into a car. ..One of the youths was already facing 50 burglary charges in court. The Community Patrol volunteers had been watching the youths acting suspiciously and phoned Police who responded with a patrol car and dog. Police say the four youth were likely to face about 12 more charges related to their alleged involvement in numerous thefts from cars and burglary in Havelock North.”

This spectacular beginning produced great publicity and while the newspapers have continued to give good coverage, the majority of nights on patrol have been very quiet. As the months went by, the young people kept the peace and gave respect to the patrols. Our mission was to be the eyes and ears for the Police only calling them when we spotted trouble. In the first month, November we called the Police six times. In December we called them four times, in January twice, in February, March and April only once. Most weeks the Patrols report “It was really boring. Everyone behaved themselves.” To which I would respond, “Good work. We are winning.” The Principle of the Havelock North Primary School told us that vandalism had decreased by sixty percent since the Patrols started.

Each month a meeting was held for some training and to develop the next roster. Each Patroller who used his car during the previous month was reimbursed with a ten dollar petrol voucher at the meeting. The Havelock North Community Patrol helped to establish Community Patrols in Flaxmere and Hastings during 2006 and three committee members, including me attended the National Training Seminar of CPNZ in Rotorua. The continuing life of the Havelock North Community Patrol is an interesting model of a community taking charge of its community health and happiness.

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Continuing Connection with Samoa in New Zealand

In the year 1999 I received a phone call from our Samoan Methodist Minister asking me to be a member of a committee to establish a Samoan Early Childhood Centre which would come to be titled Punavai O Le Gagana Samoa.

I should say by way of explanation that when we returned to New Zealand from Samoa in 1982, we attended the English language Methodist Church in Hastings but found it so populated with a couple of handfuls of little old women that it felt as though it was a pre-arrangement for a succession of funerals. So we tried the Havelock North Methodist Church but they were too red-hot throwing their arms up in the air at the slightest hallelujah and being very intense over the cup of tea.

Then we noticed in the newspaper that there was a Samoan language service in the Methodist Church at an hour earlier than the English language service. So we gave it a shot and, in spite of not being able to speak Samoan, felt right at home straight away, fully included. There was a wholeness to the feeling of the place with the church virtually full with all the members of the family, small kids, big kids, mums and dads, grannies and grandpas. The singing was and is absolute magic with full four part harmony. Feeling my way with the bass’s is a constant challenge and most of the time I get full satisfaction to be attune with the full chorus in a variety of complicated hymns. The Minister gives us the place of the scripture reading in English and the rest of the time we observe, listen and meditate.

The Minster in 1999, Faiva Alaelua was our fourth since we joined the congregation and while there had been an informal child minding programme operating for a couple of years it was considered the right time to build and license a fully fledged Early Childhood Education Centre in the Samoan language. Faiva had brought back from Auckland some building plans for a licensed ECE centre for thirty children and this gave us a foundation to build from. We applied to the Hastings District Council to purchase two acres of land in Flaxmere where most of the local Samoans lived. At the same time the Church started fund raising and over a little more than one year around $90,000 was raised.

The land purchase got stuck at the Councils end for a couple of months then the deal was made and we paid $66,667 and the land title was ours. In the meantime, my friends at Target homes had costed out the building plans at $154,465 and we applied to the Ministry of Education for $149,316 for the Governments grant. In the first grant period our application was declined but six months later we applied

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again and by August 8’” 2000 we signed a contract with Target Homes to build our Early Childhood Centre on our own land in Flaxmere.

With the building matters now in hand we began two other major tasks, that of producing the documents to Charter and license the Centre and the hunt to find a qualified person to be the Supervisor of the Centre. We had to hand the three or four Samoan ladies who had been operating the informal child minding programme, but the staffing specification required a person with the three year Diploma of Early Childhood Education and registration as a teacher. We sounded-out a Wellington Samoan lady who was qualified but after some hesitation she turned us down. In the meantime we were holding weekly meetings with several people going through drafts of policy statement working towards gaining the license. Around twelve months after we began work on the licensing our documentation was approved and on July 2001 we made the appointment of Gina Seatter as Supervisor of Punavai O Le Gagana Samoa. Four other staff were appointed, thirty little Samoan kids were enrolled and on August 13th 2001 we opened for business.

