Category Archives: Memoirs

Tomorrow’s Schools Yesterday.

Rigged policy and a shocking abuse of power.

So we’re finally getting an overhaul of a failed neoliberal education policy (“2018: System review ofTomorrow’s Schools – 2018 Tomorrow’s SchoolsTaskforce Report”).

It was rigged policy anyway.

“The Government sought a response to the [Picot Task Force] report both from the general public and from educationalists. The Associate Minister of Education and other colleagues joined me in conducting a series of inquiries throughout the country. More than 20,000 responses to the report have been studied.

“The need for reform was generally accepted.”

  • David Lange, “Tomorrows’ Schools: The Reform of Education Administration in New Zealand”, August 1988.

That was a lie.

Following the 1988 Picot Report a nationwide consultation process was carried out. But the report of that process was ignored. The Tomorrow’s Schools policy had already been written before the consultations were complete, analysed and reported. 20,000 responses indeed. It was sham consultation.

In 1986/87 I had engaged a communications company to measure attitudes and opinions in a range of community and government sectors about a sometimes controversial programme I was running.  A senior consultant whom I shall call “Peter”did the work and I was impressed by his professionalism. I later engaged him to tutor me through the principles and practices of his profession, and to teach me as much as he could over a long weekend. We discovered that in a previous life as an intelligence analyst I had employed those same principles and practices as part of the military intelligence process. We got a lot done in a single long weekend. He was very good.

We became friends.

The Picot Task Force report “Administering for Excellence” was published in April 1988. New government policy was published as “Tomorrow’sSchools” in August 1988. There was so much neoliberal policy reformation going on at the time that I did not take much notice.

Until Peter turned up on my doorstep; agitated, depressed, and extremely frightened.

His company had been engaged by Government to advise and participate in the consultation or inquiry process following the Picot Report. Peter was the lead consultant on that contract. The cause of his extreme anxiety was that he had the evidence that the inquiry process had been totally ignored, that he had expressed his concerns about that, that it was thought he might turn whistle-blower, and that the Government had thrown the full weight of the State at him to frighten him into silence. It worked. The Government and his company also tried to recover any evidence he might still have had in his possession.

He ran to me, as the one person he thought he could trust, other than his wife. That was partly because I’m Maori, and partly because I was known to be a critic of government policy making, and not easily intimidated. He actually said he didn’t know any Pakeha he could trust to support him against the government machine. I supported him through an alarming abuse of state power over the next weeks and months.

His company had summarily dismissed him, repossessed his company car, and tried to retrieve any evidence he might have kept. He was fitted up with false criminal accusations and was confronted, searched and interrogated by the Police Fraud Squad over a period of weeks. His wife was also subjected to that attention. Either his company or the Government had hired a former policeman turned private detective to investigate him. It seemed to me that was intended to further intimidate him.

The private detective eventually turned up on my doorstep. I invited him in and he tried to interrogate me about Peter. Instead, he got severely grilled about why he was intimidating my friend. He did not enjoy the experience.

Eventually the intimidation and harassment subsided without any charges being laid but it was a terrifying experience for Peter and for his wife for the month or two that it lasted. And it achieved its purpose. They moved away and started a new life out of the limelight.

And for the next thirty years we lived with a policy based purely on predetermined ideology. I served on school boards of trustees under that policy.

And Peter quietly disappeared from sight.

I got a Google Home for Christmas

A personal journey in technology.

Google Home:

  • I can tell the thing to play whatever music I want to listen to, streamed from Spotify, and even tell it to play it through my home theatre sound system.
  • I can ask it how old Lorde is.
  • Or whether the nearest supermarket or café is open.
  • Or where I can buy a new smartphone of a particular make and model.
  • And loads of other shit.

My son told me about these things a few months ago when he was thinking of getting one. But I looked at it and asked myself why I needed something like that, unless I get senile and can’t do all those things for myself, like doing a Google search on the computer, or tablet, or phone.

I was also concerned in this age of the Internet-of-Things about new technology that might be able to be hacked and used to eavesdrop. I wasn’t going to buy one. But now I’ve got one.

We’ve come a long way.

I was born in 1943 and for the first five years of my life we lived on a farm in the coastal hills of Hawkes Bay, miles from civilisation. We didn’t have electricity, or any of the things that ran on electricity, like electric light. But we did have a valve radio that ran off a 12V car battery. We didn’t have a telephone, or a car. None of the workers on the station had a car. My dad had a horse. On summer weekends all the families would pile onto the only motor vehicle, the farm truck, and head off to the beach for swimming and a picnic. That was fun.

When I was five I went to live with my grandparents who lived only a couple of miles from a school, just a short walk away for a five year old. I lived with them for about fifteen months. They were only about six or seven miles from both Napier and Hastings but they didn’t have electricity either. Or a radio. Or a telephone. Or a car. My grandfather had a bicycle and he was well known for biking for hours to get to where he was going. He biked four miles to work every day, eight miles a day. My grandmother was a power walker who would storm off two or three miles down the road to catch a bus to get to where she wanted to go.

My parents must have missed me because they moved into civilisation, or near enough, still out in the country. We were country people through and through. But we were just a couple of hundred yards from a country school. We still had a horse paddock at the school because half the kids rode to school. We didn’t have a school bus. Not even for the Pakeha kids.

And we had electricity and a telephone. But the phone was on a party line and you could guarantee that all the kids in a five or six mile radius would be listening to your conversations. We had electric light and electric hot water and the old radio now ran on electricity. But we didn’t have any other appliances like a washing machine or vacuum cleaner. The washing machine and vacuum cleaner came later, much later. Our mother did all of her cooking on the big old coal range until she finally got a small electric stove in the pantry to do some of her baking. The small stuff. Rather than firing up the big old coal range. And we got a car, an old 1937 Chevrolet coupe. We were technologically advanced at last. Nearly.

Mum didn’t need a vacuum cleaner. She just banned all cats and dogs from the house, and banned all boots and shoes. She banned all the men she didn’t like too. Standard country stuff. Mind you she loved her vacuum cleaner when she got one years later. We upgraded the car to an old Chevrolet sedan quite a few years later when the family outgrew the coupe.

But I was proficient in using country technology. My grandfather taught me to use a scythe and a sickle and a crosscut saw. He’d been a bushman in his younger days and even in his seventies could still cut down and cut up trees faster than men half his age, before the invention of the chainsaw. My father made sure I was proficient with a spade, shovel, rake, lawn mower, hedge clippers, hammer, saw, and all that stuff. Including the fence building and shearing shed stuff. Country technology included the all-purpose knife we all carried, the shotgun and the rifle. Ducks and rabbits and possums, and deer and pigs, you know.

That was it until I left home to join the Army when I left school. That brought on a technology revolution in my life. Well, I’d already used rifles and machine guns and wireless sets in the school cadet unit, but this was full on weapons and technology. I did that stuff for twenty years.

I did my training for a few years in Australia. That meant my first flight. I think it was the first flight anyone in my whanau and hapu had taken. When I got there in 1962 I discovered TV. They had TV in the barracks – black and white – we few New Zealanders were mesmerised by it.

Anyway, I became proficient in the use of HF and VHF wireless/radio and how to erect aerials to get communications out of out-of-the-way places, like deep in a South East Asian jungle. I think the main technology in the jungle was the boots, pack and rifle, and the radio. Carrying the heavy spare radio batteries was a pain. The world was moving on and in 1968 I did my first computer programming course as part of an Army mobilisation plan we were aiming to shift onto a mainframe computer at a university. About the same time I bought a very expensive state of the art electronic calculator. Wonderful new technology. It cut a lot of time and effort out of some work. Today much more calculating capability is a small part of every phone.

In 1970 I went back on attachment to Australia for a few years and got to work with a mainframe computer. Not me personally, but to use it to make short work of a lot of what we were doing. With its card readers and storage and printers and other peripherals it filled the basement. Today much more than that basement full of computing power is in my pocket.

By the late 1970s my technology had grown. Whereas in the mid to late 1960s I had one or two radio operators carrying my radios, I now had two, three and sometimes four radio operators carrying my radios through the jungle. But they were the same radios we had used in the mid to late 1960s.

It wasn’t until 1980 that the Army got a facsimile machine. We had one at our HQ in Wellington, but only the operator was allowed to use it. It was a big old, clunky old thing too. Well brand new actually. But clunky.

So I left the Army and in 1982 got a desktop computer. In my last few years in the Army I hung out for desktop computers to seriously cut back on the paper work we had to do, but they didn’t get them before I left. After I left the Army I taught myself to use a PC and computerised the management and finances at a place I worked for a couple of years. I’ve had a computer on my home desk ever since 1982. I remember when I bought an 8Mb RAM card to upgrade the memory on my first desktop, and when I got 64Mb of hard disk. This laptop is running 4Gb of RAM and 500Gb of hard disk storage. There’s another 14Tb of storage on the desk. And it’s an old laptop.

Back in the day we had Chief Clerks and hoards of filing clerks to keep track of the paper, and we had typists’ pools to create all that paper. The head typiste was the gatekeeper to happiness and if you displeased her your work got pushed to the bottom of the pile and you got into trouble for not meeting your deadlines. True happiness was doing your own typing, and keeping only electronic files. Your electronic messages were handwritten, then passed to the Communications Centre where they typed up your message and sent it electronically on the Telex. SMS is great. Depending on the classification of those messages they might be encrypted by the operators before they were sent. Messages sent by WhatsApp, Signal, Wikr, Telegraph and Facebook Messenger are all encrypted these days. Straight off your phone.

!n 1986 Sir Wira Gardiner and I were contracted to the Board of Maori Affairs working alongside the Department of Maori Affairs and running a new programme. I had the only desktop computer in Maori Affairs. It caused a bit of a stir. They had a mainframe computer but you had to be one of the IT elite to use it; never for mundane day-to-day stuff. Then we decided we needed a fax machine. Maori Affairs didn’t have one. They communicated by telephone mostly, and by letter and telegram.

Remember the telegram?

We asked Maori Affairs for a fax. They said no. So off we went and leased one from the Post Office, and put it onto the Maori Affairs telephone account. They spent a fortune on telephone calls so we figured no-one would notice fax hire and fax calls. They never did. But we had no-one to send faxes to. So we started sending faxes to Maori Trust Boards and heaps of other organisations via the Post Office Bureaufax service. The fax would say “please ring so-and-so on such-and-such a number and ask him or her to call and pick up a fax”. We sent them far and wide. And very soon they all started buying their own fax machines. We sent faxes to all the Maori Affairs districts and they started asking Head Office if they could have fax machines. Head Office said “absolutely not” so the districts went out and bought them anyway. Soon Head Office was the only office in the Department without a fax. So we started getting faxes for Head Office on our machine. We’d read them of course and take a copy of the interesting ones before passing them across the road. Then Head Office staff started coming across the road to send their faxes. We’d read them of course and take a copy of the interesting ones. Some of the so-called “Maori Loans Affair” scandal of December 1968 passed across our fax machine.

Well, soon I got a call from the private secretary to the Minister for Maori Affairs, Koro Wetere. He said the minister wants a fax machine. I said ask Parliamentary Services or Maori Affairs. He’d asked them and they both said absolutely not. So off I went and leased one from the Post Office and booked it up to Maori Affairs. They never noticed that one either. Then I told everyone what Koro’s fax number was so the whole of Te Ao Maori could fax him direct. And they did.

Remember the fax machine?

Then the Board of Maori Affairs asked me to oversee the installation of a PC network, in one of the sections of Maori Affairs Head Office. The opposition from the IT department and from senior management was huge. But we got in the experts and built the first PC network in Maori affairs. It was magic.

A couple or more years later Wira Gardiner became CEO of the Iwi Transition Agency (Te Tira Ahu Iwi). I’d long since stopped working alongside or with Maori Affairs. Anyway in his first week on the job he rang me from his office (the old Maori Affairs) on a Sunday. He said how do I get into this PC network. I said I’m no longer authorised. He said you built it, how do I get in. So I relented and he was logged in in no time at all.

It must have been in the late 1980s or 1990 when I got my first cellphone, a Motorola Brick. It cost a fortune, had a short talk-time and took forever to charge. But it was magic. I was on the road a lot and my kids could call me wherever I was, and I would never miss a call from a business client. It was clunky though and I carried it in a small kete one of our whanaunga had woven for me.

The Brick

That’s twenty seven years ago. I’ve had dozens of mobile phones in that time, including a lot of Blackberries. I got a Blackberry as soon as they came on the market in New Zealand. Now into Android though, and interestingly, the current phone is a Motorola Moto G, the same make as my very first phone. That computer and communications device in my pocket has more computing power than a 1970 mainframe, and more communications power than I ever had in the military, which functions on communications networks.

The Internet came on stream. I hooked up to the Net about 1994 or 95. Got into email, and chat rooms. We chatted in chat rooms or on bulletin boards, or in the Use Groups. Remember those? Course you don’t.

The World Wide Web had been invented but it took the development of the browser to make it available to the ordinary user. I used the Web without a browser and was glad when Netscape arrived to make browsing easy. Then I noticed that there were hardly any Maori online, and that Maori stories and news were being appropriated and told through a Pakeha lens. That pissed me off.

So I went on a crusade to challenge all of those purporting to tell Maori stories, and built the first Maori website at . It’s still there although I haven’t written any new stuff for ages. And I started Te Whanau Ipurangi / Maori Internet Society and built a few other websites and started a few other online initiatives.

Me and my small group of Maori Netizens were the first Maori into a lot of the social media, just having an ihu, watching as more and more Maori came online and subscribed to the various offerings.

Now in 2018 the Internet is old hat, email is old hat (none of my mokopuna use it), the World Wide Web is old hat, hardly anyone builds their own websites any more, social media stuff is getting to be old hat. President Trump governs via Twitter and the media sucks it up.

We’ve got solar panels on the roof, broadband to the home, we check what’s happening on the roof over the Internet; we’ve got wifi, satnav built into the car, a phone and tablet full of apps, online shopping, electric cars, portable bluetooth speakers, smart TVs, Fitbit things, VOIP telephones, VPNs, and all the rest. Coming at you is the Internet-of-Things; fridges and stoves and dishwashers and light bulbs and home security systems and teddy bears, all connected to the Internet. All with lousy security and easily hackable.

We’ve got mass surveillance by governments and corporations, and breaches of privacy, and identity theft, and online scams and fraud, and cyber-bullying, and a whole lot more besides.

But I wouldn’t be without my technology. And I do use the secure Tor browser, end-to-end secure cloud storage, end-to-end encrypted email, and end-to-end encrypted messaging and voice.

Now I’ve got Google Home waiting for me to say “Hey Google, stop eavesdropping”.

Silly Bugger Kiwi

A few days ago I watched a You Tube video of the 2015 Kea World Class New Zealander Awards where Helen Clark won the supreme award. Right from the beginning some of these “world class” New Zealanders were calling themselves “Kiwis”, over and over and over again. To me it sounded absolutely ridiculous. World class silly buggers more like it.

And at a wedding recently an Australian guest thought he had offended me when I told him I was a New Zealander, not a Kiwi. It was a conversation stopper but he was just being friendly. I suppose I ought to be kinder to Australians who don’t know better. New Zealanders though, world class or otherwise, deserve my opprobrium.

I’ve been doing it for years now. I do it all the time, regardless, just a gentle rebuke to those who compare me to a nocturnal, flightless and fat-arsed dumb little bird with a sticky beak. Or perhaps to an egg-shaped furry little greeny-brown fruit that used to be called a Chinese gooseberry back in the dark ages when I was a child.

I’m an oddity. One of a minority it seems who doesn’t appreciate being likened to a ridiculous bird, or to a minor ingredient in my breakfast smoothie (fruit, greenery, herbs, nuts, flaxseed oil, coconut yoghurt, spirulina, turmeric, ginger, lecithin, water and ice cubes – in case you’re interested). I’m a Maori vegan oddity as well. Or a vegan Maori oddity.

It’s probably the Maori heritage in me that gets me going on about being called Kiwi. I’m not so vegan that I object to being called Kiwi out of political correctness.

For me it’s about whakapapa or genealogy. You see, I’m tangata Maori, a Maori person. I’m not manu Maori, a Maori bird. Nowhere in my extensive whakapapa going back over thirty generations and across multiple lines into multiple hapu or tribes can I find a single bird let alone a kiwi bird. Try as I might, not one. There are a lot of distinguished rangatira or chiefs in that whakapapa and not one of them is a bird. Or even a foreign fruit. Strictly speaking my early ancestors were indeed foreigners who migrated here from Eastern Polynesia. But colloquially they would have been called coconuts perhaps, rather than Chinese gooseberries.

But I can see why most New Zealanders don’t mind being called Kiwi, and even describe themselves as Kiwi. It’s easy to understand. There’s a simple explanation. They’re silly buggers. New Zealanders are silly buggers. Except for me. And my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

On the other hand, in this highly urbanised society more and more divorced from the natural world where heaps of people don’t know that milk comes from a cow’s tit and bacon is pig’s bum, maybe they just don’t realise any more that a Kiwi is actually a flightless, nocturnal, fat-arsed and dumb little bird with a sticky beak. Mind you there seem to be a lot more fat-arsed dumb New Zealanders with sticky beaks around these days. Maybe the distinction between New Zealanders and Kiwis is not as great as when I was growing up and being taught the difference. Maybe there’s a genetic evolution in New Zealanders towards fat-arsed dumb bird-persons. I think I’d rather my descendants became intelligent fruit.

Nah. I agree with you. That’s all a bit far-fetched. I think I’ll stick with the silly bugger explanation.

Which sort of leads me to the inevitable conclusion that my forebears in the New Zealand military were silly buggers. Don’t get me wrong they were soldiers not bears, and there were a lot more than four of them (in case you’re getting confused) but they did originate this silly Kiwi stuff. In the Boer War and then in World War I a New Zealand regiment and then all New Zealand forces adopted the kiwi as their regimental then national logo.

Don’t ask me why. It defies logic. Who in their right mind would choose a nocturnal, flightless, fat-arsed and dumb little bird with a sticky beak to represent New Zealand’s finest? Some stupid bloody staff officer for sure. Or perhaps it just started as a joke in the workshops and a vehicle mechanic or a sign writer with a sense of humour painted a kiwi on the staff officer’s car. In these more liberal days it would be a likeness of the officer’s head shaped like another part of his anatomy.

Now I can vouch for the fact that military vehicle mechanics and sign writers have a sense of humour. All of the Australian vehicles in Vietnam had a small red kangaroo painted on the door. Overnight they all had white kiwis painted on them, mounted on the red kangaroo, in flagrante delicto. True story.