Punavai O Le Gagana Samoa celebrated five years of service in August 2006 with a community gathering in the Cook Island Community Centre with a feast, entertainment, a few speeches and a large birthday cake. I was challenged to be the Master of Ceremonies while other members of the committee filled other roles. Our Centre is continually striving to retain our ‘Samoaness’ while at the same time attempting to get the staff more professionally qualified. We have been mostly unsuccessful as few of our staff had sufficient enough grasp of the technical aspects of the English language to undertake the professional courses offered. We had managed to support one Samoan woman through the rigour of the Diploma course but after one year of service following completing the course she returned to Samoa to care for her elderly Mother. We may have to reduce our Samoaness to get qualified staff at the same time pushing for a Diploma course suitable for people whose second language is English.

Radio Kidnappers

In 1998 I had a phone call and then a visit from two consultants who represented New Zealand On Air, the Government Agency responsible for radio programmes, who invited me to become a Trust member of the Radio Kidnappers Radio Trust.

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I learnt that Radio Kidnappers was an Access Community radio station, one of eleven throughout New Zealand who was partly funded by NZ On Air to enable community groups access to the radio air waves at affordable costs. The Access Community radio stations had a particular responsibility to encourage groups which represented “women, children, people with disabilities and the various ethnic groups” to provide programmes over the air waves. I agreed to become a Trustee and along with other new Trustees, Eileen von Dadelszen, Jan Woodhall, Lester Finch and Katherine Edmond we took over the governess role of Radio Kidnappers.

The station had been established in 1995 but the original group of Trustees had withered away. We learnt later that the manager who had been there from day one whilst having excellent broadcasting skills knew little about management and less still about being accountable to a Board of Trustees.

l was appointed Treasurer to the Trust and found that all of the finances including the fortnightly wages and the monthly accounts paying were all handled by an accountancy firm for a fee of several thousand dollars. I spent many hours over the next six years helping the manager strike an annual budget, pay the monthly accounts, enter all the transactions into a computer programme, give monthly financial reports to the Trust Board and generally take responsibility for the finances of the station.

Then as we had two staff I helped them sharpen up their Job Descriptions and conduct Performance Appraisals. The manager picked up these skills very quickly but he continued to find it uncomfortable to be accountable to the Trust Board. The station broadcast over 1431am for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Live broadcasts were made weekly by volunteers in the Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island, Dutch, South Afrikaan, and English languages. Special regular programmes included Age Concern, Brain Injury Victims, Wheelchair exercise, the Women’s Centre, Operatic Society, school debates, young people and various church religious programmes. We paid nobody to announce or broadcast programmes; all were volunteer driven.

I took a leadership role in helping the various community groups at a collective meeting work through the statements for our Mission Statement. By this time I had developed the formulae that included (a) the basic assumption; (b) the fundamental value; (c) the Mission; (c) the means of achieving the Mission; and (d) the ultimate goal. This is that formulae unfolded for Radio Kidnappers;

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‘RECOGNISING that communication is the thread that connects each person to the human family, and

BELIEVING that cultural diversity is a treasure to be nourished,

THE MISSION OF RADIO KIDNAPPERS IS THE CELEBRATION OF WOMEN, CHILDREN, THE DISABLED, MINORITY GROUPS AND COMMUNITY GROUPS, BY helping them present their message over the air,

TOWARDS A COMMUNITY which values tolerance, respect and appreciation to all members of the human family.’

One of the situations I found on becoming a member of the Trust was that although Radio Kidnappers considered itself a Hawke’s Bay community radio, in fact of the thirty community groups using the station only one was from Napier. This was an expression of parochialism that Napier was well known for.