And you never know, that staff officer might have had style and a sense of humour himself. He might have turned a soldier’s mockery into a national symbol and had the last laugh. He’d still be laughing in his grave. Maybe the whole bloody New Zealand Expeditionary Force was in on the joke. Surely the flower of New Zealand’s manhood didn’t seriously compare themselves to nocturnal, flightless, fat-arsed and dumb little birds with sticky beaks. Or to a Chinese gooseberry.

Anyway, New Zealand soldiers used to be called Maorilanders, EnZedders, Fernleavers (after a badge they wore), Diggers and Pig Islanders, but by about 1917 they were being called Kiwis and were calling themselves Kiwis. The original silly buggers were our WW1 heroes. It didn’t take long to catch on and by the time the war ended in 1918 all New Zealand soldiers were being called Kiwis. I suppose it was better than Pig Islanders.

By the way did you notice that we used to be called “Diggers” too, until the Aussies stole it, like Pavlova and Phar Lap and Crowded House and Jo Bjelke-Petersen.

Then sports teams picked up on it and pretty soon all those silly New Zealanders were calling themselves Kiwis. Except for my grandfather, and my father, and me. In fact, growing up in Ngati Whatuiapiti I never once heard anyone refer to themselves as Kiwi. I guess we all knew we were tangata persons not manu birds. Either that or there were no silly buggers in Ngati Whatuiapiti. Which is stretching credulity a little. Believe me.

For me it’s about mana – dignity, self-respect, mutual respect, prestige even. In Ngati Whatuiapiti we all descend from our illustrious tipuna (ancestor) Te Whatuiapiti; the red-haired one who won many military and economic battles, regained the lands stolen from his father and grandfather, and held off marauders from the North trying to take them again, without doubt Hawke’s Bay’s most outstanding leader, warrior and statesman, ever. We bask in the inherited glow of his mana. None of us descend from Kiwi. Ours is mana tangata not mana manu. Ngati Kiwi is some other tribe, a tribe for silly buggers who think of themselves as nocturnal, flightless, fat-arsed dumb little birds with sticky beaks. Or Chinese gooseberries.

I didn’t get called Kiwi until I left school, took leave of Ngati Whatuiapiti, joined Ngati Tumatauenga (NZ Army), and went off to Australia for officer training. There we were called Kiwi and Pig Islander and a whole lot more besides, including “Shaky Islander” which I didn’t mind. We were also called “Sheepshagger” which I did mind of course, although I did quietly admire the sheer audacity of the pot calling the kettle black. The inventiveness of Australian nomenclature has never ceased to amaze me. Yet somehow they have avoided being called Kangaroos or Wallabies or Dingos or Wombats or Galahs or Cockatoos or Dingbats. Except for their sports teams and their politicians of course. “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” seems to satisfy their sense of nationality. “Oi, oi, oi” their finely tuned sense of the ridiculous.

Aussie. I suppose if I had to choose between “Newzie” and “Kiwi” I’d have to go with “Kiwi”, much as I hate to say it. “Newzie, Newzie, Newzie”? Nah. The bloody Australians would laugh us out of the stadium.

I served in the New Zealand Army for twenty years “Under the Kiwi” as it were. I have to admit it. I wore a hat badge with a kiwi on it for most of those twenty years, and I’ve still got my cravat that we wore when we deployed to Vietnam in 1967; a black cravat with a small white kiwi that I never wear any more, not for decades. And I’ve still got a very artistic kiwi lapel pin that I never wear any more, not for decades. I used to wear them once upon a while ago.

A sense of humour goes a long way in the military. A joke in the form of a nocturnal, flightless, fat-arsed dumb little bird with a sticky beak is the legacy of my military forebears.

What does it say about the Royal New Zealand Air Force that they still sport a kiwi in the middle of their RNZAF badge and in the middle of the roundels on their aircraft. Silly buggers. Or are they just perpetuating the joke. My beloved Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment still sports the kiwi in the badge. That’s OK though because they’re not silly buggers; they’re good jokers.

That’s all behind me now. But I suppose a film about my own life might be called “Once Were Silly Bugger”. Ah well. I’m definitely a New Zealander now; Ngati Whatuiapiti and New Zealander. I’ve returned to my roots and there ain’t no kiwi there. Just a few stray pukeko running across the road into the swamp.

So don’t you dare call me “Kiwi” you silly bugger you. Or “Pukeko”.

Hikoi ki Afrika: A Maori in Mali

Birthplace of the Blues

In 2005 when UNESCO asked me to go to Mali of course I said “Yes”.

It was to a pan-Afrikan conference that was one of a series of regional UN conferences leading up the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) at Tunis in 2005. The first WSIS had been at Geneva in 2003. In May 2003 I had attended and spoken at the UN Asia Pacific WSIS Pre-Conference in Tokyo. I challenged the conference orthodoxy and got myself noticed.

It wasn’t that I was important at all. I’d been a member of the local NZ UNESCO Communications Sub-Commission and managed to be part of the NZ delegation to Tokyo where I’d spoken briefly as part of a panel discussion. Someone in UNESCO thought my korero might be relevant to the Afrikan conference. Right place at the right time. The UNESCO conference at Bamako, the capital of Mali, was themed “Multilingualism for Cultural Diversity and Participation of All in Cyberspace”. I spoke on “Fostering the Creation of Local and Indigenous Content”.

The conference was not the main event for me. It was very interesting and I met interesting people from all over the globe but it was my first (and only) time in Afrika and I saw it as a small pilgrimage to the birthplace of humanity. It was only a short visit confined to a single city in West Afrika but a visit that remains vivid in memory.

At The Travel Doctor in Auckland they treated me like a pin cushion with multiple vaccinations. It reminded me of our deployment to Vietnam in 1967 when they pumped into us every vaccination known to mankind; except the one that would prevent death by blast or bullet.

Getting there was a bit of a hassle. We had to get visas from the Embassy of Mali in Paris but because of the short lead time quite a few of us didn’t have time to go through the three month bureaucratic process. So UNESCO HQ put us on a plane from Paris hoping to sort it out on arrival in Bamako. A leading Afrikan academic involved in the conference got it sorted and we were all shepherded through border control sans visa and boarded a bus for the city.

Bamako is like a lot of the world’s cities. Impressive boulevards and buildings in the centre, leafy suburbs in the inner city, a market or markets located near the city centre, the rich and powerful living in the cooler hills, and most of the population living basic lives in basic houses and huts on the outskirts. My first impression of Afrika, apart from the airport, was driving through those outer less endowed suburbs.

The smell hit me first. I don’t mean a bad smell. A different smell. Well it probably smells bad to people who haven’t travelled much. Have you noticed that different countries and different cities have their own distinctive smells? Sometimes the smell changes as the country or city develops and modernises. A long time ago, the early 1960s was when I  first made the trip, the pungent smell of tanneries on Botany Road was the first smell of Sydney on the way from the Airport to the CBD. The tanneries have long since been banished. Singapore today smells nothing like it did in 1965 when I first went there. They’ve both been sanitised.

Driving into Bamako I was instantly reminded of the first time I arrived in Malaysia in 1965, forty years earlier. That was my first time in a different country other than New Zealand and Australia. We were driven by bus from Singapore to Melaka and our Commonwealth Brigade base at Terendak and it is the smell that I remember most from that night as we drove through the tropical countryside. Steaming decaying vegetation, steam rising from the road, the lingering scent of exotic fruits and flowers, muddy rice fields, mud wallowing buffalo, and the pigs, dogs and chickens ubiquitous in South East Asia and Oceania. The smell of diesel fuel from the trucks and buses and Mercedes taxis. And in the villages and towns the smoke from cooking fires and the strong aroma of strange new foods.

The smells of Bamako were different but the impact was the same. Dust rising, it smelt a dry land, the base smell something like the smell of the Australian outback in summer but different. Dogs and chickens. We drove through ramshackle rows of shops. Open drains and uncollected rubbish. Old Mercedes and Toyotas and diesel fumes. Smell free handcarts. And a whole new and interesting assortment of cooking smells. This was an older smell than the smell of Asia and Oceania and Australasian cities. Like the smell of old people and their lived in houses but different. It said, “Welcome home pilgrim. This is what you will smell like 60,000 years from now when your new lands have grown old and dry. Don’t wrinkle your nose. Welcome home”.

That’s what happens when you let your nose hear for you. You hear unsaid things.

As if to counter the dryness and brownness of much of the landscape the women of Afrika set the place alive with colour. Strikingly rich colour. Their dresses and headscarves ablaze in reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues, indigos and violets. The browns too are rich browns. The streets and shops and markets are set alight by the women of Afrika. And as if the lightness of colour creates a lightness of spirit the public spaces are alive with the beautiful smiling black faces, the cheerful chatter and gentle laughter of tall, sinuous, slender, graceful Afrikan women. The men are colourful too by the way.

How much richer we would be if our streets were alive with colour instead of the blacks and browns and dark blues of our streetscape.

I brought as much of that colour home with me as would fit in my suitcase. A pile of different Afrikan materials. My London domiciled daughter waylaid me in Paris on my way home and carried away as much as I could bear to part with. I still have it, my treasure trove of colourful cloth, taken out of the drawer in moments of reflection upon my hikoi ki Afrika. I hear still the chatter and the laughter. I hear too the music of Mali.

In modern musicology mythology West Afrika is said to be the birthplace of the Blues. It may well be true. The Malian bluesmen have indeed had an impact on modern world music but I think they got their new version of their ancient music from Amerika. I love the Blues and the music of Mali. Boubacar Traore and the late Ali Farka Toure, Salif Keita and Toumani Diabate were already some of my favourite musicians before I went to Mali. I didn’t get to see them perform but I did manage to get to two concert performances, one modern and one traditional. It is one thing to listen to your collection of recorded Malian music but something else again to be at live performances in the place of origin. Quite magical.

The Jeli (French griot) of Mali are a traditional caste of professional orators and musicians and singers. Their kora is a stringed instrument usually accompanied by a variety of drums. It is from these instruments that it is said the Blues originated, and that the call and response Blues style of music originated in West Afrikan singing. Since the 1950s they have added the guitar, both acoustic and electric, to their repertoire. Modern Afro-pop is very popular in Europe. The men don’t have it all their own way for the Malian divas are also hugely popular.

There is deep sadness in this music as well as joy and exuberance. From here in West Afrika came a large number of the 12 million poor souls who were sold into slavery in the New World from the 15th to the 19th Century. They were robbed forever of their heritage, their languages and cultures and kept only the remembrance of their music. It became the Blues, the R&B and the Rock ‘n’ Roll of my youth that reached out to the world and travelled back again to Afrika.

In this former French colony French is the official language and Bambara the most widely spoken. There are about twelve other indigenous languages that are considered “official” languages. The modern songs are in both French and Bambara. Although only about 20-25% of the people speak French the music is also aimed at an appreciative audience in France. On the streets of Bamako the language is mostly Bambara but you can get by with your rudimentary French, and mine is indeed rudimentary. Communication is part of the delight of travel. In the market some speak English but not many.

After the people it is the sights, the sounds and the smells that set different places apart. I hadn’t really met any people yet.

Apart from hotel staff the first I got to know was a really nice guy. After a good night’s sleep the first thing I did was to hire a driver with an old Toyota to show me the city. He wanted to take me along the standard tourist route but I pointed to the highest hill overlooking the city and asked him if he could drive to the top. He didn’t know, so with much encouragement and financial inducement he set out to find out something new about his old city. Initially reluctant he soon got into the swing and became a willing participant in my adventure. He was still worried about his car’s suspension though. We eventually found a track and wound our rocky way to the top.

Bamako 03

A view from the lower slopes. Bus depot in the foreground and the city centre far beyond in the hazy background

Far below our feet was the main bus depot with dozens of parked green buses and stretching away from us into the distance was the quite beautiful and relatively modern city of Bamako sitting astride the ancient Niger River. Down there was a teeming mass of modern humanity and up on the hill almost total silence and as I wrote in my journal the “remembrance of a timeless land”. Down there were just over 2 million people who had evolved from ancient hunter gatherering bands who had roamed across and lived lightly upon the ancient land beneath our feet.

These modern West Afrikans descended from the same people as the East Afrikans who were the ancestors of all of the rest of us on Earth.

Across the way on another hill was the luxurious abode of the President, surrounded by the buildings of government agencies. One could imagine the French colonists appropriating to themselves the best hill in town, to look down upon the seething masses. And on another hill a hospital in splendid isolation. I wondered how many of the people down there had access to that hospital or was it reserved for the wealthy, the great and the powerful. The Mosque, clearly visible in the middle of the city, was down on the flat among the people.

We watched as women slowly climbed their way around the cliffs and up the steep hill laden with the day’s shopping from the market. My guide didn’t know where they lived or where they were going and we couldn’t see any houses.

There were cows and goats foraging for food amongst the stunted straggly dry country trees clinging to life in the dust amongst the rocks. The country reminded me a bit of summer in the Canberra region of Australia, and of the dry country where we did our military manoeuvres when we were training at the Royal Military College so long ago. Australia too is an old land and the culture of its indigenous people is said to be the oldest living continuous culture on Earth. What then of these Afrikan cultures in this even older land, in human terms.

You can learn a lot about a city from its highest hill.

It was just a two day conference. Most of the speakers were from out of country telling us mostly about the latest linguistic and technological innovations in creating multilingual content for the Internet. The Afrikan delegations by comparison spoke mostly about their specific needs. Apart from the Afrikan korero I’d heard most of it before and I amused myself by trying to follow the French translator rather than the English. Until the leader of the French delegation spoke.

He was a French government minister and he started speaking in English because he said English was the most common language at the conference. Almost immediately one of his bureaucrats interrupted (in French) and roundly chastised him for breaking French government protocol by not speaking French at an international event. She was quite severe in her criticism. He told her to sit down and shut up and delivered the rest of his speech in English. I thought it was hilarious.

Later that day I met her in a workshop event. She greeted me in French and I responded in Te Reo Maori. She said “Je ne comprend pas”.

So I asked in broken French that as France had colonised East Polynesia perhaps she spoke Tahitian, a sister language to Maori. “Non”.

I then told her I was fluent in Bahasa Indonesia and asked if that was one of her languages. “Non”.

So I asked if English might be a language we had in common. “Let’s speak English” she replied.

We got on well and she was a nice person beneath the French chauvinism. She saw the humour in our initial exchange.

Many of the out of country speakers spoke to or at the Afrikan people or to each other. In my korero I tried to speak with them; Oceania and Afrika being similar continents in a way. You’ll have to read the speech to work that one out. It seemed to strike a chord and I was befriended by a senior Malian delegate, the professor who had smoothed our way into the country. He taught at a university in another Afrikan country but was obviously closely in touch with affairs in Mali. He was a gentleman in all respects, and an intellectual of mana in his own country. He was great company and it was he who directed me towards the musical performances I attended in the evenings.

I don’t know that the conference achieved anything or if the main World Summit (WSIS) in Tunis achieved anything either. I think many international conferences are for the benefit of the people that attend rather than the countries they represent. They flesh out resumes.

It was soon over and we had a day to spare and to explore the city. A multicultural and multilingual group of us led by a small but intrepid Malaysian professor with a big camera set off. We made sure we had enough fluent French speakers in the group to smooth our way. After a bus tour of the city we arrived at the market. It was alive with crowds of local people buying anything and everything they might need. Perhaps a thousand stalls. Wending our way through the many alleys we were immersed in a sea of colourfully clothed people and they seemed to have a heightened sense of respect for personal space despite the crowding.

In some places in the world people intrude into your personal space and in others no less crowded they don’t. Voiceless rudeness and politeness sort of.

A short walk took us to Marche des Artisans, the Artisans Market close to the Grand Mosque I had seen from the hill. This was less crowded and seemed to me to be a place mainly for tourists. Hundreds of stalls where artists created and sold jewellery, paintings, carvings, musical instruments, leatherwork, sculpture, ironwork and every other form of art to be found in Bamako. It was very interesting but touristy and I bought nothing. I went back instead to the main market to a fabric shop I had noticed and bought a large and stunning piece of fabric I had seen earlier. And a whole pile of different fabrics. My remembrance of the colours of Afrika.

My Malaysian professor friend got us into trouble with some of the locals by trying to photograph their Grand Mosque without permission and after a bit of a standoff the Police rescued us. That was the end of our excursion. He was from a Muslim country. He should have known better.

I would love to have visited and stayed at the legendary Muslim city of Timbuktu to the north. I would love to have met up there some of the nomadic Tuareg people of the Saharan and Sub-Saharan region. It is said that their skin has a blueish tinge from the indigo dyed clothing they wear. All I have instead is a piece of indigo dyed cloth.

In 2012 in three separate developments Tuareg rebels declared a new state, there was a coup d’etat in Bamako, and Timbuktu was overrun by Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, some of them pushed out of Libya and Tunisia after the Arab Spring. There was fighting between the Tuareg and the Islamists and in 2013 the Islamists were defeated by French armed forces. Peace was brokered with the Tuareg but life in Northern Mali is still fraught. Much sadness in a beautiful country.

I had trouble leaving Mali because I didn’t have a visa to be there in the first place. My new friend the professor came to the rescue again and saw me onto my plane.

Back home, from the sublime to the mundane.

The trip helped get rid of a bad case of sciatica. For months before I was in constant pain and there was no way I could travel like that. I found a very good physiotherapist and he gave me an exercise regime to realign and strengthen my core musculature. He told me that he couldn’t fix it but that I could. He also said that 90% of his clients were too exercise averse to fix their own problems. I got the point. I hit the Swiss Ball for a couple of hours every day and was soon in a fit state to travel. After the trip I continued with the regime and haven’t had any lower back problems since.

It’s amazing what the right incentive will do. Mali attended to my soul, and fixed my back. And ten years later I still haven’t decided what to do with all that fine cloth. Perhaps it’s time to deck out my granddaughters in the colours of Afrika.

Mali Cloth

A table cloth or bedspread perhaps. I still haven’t decided.

I dream a dream

“I dream lofty dreams,
and as I dream, so I become.
My vision is the promise
of what I one day am;
my Ideal is the prophecy
of what I at last unveil.”

– James Allen

I dream a life given to Io-Matua
Whose works great and small I perform,
seeking to stand hour by hour
in His presence.

Moment by moment I seek
to make this world a better place,
guided by the God-Force,
within and without.

Striving to discover my unique gifts;
and to use the greatest,
that which gives me happiness
and untold pleasure,
for the purposes most needed
in all the world.

To become the best me
I can be;
to help others become.
To give, to serve,
to promote peace,
healing and prosperity.
To unconditionally love
all creatures
and all things.

To passionately mine
the Wisdoms of the ages.
A lifetime of learning and contemplation,
knowing and becoming;
and so to write and teach others
to know and become.