So we set a goal with the Trust of setting up a studio in Napier in a position that had high visibility to the public. I had seen a shop-front radio studio in action when we visited Victor Harbour in Australia a year earlier. We had been strolling along one of the shopping streets when I heard the announcer on a radio comment on the passing public. I looked into the shop and there he was grinning at me while he operated his programme.

The manager and I went on a hunt of suitable shops in Napier that were available and found a stamp shop with a closing-down sign in the window. It suited our purpose nicely so I found the owner of the building and made an offer of rent a bit lower than what the stamp man was paying. We had been applying to charitable trusts and NZ On Air for the $40,000 we estimated would be needed to set up the studio. These two goals came together nicely and the only thing that created a delay of about four months in connecting “on air’ was the delivery of some transmitting equipment from America. Then we moved the second staff person to the Napier studio with the mission of encouraging Napier community groups to go on air with their programmes. Before the year was out we were broadcasting from Napier for almost twenty hours per week.

I had an unusual experience while conversing on the telephone with Jan Woodhall, one of the other Trust members. In fact Jan was Secretary of the Trust while I was Treasurer. Jan was the Office Manager to the local Member of Parliament. We were chatting about some Trust matter when she said,” Hang on

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Dennis, somebody has just come into the office…oh my God he’s got a gun,…get the Police”. I quickly disconnected, dialled 111, asked for Police and then informed the operator, “ A man with a gun has just walked in to Rick Barkers office in Warren street, Hastings.” The operator said, “Hold the line ……………. there, we have a cordon around Warren Street ………. Police are negotiating with the offender ……… now, it’s Dennis is it?” That had me bluffed. As I was ringing from home my name and number must have come up on the computer. Then the operator asked who was Rick Barker. Well he was our local Member of Parliament but apparently not ringing bells on the national scene. I hung onto the telephone for about forty minutes when the guy surrendered his weapon and the cordon taken off Warren Street. Jan resigned that job after a few months because the offender said he would ‘get her’ when he got out.

I helped our Trust Board organise the national conference of Access Community Radio station people. About sixty people attended from the eleven stations around New Zealand. We held the conference in the Dome building in Napier and had a social night with dinner up at the Peak Restaurant on Te Mata Peak and it was a rip-roaring success.

After six years on the Trust as Treasurer I resigned as all the other Trust members had turned over a couple of times and the relationship with the manager was at times testy. He never did get the hang of being accountable to the Trust Board.

About eighteen months later I received a telephone call from a new Trustee telling me that the manager had finished on the Friday, they had changed the locks on the Saturday and could I start on the Monday as the temporary manager while they advertised the job. I told them I could do it but I played golf on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and l took an hour and a half for lunch. That was agreed to and I helped find the part time person for the hours I played golf. I did that job for six months and indirectly had a hand in selecting the replacement person for the manager’s position.

Those Rotary Clubs

It all started when we arrived in Fiji to take over the Suva Youth Centre and bring into Fiji the creation of the YMCA of Fiji. In 1971 the Suva Youth Centre was boarded up as after a few years of operations the rugby team had a monster of a fight with the

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boxing club wrecked some of the furniture and some windows making the place too hot to manage. There was still the residue of a Management Committee of the Suva Youth Centre – Trevor Wright, Sandy Muir, Mahommed Ramzam, and Shanti Desai – and they were coopted onto the new YMCA committee as an interim arrangement. Fairly soon after settling in, Shanti Desai came to me and said, “I am the incoming President of the Rotary Club of Suva and I need a person who is good at English to be my Club Secretary. Will you please become a member of the Rotary Club of Suva and be my Secretary?” so I said “Yes”, and I did. I continued as Secretary of that Rotary Club for five years and for my sixth year in Fiji was the Director of Community Service.

The social side of the club was good value. Of the sixty members in the club about half were expatriates, mostly from New Zealand, Australia or England, and the other half were mostly ethnic Indians who were in business in Fiji plus some ethnic Chinese who were also in business in Fiji.

On one of the ‘wives nights’ social occasions, some of the wives commented that the men were meeting weekly as a social event and suggested some of the wives could get together for lunch in one another’s homes. So Jean joined up with a group of women, some Indian, some Chinese and possibly one other European where they shared recipes and cooking styles with one another. This special skill has flowed through to our family home environment when we enjoy the remarkable curry or Chinese savoury dish.