And I dream a journey into serenity,
a journey of the fulfilled spirit
to Hawaiki and beyond;
to Io-Matua-Kore.

“I dream lofty dreams
and as I dream, so I become.”


Copyright: Ross Nepias Himona

Racism – A Personal Recollection

A few weeks ago I was in Waipawa visiting with my eldest daughter, my grandchildren and great grandchildren. I spent my final evening in town in the company of two daughters, one grandson, four granddaughters, two granddaughters-in-law, one grandniece, and nine great grandchildren. Apart from making you feel your age that context tends to give you a multi-generational long term view of life and its challenges. Racism is one of them.

During my stay in Waipawa I went uptown to the Central Hawke’s Bay Settlers Museum to look at their Gallipoli exhibition. It was interesting in a local sort of way. But their display of local history books caught my eye, particularly “Opening the Gate, The Story of the Te Aute District” published by the Te Aute and Pukehou Historic Book Trust in November 2006. In the acknowledgements I noticed immediately that I was one of the contributing writers, which was news to me!

They had filched a piece called “Te Aute, Te Aute, Te Aute” that I wrote in “Te Putatara in 1997.  However I long ago realised that in Tikanga Maori “copyright” means that any Maori has a right to copy your stuff without asking, and even without acknowledging that you wrote it. In this case I assume that one of my whanaunga gave permission, and they did attribute it to me. So that’s all right.

The book was about my home district and apparently I had contributed so I bought it. It was a goldmine.

The Maori history, the settler history, the geological history, Maori families, Pakeha families, schools, hotels, shops, farming and other businesses, community organisations, even a record of all those buried in the local urupa – it was all there. This was my home district and my home villages and my home people. It brought a rush of memories of my childhood and teenage years growing up in this rural paradise. Good memories, mostly.

It also brought back memories of growing up with racism.

Like almost all Maori I have spent the whole of my life living under the shadow of racism in the New Zealand I know. The other New Zealand has mostly officially and unofficially denied the existence of racism, but continued to practice it, overtly and covertly. Two different countries in the same land, wrapped in the same flag.

Which is not to say that I have become rabidly anti-Pakeha; just mildly anti-Pakeha from time to time. After all, half my relations are Pakeha and half my friends are Pakeha. In fact I was brought up in the two worlds of my family, Maori and Pakeha, and still have close relationships on both sides.

I grew up in the 1940s, through the 1950s, and left home to join the Army in 1962. We all knew and accepted that racism was just part of life for us. We were not really shocked when Dr Henry Bennett was refused service in a Papakura hotel in 1959 because he was Maori. It was much publicised and even condemned but it was the sort of thing we expected in the New Zealand of those times. I was 15 or 16 at the time and had already been personally exposed to racism. At that young age we were already veterans in the ongoing battle of the races.

My Pakeha mother taught me to read and write in 1946 when I was three. According to her it didn’t take much teaching and I got it straight away. I remember sitting in the sun outside the kitchen window of the farm cottage reading and reading, and reading. By the time I started school I’d read everything in the first two years’ curriculum, and much more. My first teacher didn’t know what to do with me and didn’t challenge me at all. I remember sitting around doing nothing for a whole year, and being regularly punished for being bored and distracted, and distracting others. At the end of that first year her two top pupils were Chinese and Maori. I’m told that she was somewhat offended that a Maori was top pupil although I didn’t know it at the time.

Six years later, having been academically challenged by two excellent teachers at two different schools, I was about to be made Dux of Pukehou Primary School. I had spent the final four years in the headmaster’s classroom being pushed to my academic limits by WW2 veteran Arthur Harold William Thompson. I was his star pupil. A few days before the final prize-giving he took me aside and told me that I was not going to be Dux. The school committee, all Pakeha, had decided to stop awarding medals for Dux because they could not agree to award it to a Maori. At the prize-giving I got a special Headmaster’s prize that he bought from his own pocket; a book called “The Pale Grey Men”. The book wasn’t up to much but the title said it all.

You might understand how this single incident has coloured my attitude to New Zealand society ever since. It was the first time that I consciously realized that to be an intelligent Maori brighter than many Pakeha was to be deeply resented. We were supposed to be dumb buggers. Happy, promiscuous, guitar playing, sheep shearing, lazy dumb buggers. That was our station in life. Pakeha were the ones with the brains. Get over it I hear you say. Well, we move on but I don’t think many of us get over it. It sits there in the unconscious mind forever, gets dredged up occasionally and now written down for the first time.

My path through secondary school was mostly smooth and still high achieving until towards the end. I ran up against a science and mathematics teacher who hated having a Maori at the top of his class. He was a small man in all respects [biased opinion] nicknamed Chook. His wife also taught; tall, stern and imposing. We used to say that his wife was the rooster in the family. Between us, me and Chook, we conspired to conduct a running battle of wits [well my wit and his cane] and to drop my academic performance several grades. I suppose he achieved his aim, albeit an unconscious aim [speculation]. I did have the satisfaction of threatening to break his cane over his bald head if ever he tried to use it again. He used to send me to the Principal to get caned after that. Thankfully an outstanding teacher the next year encouraged me to produce outstanding results in science and mathematics.

On the rugby field I was doing quite well, pushed hard by my father. In the local third grade I was without doubt the best player in my position in the competition and looking forward to selection to the Central Hawke’s Bay representative team. Then my father warned me not to get my hopes too high. The father of a Pakeha player in my position was connected to the Rugby Union and my dad thought he would probably get the nod. My dad’s Pakeha friend who was also connected to the Rugby Union thought the same. They were right. He who was not a very good rugby player [widely shared opinion] got the nod the next year as well.

I read later that All Black selection at the time wasn’t a colour blind process either.

I was by then about 16 or 17, or both, and had become as interested in girls as I was in rugby. She was Pakeha, blonde, beautiful and intelligent. We both excelled in the classroom and in sport and spent a lot of time together at school. Eventually we decided to go to a dance together. All our classmates were going. I stayed in town with a Pakeha classmate. On the morning of the dance his sister told me that my girlfriend-to-be was sorry but her mother had told her she was not going out with a Maori. So I went on my own and she wasn’t there of course. And that was the sad wistful end of that. That’s life. You move on.

About ten years ago she introduced herself to my eldest daughter and told her she once had a crush on her father. I thought that was nice.

I left that school moments before I got expelled by a racist [opinion] cane-wielding principal and went to Te Aute College into a Maori-friendly environment. The main event there was when I got six of the best across the arse with a plum stick wielded by the Maori chaplain after getting caught smoking. “This will hurt me more than it hurts you my son”, he intoned in the liturgical manner. “Bullshit”, I replied. He miscounted and the legal limit of six strokes became seven; the seventh an “Amen” to the prayerful Anglican practice of beating. Couldn’t accuse him of racism though.

By his actions and attitude my father taught by example how we should not ever accept racism.

At one time during the shearing season he was contacted by a local big time sheep farmer, racehorse breeder and knight of the realm. The said Knight was in a bind and didn’t have a gang booked to shear his sheep. So we went out to meet him, my Dad and I. They sorted out the business details then we went to inspect the shearers’ quarters. They were atrocious; filthy dirty. My Dad said we’re not living in those conditions, you’ll have to pay extra for us to travel every day. Sir objected strongly and said it was good enough for all his previous (i.e. Maori) gangs and it was good enough for us.

Here comes the brilliant bit.

So my Dad said I tell you what, you put your horses in the shearers’ quarters and we’ll live in those lovely clean stables. He paid us to travel.

At about that time my father brought home a highly controversial book by a despised visiting American academic, David Ausubel. We both read “The Fern and the Tiki” (Angus & Robertson, 1960) and discussed it at length.  Ausubel had correctly pointed out that there was a widespread colour bar in New Zealand and that most Pakeha vehemently denied its existence. This was the first and only serious discussion my dad and I had about racism, virtually on the eve of my journey into adulthood. He told me of the barriers his professional cousins had encountered in their careers, and the advice one of them, Dr Manahi Nitama Paewai, had told him to pass on to me. A professional career as a Maori would be challenging to say the least.

So what did I learn in my early impressionable days from these and many similar incidents? Some hard lessons about being Maori; that’s what.

I decided to join the New Zealand Army. Well, I didn’t decide really because I was headhunted to become a commissioned officer and jumped at the opportunity to go to Australia for a few years to be trained. I was told by Staff Sergeant (later Major) Roly Manning who recruited me that army recruiters had been unofficially told to actively recruit high achieving Maori to become officers. The Army at that time had a lot of Maori soldiers and only a few Maori officers. Made sense to me. And the trip overseas was alluring. I had hardly been out of Hawke’s Bay, except to travel with my father to Athletic Park in Wellington for the odd test match.

When I was an occasional teenage larrikin occasionally let loose on the streets of Waipawa town the local cop, WW2 veteran Sergeant Stan Brown, would kick my arse and send me packing back to my Maori village. I reckon it could have been because his daughter was sweet on me [wishful thinking]. Just after I was commissioned as an officer in the NZ Army he saw me on the street and demanded in his usual stern voice to know what I was up to. When I told him I was a commissioned officer he saluted and called me Sir, genuinely pleased for me. Some cops, maybe a lot of cops, are good guys.

The level of racism I encountered in the NZ Army was a lot less than in everyday civilian life. There were a lot of Maori in the army but mostly in the enlisted ranks. There were about thirty Maori commissioned officers around my rank and seniority, dwindling to about 10 by the time I retired in 1982. In the main we were free from racism but I found that there were some officers who had no problem working with Maori so long as they weren’t their superiors, in either rank or intellect. As I became more senior and posed more of a potential threat in the promotion stakes I went head to head with a few of them.

I did have some wins in the racism battle though. I arrived back in New Zealand at the end of 1967 as a young war veteran after operational tours in Borneo and Vietnam. My British wife and I travelled around the North Island for about a month before I reported for work in Wellington. During our travels we noticed that hotels and motels often didn’t have rooms available when I went in to book, but always did when she went to the desk without me. When we arrived in Wellington we encountered another hotel with racist attitudes. She made the booking.

A week later I went back to that hotel in full uniform, introduced myself to the manager and told him that I was now the officer in charge of the staff that made all travel and accommodation bookings in Wellington. I knew that his hotel was a preferred supplier so I had come to meet him. We chatted amiably and I didn’t tell him about the booking incident. His hotel did not get a single booking from Army for the next two years. How cruel was that? Not cruel enough probably.

And some losses.

In the early 1970’s I was in Melbourne attached to the Australian Defence Department as an intelligence analyst. I used to enjoy working in Australia with Army or Defence. As soon as I landed in Australia, every time I went there, I was no longer Ross Himona, Maori and professional soldier. I became just Ross Himona, professional soldier, judged only on my ability to do my job. It was as though an invisible burden was lifted as I got off the plane.

My bosses in Intelligence in Australia were experienced WW2 veterans who had built the organization they now ran. They greatly appreciated my talents, trained me and gave me a variety of job experiences with the aim, they said, of keeping me in the business for the long term. They even approached New Zealand Defence to try to keep me in Intelligence. But that was not to be.

Near the end of my time in Melbourne we were visited by a senior naval officer from NZ Defence Intelligence. On the weekend a few of us NZ Defence people entertained him at a poolside BBQ. While I was chatting privately with him about my work he asked me out of the blue what I thought about Nga Tamatoa, the newly formed Maori protest group based mainly around Auckland University. I was honest and said I agreed with their aims but not necessarily with their methods. No more was said. A couple of weeks later a friend in Intelligence in Wellington told me that the conversation had been noted and that it was unlikely that I would have a career in Intelligence in New Zealand Defence. Another door closes.

And twenty years after I left Pukehou Primary School without my Dux my past looped back to confront me in the Army.

One day back then at Pukehou, about 1955, a classmate brought to school a photo of her older brother who was in Malaya with the army or about to deploy to Malaya. He had just been promoted to Lance Corporal, the first rank on the ladder. She was very proud. Twenty years later I was a Major at Waiouru in an executive role. That very same Lance Corporal from Pukehou had risen through the ranks to Warrant Officer Class 1, at the top of the ladder for enlisted men. He was experienced, competent and well respected, and he now worked directly to me. He was fairly autonomous in his role and I didn’t interfere at all. He didn’t realize exactly who I was but I knew his lineage. We got on quite well, I thought.

He marched into my office one day, stood to attention in front of my desk, saluted, and said he had something to discuss with me. I invited him to relax and take a seat but he remained standing. Then he told me straight up that he could not work for a Maori officer, was not going to another day longer, and how was I going to resolve the issue.

I knew he was eligible for retirement, and I knew that he was planning to build his retirement home back in Pukehou. So I told him that I wasn’t going anywhere, that the New Zealand Army could no longer provide a haven for people with his attitude to Maori, and to submit his retirement papers that very day. He did and was retired on a pension within the week. I preserved his dignity and respect (and his pension) and didn’t tell a soul the real reason for his sudden retirement.

He went back home to Pukehou and built his retirement home. Then he tried to put himself on all the committees in the village including my old Pukehou Primary School, and started behaving as though he had the authority of an army warrant officer. But things had changed in Pukehou since he and his family had left. My Maori relations ran all the committees and much of the business of the village, and they gave him short shrift. Eventually he sold up and moved away. A few years later he died.

I felt genuinely sad for the man who had a long and distinguished career in the army and was a respected senior soldier. But he was a product of his time and his village, a village that had imprinted itself upon both of us, on opposite sides of the racial divide.

In the Officer Corps at the time there was little in the way of racism, although it was always made known in subtle and sometimes no-so-subtle ways that a commissioned Maori officer should abide by the values and culture of the officer corps rather than being overtly Maori. So we were officers on and off the job, and Maori in private. Which was basically the advice given to me years before by my whanaunga Dr Paewai.

Alcohol could unhinge the façade of camaraderie though. I had a friend in the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment slightly senior to me who I knew to be racist. But as infantry officers and trout fishermen we got on just fine and he respected my feelings by keeping his racism under wraps. Professionally we worked well together as we should have. Occasionally in the Mess he would get a skin full and start ranting, at which stage I would discreetly withdraw. On one occasion however another Pakeha officer and friend took offence on my behalf and punched him out. Sadly that seriously impaired the working relationship.

You’re in the Army for a serious purpose and you have to trust each other and work together despite your differences.

In the last five years of my career in the army I started having a few problems with a few people; a small minority. At first I thought it was just me, being my usual smartarse self. However a Pakeha officer quite senior to me, wise and friendly, told me in the bar one night that I was too bright for my own good. I got the message. He meant as a Maori I was too bright for my own good. Another more senior officer told me that I was making enemies of some people who would soon have an influence on my career, and that the generals who were looking after me for the moment would soon retire. The way he put it was that I was backing the wrong horses. The reasons were the same; too bright and too Maori, and rightly or wrongly thought to be under the patronage of the senior Maori, Brigadier and soon to be Major General Brian Poananga, and others of that generation.

I respected both of those officers and had earned their respect in return. I took their observations seriously.

And as I always acknowledge – I was a bit of a smartarse. One of my mentors the late Sir John Mokonuiarangi Bennett was to tell me years later that one of my failings is my genetically programmed hard wired inability to suffer fools gladly. It suited me to regard that as a strength but he did have a point.

I was to find out over the next five years that they were right. There were just a few racists but they were becoming influential. And I was a target. And I didn’t react with passive equanimity. Although I enjoyed the soldiering aspects of the army I’d had enough of living within a rigid hierarchy anyway so in 1982 I retired, having completed twenty years loyal and faithful service to Queen and country, some of them as a spook.

In defence of the NZ Army I have to record that most of the officers I served with and under were top people without a racist bone in their bodies, and I have a deep and abiding respect for all the soldiers, non-commissioned officers and warrant officers who served under me and with me. Three friends who each later became Chief of Army (Tony Birks, Piers Reid and Maurice Dodson) radically changed the army which became a tribe known as Ngati Tumatauenga and actively embraced Maori culture at all levels. Some of my old retired adversaries in the officer corps didn’t react favourably to that.

As a Maori, life outside the army was a return to the full impact of New Zealand racism. By then it had been moderated by race relations legislation and by the appointment of a Race Relations Conciliator but it was and is ever present as background noise to almost every aspect of life.

An event that brought this home to me was on a trip home to Hawke’s Bay. I walked into a shop in Napier and stood in line to be served. I didn’t get served until the two Pakeha in line behind me were served. At which point I loudly and unprintably abused the shopkeeper and walked out.

I also applied for a job at an RSA in Hawke’s Bay, recorded in this bitter poem, written shortly after.

Yours sincerely

Situations Vacant.
Secretary / Manager.
Our RSA invites
from suitable people.
Dear Sir,
Enclosed is my CV.
I believe I am
a suitable applicant.
Yours sincerely
Major R.N.Himona.
Dear Major,
We would be pleased
to interview you
for the position
of Secretary / Manager.
Yours sincerely,
Returned Services Association.
Dear Major,
We were impressed
but regret to advise
you were not
Yours sincerely,
Returned Services Association.
Dear Major,
I’m ashamed
of my RSA.
You were the best by far.
We didn’t select you
because you’re Maori.
Please accept
my personal apologies.
Yours sincerely.

© 1983, Ross Nepia Himona

That was the Taradale RSA. Nothing much had changed in 25 years in provincial New Zealand. I have to add that the Taradale RSA is now led by good friends from my Borneo and Vietnam days.

In business from 1982 to 2011, owning and running a Maori business, we found that almost without exception we were patronized and talked down to in our dealings with the Pakeha business community. Sometimes we played the game and watched and waited with delight as they slowly came to the realization that we were very smart and very capable, and sometimes knew more than they did. The good companies made the necessary adjustment in attitude very quickly. The slow learners got the flick and we took our business elsewhere.

In my writings in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s in my popular newsletter “Te Putatara” I often deliberately provoked racist responses from people who claimed not to be racist. After a few years I tired of the predictability of the response and let it go.

During that time I also used to take on the Maori elites as well and to poke fun at the then Minister of Maori Affairs, Hon Koro Wetere. Nothing too personal. One day Mr Wetere came to Te Hauke to open a community centre in a big old homestead we had bought, with a Maori Affairs loan, near our Kahuranaki Marae. He asked me why we had bought a tired old homestead and I told him we hadn’t. I was having him on, just a bit. He looked a bit confused because he was right; it was more than a bit tired. Then I asked him if he had bought back the hill overlooking his marae, the one the Pakeha had perched on for over 100 years, and he got it.