Rotary became a very useful network for meeting people such as Sir Charles Stinson, Minister of Finance, the New Zealand High Commissioner, the General Manager of the Sugar Corporation and similar important people. This was a big asset for the YMCA and l recruited several important Board members for the YMCA from Rotary.

When we moved to Samoa, within a few weeks I was told that the Rotary Club of Apia desperately needed me as Secretary to the Club as the previous Secretary had left things in a bit of a mess. So there I went again.

The Apia Club was smaller with about thirty members, once again a mixture of locals and expatriates. And once again I was able to hand-pick some excellent people to serve on the YMCA of Samoa Board of Directors. Father Joe Pusateri would be an outstanding example of that talent. I don’t remember any particularly special events, except maybe for the beer festival arranged at the Vailima brewery

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when my major task was getting patrons to eat more sausages to absorb the excess alcohol they had taken into their system. That was one task in which I had to admit failure.

Within a few months of moving back to New Zealand I had a visit from Cyril Whitaker and friend one evening. About thirty minutes into their pitch I realised they were warming me up to accept an invitation to join the Rotary Club of Havelock North. I cut short their evangelism and told them of my previous Rotary experience in Suva and Apia. So I joined the Rotary Club of Havelock North and have continued as an active member for twenty four years and have held most offices and have avoided being the Club Secretary. I think I am inoculated against that.

I enjoyed my year as Club President from July 2002 to July 2003. Three months before taking office I had conducted a ‘Community Needs’ survey. I had written to twenty three people considered as opinion leaders and who came into a cross section of our Havelock North community – school Principals, Church Ministers, the Community Constable, local body leaders, social service agencies, etc – and asked them what they thought were the five most important issues that would affect Havelock North over the next few years and, maybe suggest an appropriate Rotary response.

I received about nineteen replies several of which had obviously been the subject of brain-storming by a community group. I put the replies into several clusters that seemed to fit, such as ‘community security’,’ bad behaviour by kids’, and wrote them up on newsprint, six big sheets. Then on one club night before I took office I stuck the sheets on the wall in the meeting room and briefly outlined each issue. I then gave each club member a yellow stick-on sticker and gave them five minutes to place them where they thought our club should focus for the next Rotary year. I had recommended we focus on ‘Positive Parenting’ and several issues identified pointed out some poor parenting practices that needed attention. The club members with their yellow stickers endorsed my suggestion and we made Positive Parenting programmes the main recipients of our fund raising.

We canvassed the community to find out what agencies were doing anything about increasing parenting skills, received some guidance from a couple of experts, and got the best three agencies to give the club a presentation of the programmes they offered. The process was an eye opener for most club members. We gave $5000 to Parentline who ran excellent courses for needy cases, $5000 to the

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Taiwhenua who had found a dozen or so 15 and 16 year old boys who had become fathers and didn’t know what their responsibilities were (the Taiwhenua designed a twelve week programme for them about child and partner care), and Mere Edwards Caring Kiwi Trust which ran Parenting programmes in a low socio-economic suburb of Hastings. It was a good year and I was proud of the way our Rotary Club members responded to community needs they had no idea existed.

In the year 2000, five of us Rotary Club members from Havelock North flew to Fiji as a volunteer team to build a brick house in the Ba Rotary Village scheme. Robin Bell, being a practising builder supervised the project, supported by Warwick Bull the engineer, and navies [navvies] Rob Brangwin, Gary Laskie and …you‘ve guessed it, Dennis Oliver. Actually, I spent a fair bit of my time driving the lite truck to the township of Ba to pick up more building supplies. The bricks were made by the locals out of a local mud, a little sand and cement. The material was squeezed into a mould then extracted and dried for a few days in the sun before we worked with them. It was a very modest cottage about four meters by six meters, sufficient for a small family of squatters. There was an alcove for the kitchen and a separate bathroom.