The whole tongue-in-cheek exchange was witnessed by our kaumatua the late Sir John Bennett and the late Eru Smith. They took me aside later that day and told me they totally supported me in my tussles and sparring with the Establishment through my newsletter “Te Putatara”. They were part of the Establishment themselves and I asked them why that support was private, not public. They were totally honest with me. It felt to me as though that was the first time they had been that honest with anyone. They told me something that astounded me but explained so many things.

They were afraid, those pillars of the Establishment; with an inbuilt, deep-seated fear. For the whole of their adult lives their livelihoods and the livelihoods of their whanau had depended on their getting on with the Pakeha who employed them and with the Pakeha amongst whom they lived and worked. The Pakeha had the power to destroy the lives of themselves and their families. Until that moment I had never realised that racism can breed so much fear. In my whanau we had been raised to resist it and I had assumed it was so for all Maori.

Racism is an attitude of superiority based on skin colour and culture. To maintain that belief the other, in this case Maori, are thought to be an inferior race in all respects, especially intellectually inferior. There is no scientific justification whatsoever for that belief.

The observable tip of the human mind is the conscious mind in which we are sometimes rational and logical, most often to justify irrational behaviours, and just occasionally to modify outdated attitudes and beliefs. By far the most influential part of the mind however is the unconscious mind, or the adaptive unconscious. Within this unconscious mind are all the memories and passed down attitudes of a lifetime, stored, adapted and shaped into a narrative that shapes and contains our beliefs and our self-image. The unconscious mind makes millions of decisions every day, based on that narrative, and the stored experiences, and determines our reactions to events from moment to moment, without our being in the slightest bit aware of what is going on.

Research psychologists have shown that we can believe one thing in our rational conscious minds while the more powerful unconscious mind still believes exactly the opposite.

That’s where racism is today. Many New Zealanders continue to display overt and antagonistic racist attitudes to Maori. Many New Zealanders have genuinely moved on and accept Maori as equals. And in the middle are those who have made a conscious shift in attitude and in rational moments display non-racist behaviours. But lurking in the depths below is the unmodified racism that will come to the surface in unguarded moments, or in safe environments with friends, or when deliberately provoked by (slightly reformed) shit stirrers like me.

These days I mostly ignore it, treating it as part of life without ever accepting it. Indignation and anger don’t change it and are a waste of precious time and energy at my age. Change only ever happens over the generations, very slowly.

You might ask why, in an essay on racism in Aotearoa New Zealand, I have related my very personal history of racism, or highlights of it. To be honest I didn’t intend to but it’s the only way I know to show what racism does. The experience of racism is a very personal experience, reinforced over time, that burrows its way into the very core of your being deep in the unconscious mind, like a poisonous maggot, and it never goes away. As I found out from my kaumatua that maggot has sometimes given birth to deep seated fear.

It just goes on and on and on. It is also a shared personal experience among nearly all Maori. Academics have written objective treatises on the subject, and legislation has objectively outlawed it, but racism is not an objective experience and I can’t be objective about it. I can only tell you some of my personal history, and assure you that it is not at all unique or remarkable in Maori New Zealand. It is part of the background to everything about the lives of Maori. Unfortunately it’s not fashionable these days to talk about it.

I actually wrote most of this essay about ten years ago and had it stashed on the hard disk waiting for the right time to publish it. A conversation with another retired Maori Army officer a few months ago, and a book in a local museum a few weeks ago stirred the memories again. But I enjoyed the book despite those memories.

Not all of the Pakeha I knew then were racist. I was convinced that the girls all liked me. Later, for about ten years 1991-2000 I served on the Board of Trustees of Te Aute College and noticed some big changes in attitude in the district. I was also heavily involved in the re-opening of Hukarere and during that time had a wonderful relationship with the Williams family, some of them descendants of Archdeacon Samuel Williams who founded Te Aute College and also a farming dynasty in the district.

My whanau, the one we called the shearing gang, had a long and mutually beneficial business relationship with that Williams farming dynasty and with other farming families in the district, including the White family. An old friend Adrian White was on the organising committee for the local history and wrote the foreword.

Despite the differences our lives in the Te Aute and Pukehou district, Maori and Pakeha, were intertwined to a certain degree, as the lives of Maori and Pakeha throughout Aotearoa New Zealand are increasingly intertwined. We just have to keep working at eliminating the racial discrimination. There is no quick fix. It takes generations to change the powerful narratives in our individual and collective unconscious minds.

I know that it will still be there but I hope that it will have improved in the times of those mokopuna in Waipawa, my great grandchildren.

Memoirs of an Outsider

These are the memoirs of an outsider; of a left hander in a right handed world, an introvert in an extroverted world, a Maori in a Pakeha world, an observer by inclination and a participant by necessity; a bystander.

I’ve been consciously aware of being an outsider, a bit different, from an early age. As a teenager my favourite author was Thomas Hardy. His Wessex novels of social criticism, often in rural settings I readily felt at home in, portrayed outsider characters; bystanders looking on at society. I empathised with them. In the 1970s I discovered Colin Wilson and his 1956 classic “The Outsider” in which he investigated the experience of the outsider; a sense of dislocation or being at odds with society. He explored his theme through literature and through the lives of great thinkers, writers, artists and men of action. His “Outsider” was a person on a quest, experiencing life at and between the extremes of the nothingness of non-being and the highs that came in moments of great insight. The book was an instant best-seller, was translated into thirty languages, and has never been out of print. It sits still within easy reach in my study.

In the early 1970s I was also fortunate to be given time out from a full on busy military career to spend four years in Melbourne on attachment to Australian Defence. Melbourne at the time was a hive of intellectual activity during a period when many perhaps all of the social and political conventions of post-WW2 conformity were being challenged. It was the time of Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch” and Dennis Altman’s “Homosexual”, two of the many books that directly challenged and upset the Establishment elites and their comfortable conservative worldview. I immersed myself in that intellectual environment; reading, attending lectures, talks and seminars, and following the performance and visual arts. I subscribed to “Nation Review”, an intellectually vibrant weekly newspaper of criticism and critique, and humour and satire, that later provided the model for my own modest effort “Te Putatara”.

The life of an outsider or a bystander is not a lonely life for it is still peopled by family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. And of course nowadays by all of those Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn digital friends, followers and contacts. The life of an outsider or bystander is however lived mostly in the inner world of reflection and contemplation. A good book whether fiction or non-fiction, a good movie, play or concert, a quiet dinner and conversation with friends, or a long walk in the countryside, is infinitely more satisfying than a night at the pub or a noisy party.

It is a life lived for all or most of the last thirty years as a vegetarian then vegan, and nicotine and alcohol free, free of both recreational and prescription drugs, enjoying only the natural highs of a well exercised body, an engaged mind and a settled spirit. Vegans and wowsers are outsiders by choice of course. But I’m a health nut vegan rather than a hard core animal rights political vegan. I’m not that much of an outsider.

My friend Wira Gardiner has described me as an iconoclast and as the Thomas Paine of Maoridom (displaying his knowledge of American & European history). Some in the Army called me an enigma which I thought said more about them than me. I always knew exactly who and what I was. One of my mentors the late Sir John Mokonuiarangi Bennett told me that my biggest weakness was my inability to suffer fools gladly and I told him he was right but that I always regarded it as a strength as well.

They are only partly autobiographical these revelations or memoirs of mine, keeping from you many aspects of myself and my life’s experience. I’m a private sort of person. Very private. So you should remember as you read that I am many things other than those I reveal. Much like the rest of you.

At this point though I should reveal that I was once a commissioned officer in the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, a veteran of the Borneo and Vietnam campaigns. A twenty year soldier. That much you can obtain from the public record. I was once also a spook. Those two occupations will provide some of the material for the memoirs.

These are memoirs but memory is a notorious and scientifically proven liar.

Firstly our powers of observation are not as good as we think they are and we often miss or misinterpret what is happening around us. Eye witnesses in court cases, including policemen, are by definition unreliable, for the eye and the ear are easily deceived. Ask any stage magician, or cognitive psychologist, or my late grandmother who taught me at the age of 5 never to believe anything in the newspapers, or on the radio, and to believe only half of what I observed myself.

The brain simplifies what it observes. Then it focuses on that which we understand and expect from our own experience and stored memories. In doing so the brain leaps to conclusions that fit that experience and memory. And it all happens unbeknown to us behind the veil of consciousness.

As the Talmud (and Anais Nin) told us, “We see things not as they are but as we are”.

Secondly, we all reconstruct our memories all the time. We adjust the facts to accommodate them within the narratives we have created for ourselves to make sense of our lives. We are constantly engaged in giving meaning to our lives through our mental narratives, within which we usually view ourselves as good and worthy people, and sometimes not. We discard or conveniently forget those facts that don’t fit our narratives.

When our unconscious narratives are too much at variance with the facts of our lives we are declared deluded or at worst insane.

With that in mind I have carefully avoided the perils of delusion and insanity, I hope, by checking my recollections as much as I am able without spending years in research. I have checked newspaper accounts of events, various books that have described them, and of course multiple sources on the Internet. I have plumbed the memories of others who witnessed those events. I have consulted my own papers, diaries and journals which are comprehensive, detailed and recorded close to the events described.

Like everyone but I hope to a lesser degree than most I am inclined to judge people and happenings against my own experiences and beliefs, sometimes out of context, and to draw conclusions and make observations; sometimes in error. I shall try in this memoir of mine to differentiate between fact and observation, and to faithfully observe the context, like the accomplished intelligence analyst I once was.

These memoirs are then a record of a journey of some seventy years, or more accurately, about some moments on that journey. They venture outside my own experience to add historical, political and social context to the stories they tell.