The leader of the project was Dick Singh of the Rotary Club of Ba. They had erected a giant sail cloth over the building site and even under that shade the heat was sa rui katakata. We lived on site in a store room which had been equipped with a few bunks.

Most mornings I cooked breakfast for the team. I purchased pawpaw in the Ba market and trained the team how to prepare them. We came back to the centre for lunch then took a two hour lunch break/snooze. Each evening after a shower we squeezed into the van and drove to town where most nights we had a curry meal. Great food, dead cheap. Boy did that Fiji Bitter go down a treat. We all lost weight by simply sweating it out on the work site.

As we finished the job, three of us, Gary and Robin and I expected our wives to join us to extend our Fiji holiday for a week or so around the coast at a resort. But on that special day, George Speight staged a coup[e] and the whole country went on ‘Red Alert.‘ Somehow we got a message that the wives were not coming and that we should try to get out of the country. Problem was, we didn’t have air tickets for that day.

We went to the Nadi airport and argued, argued, threatened and lost. The plane was coming to fetch those that were booked but the agent kept saying extra

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payment of a few hundred dollars would be required to convert our tickets for use that day. Robin abused the ticketing guy. Gary did his bun. I went round the back to find who was really in charge. At the last moment, with the plane on the ground and with the regular passengers on board, the pilot allowed us three on for a nominal extra fee.

There is an amusing postscript to the brick house we had built. Warwick had decided to bring a brick back to New Zealand. When we landed in Palmerston North he decided to declare his brick to the Agriculture Department. Just in case it had ants on it, they lightly sprayed it with water. The brick fell in half. Didn’t give us great confident thoughts about the cottage we had built.

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Chapter Ten   A purveyor of ideas

Looking back on my career. it has been an exciting journey with an incredible range of organisations and programmes, most of them successful but the occasional disappointing failures.

I see myself as a community organiser and a purveyor of ‘ideas.’ I agree with the proposal that “there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”

Some ideas I have taken as working practice are:-

If we want to make things better and we organise, we can bring that better state about . It only takes one person to start the ball rolling.

The most essential resource for a successful programme or project is the right leader (not necessarily just one person but often a key group).

The effective leader believes in the vision and mission, shares the values, is an effective communicator and encourages all of the troops all of the time.

The more the group shares in the vision the mission and the values the stronger the roots of the organisation.

The best programmes are created by the people involved rather than copying what someone else is doing – their problem might be different. (We need to put more effort in teaching people to be creative in inventing programmes rather than copying).

Nothing lasts forever and the organisation will need to reinvent itself every five to ten years. (We need to train people how to do that.)

As a basis for community organising, it is useful to keep in mind the

‘Four Everythings:-
Everything is connected to everything else
Everything has to go somewhere
Everything costs something
Everything has a life cycle (my adaptation of Commoner’s 1968 ‘rules of ecology)

Really big projects may take years of effort and need unchanging leaders to reach fulfilment

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If people deny they have a problem they will not start working on a solution

It is sometimes better to close down a failing programme rather than let the same old people keep doing the same old things. Then start again with new people doing new things.

Original digital file

OliverDJ864_MakingADifference.pdf

Date published

2012

People

  • Guy Baillie
  • Max Baty
  • Robin Bell
  • Rob Brangwin
  • Warwick Bull
  • David Butcher
  • Inspector Dean Clifford
  • Hans Doevendans
  • Ngaire Duncan
  • Ross Duncan
  • Katherine Edmond
  • Lester Finch
  • Joe Hepi
  • Wally Hunt
  • Jackie Katouness
  • Gary Laskie
  • Michael Laws
  • Tom McGarry
  • Jim O'Connor
  • Dennis Oliver
  • Jean Oliver
  • Richard Oliver
  • Robert Oliver
  • Shelley Oliver
  • Marina Ropiha
  • Dr Pita Sharples
  • Ross Sheard
  • Eileen von Dadelszen
  • Cyril Whitaker
  • Fiona Whitaker
  • Jeff Whittaker
  • Jan Woodhall

Accession number

864/1942/43002

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