Whilst those stories are as far as I can make them factual accounts they may at times read like works of fiction, with elements of both tragedy and comedy. Comedy is an essential element in a joyful life; to be able to see the humour in almost any situation. Tragedy and learning to react stoically to tragedy is the balance in the well lived life. As the cliché goes – it’s not what happens to us that matters, it’s how we deal with it. The tragedic elements in some of these stories stem almost entirely from three main characters; Ignorance, Racism, and Paranoia.

In the first essay I open with an account of a few instances of the racism I have encountered in my own life, to allow the reader to feel the actual experience of racism rather than trying to define it or describe it. In the life of a Maori in a Pakeha world racism is just part of the background noise, mostly soft noise but sometimes loud and jarring.

Regardless of personality type and inclination Maori are by definition outsiders. Which is probably why we continue to preserve our own Maori insider’s world. Because of it some accuse us of apartheid. Some Maori choose to live there almost permanently. Others like me move between the two worlds the one providing a retreat from the other. Some choose to live entirely in the outside Pakeha world.

In my childhood, sixty to seventy years ago, we “half caste” children were a species apart, outsiders by accident of parentage and birth. We were loved and accepted by both our Maori and Pakeha whanau but never fully part of either Maori or Pakeha society. We participated in both, distastefully labelled “half caste” by Pakeha, and if we excelled at school labelled “Pakeha” by those Maori who used cultural difference, however slight, as an excuse for their own learning deficiency.

Those were the days when there were few Maori university graduates. I was the first in our hapu to gain School Certificate, then University Entrance and Higher School Certificate. An oddity if not an outsider. Now we have dozens of university graduates. Education once valued mostly just in our whanau and especially by the aunties, is now prized by the whole hapu. I have seen that happen in my lifetime; the slow but gradual then increasingly rapid movement of Maori out of the shadows of the underclass into the educated middle class. There is still a long way to go but with the advancement I have witnessed in my own lifetime we can look forward to the time when we Maori outsiders are outsiders by genetic programming and choice alone rather than racial discrimination.

I myself like being an outsider and will continue to be an outsider, regardless. I’ve gotten comfortably used to it. It wasn’t always so.

Some thoughts on ANZAC Day

This essay was republished in “Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2016” (Ed Susanna Andrew & Jolisa Gracewood, Auckland University Press, 2015).

A lot of money has been spent on commemoration, a lot of hype generated, mythology recycled, and there’s been a lot of criticism of the expenditure, the hype and the mythology on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign. There have been calls by Maori and others for the dead of the New Zealand Wars to be mourned as well as the dead of foreign wars.

What does ANZAC really mean?

Grandfather Whana of Ngati Kere (Porangahau) and Ngati Hikarara (South Wairarapa) didn’t enlist for World War I. At that time enlistment was not a popular option for Maori so he was not one of the approximately 2227 Maori who did enlist. By 1914 he was 35 years old, a dairy farmer, and the father of four of his eventual nine children. He had responsibilities at home. We don’t know what his views were about the British Empire but as staunch Mormons who regularly hosted Mormon missionaries in their home in South Wairarapa both he and my grandmother were members of a congregation that drew their attention and allegiance more towards the USA than towards England.

On the other hand as a dairy farmer he would have known that he relied on a buoyant New Zealand economy for his livelihood and that depended heavily on continuing sales of primary produce into a stable British market.

Grandfather Fred of East Clive in Hawkes Bay did enlist. He was about the same age as Grandfather Whana and he was a first generation New Zealander born at Waipureku a.k.a. East Clive. His father was born in Cornwall and his mother in Devon. They came to New Zealand in 1872 as economic migrants and they were steadfastly British with an abiding loyalty to Mother England. That loyalty was shared by their many children, most of them born in New Zealand. At the start of the war Fred was a single man working as a bushman. He tried to enlist but was rejected because at 37 he was too old. Over two years later when the NZEF needed more recruits he was accepted, joined the Third Battalion of the NZ Rifle Brigade on the Western Front, was badly wounded at Passchendaele in October 1917, was invalided to London and after he recovered was sent on light duties to the NZ Rifle Brigade rear echelon at Brocton Camp in Staffordshire. There he remained for the rest of the war, met and married Grandmother Gertrude and eventually came back to New Zealand with his wife and daughter towards the end of 1919.

Grandfather Whana died young just a few years before World War II a victim of metabolic diseases brought on by the too rapid adoption of the European lifestyle and the European diet, especially sugar, flour and milk. Ironically it was the European diet that did for far more of our people than the European wars, and continues to do so to this day. The 1918 European influenza epidemic brought home from the war also did for many more Maori than the war itself. Grandfather Whana was involved in local efforts to treat the disease and to contain the epidemic.

My father didn’t enlist for World War II. A few of his wider whanau did but not many. Most of his whanau did not get caught up in the fervour of Sir Apirana Ngata’s drive to recruit and reinforce the 28th Maori Battalion. Our whanau was still not into other peoples’ wars. His best friend, my godfather, did enlist and served on Norfolk Island and then in Italy but in the Army Engineers not in the Maori Battalion. Twenty years on I broke the mould on my Maori side and served in the NZ Army for just over twenty years including active service in Borneo and in South Vietnam.

I march on ANZAC day. But I cringe at the myth making and hype surrounding ANZAC these days. I wonder about the tens of thousands who now turn out to dawn services across New Zealand and Australia. Are they there to mourn or are they there to bask in the hype and to celebrate the mythology fed to them by politicians and media. How many of them really know or fully understand why they are there. I march for simple and clear reasons.

I don’t march in remembrance of the dead of the New Zealand Wars for reasons I will explain later. However I do mourn the loss of land whether through war and confiscation or through questionable sale. But I’m not sure how we might memorialise that, or even if we should.

Grandfather Fred was like a great many men who went to war for New Zealand and Australia who were either born in Britain or were the children of British parents. He would have felt it his bounden duty to rise to the defence of the British Empire. His generation were becoming New Zealanders but still staunchly British. The evolutionary process of becoming New Zealanders actually took us a long time. We didn’t gain NZ citizenship until 1948, thirty years after World War I and three years after World War II. Up until then we were British subjects and from 1948 onwards until 1983 we were British subjects and NZ citizens. I remember as a child in the 1950s that most of my Pakeha schoolmates were still proud to be British subjects.

It is easy to look backwards 100 years after Gallipoli and decry the folly of going to the other side of the world to fight a war that in no way threatened New Zealand’s shores, in campaigns that senselessly slaughtered millions of young men; often badly conceived campaigns. But I see World War I through the perspective of Grandfather Fred and through the perspective of his times. He went out of duty and loyalty to England and to his British Empire. It was his war not someone else’s war. I honour him for that.

He may also have gone for the adventure and to visit the land of his forefathers. Having signed up for a bit of travel and adventure myself 45 years later I can understand that too.

Too many of today’s talking heads who comment about the relevance of ANZAC and the mythology of ANZAC are walking in their own comfortable shoes instead of in the boots of those World War I warriors. Not that I disagree with all of the commentary about ANZAC mythology but to be understood history has to be perceived through the eyes of its participants or observers, not just from the distance of 100 years and through the lens of modern ideology. I try to see World War I through the eyes of my grandfathers.

So in this second decade of the 21st Century what do I think of ANZAC?

I grew up with ANZAC. As a school cadet in the 1950s and early 1960s I was proud to be a uniformed member of catafalque parties at country memorials on ANZAC Day. When I was a teenager in uniform World War II was just ten years gone, the Korean War had just ended and the Malayan Emergency was still going. Grandfather Fred, veteran of World War I, died about that time well into his eighties. ANZAC Day was a funeral, not a celebration of anything except perhaps the lives of those who died. It was a mourning of the dead including the very recent dead by families, comrades and communities.

All of those war memorials in cities, towns and villages were not erected to glorify war or to glorify sacrifice or to celebrate the defence of freedom and liberty, or to promote militarism. They were erected as substitute tombstones for the thousands of soldiers who lie buried in foreign lands, some in unmarked graves. Lacking graves and headstones and the ability to travel to where the dead lay they became the focus of mourning. ANZAC Day was not about celebrating a failed campaign in the Dardanelles, or the mythical founding of a nation or a celebration of democratic values or the gallantry of the ANZAC soldier. All of that is legend or mythology. ANZAC Day was a service for the dead. Its ritual was and is still the solemn ritual of a military funeral.

It was also and remains an annual reunion for those whose incredibly strong bonds of trust, brotherhood and comradeship were forged in war. Only the veteran knows the power and the strength of that bond. In that sense everyone else is an onlooker or a bystander.

That remains for me the meaning of ANZAC Day. I remember and honour the dead and the physically and psychologically wounded of all wars. I honour too all who fought in those wars especially those whanau and friends who have since faded away. Regardless of the strategic, political and economic necessity or futility of those wars I honour the casualties of the wars, both the dead and the living. I remember and honour Grandfather Fred.

I honour also Grandfather Whana’s and my father’s decisions not to fight other peoples’ wars. Their loyalties rightly lay elsewhere.

For me the debate about the necessity or futility of war, past, present and future is for every other week of the year. Raising that debate in ANZAC week even in response to the maddening hype and mythology is just as inappropriate as the hype and mythology itself. Like the tangihanga itself ANZAC week is a time for restraint and respect.

However in that larger debate I do decry the political and commercial appropriation of ANZAC for base motives that dishonour the dead. We should read the academic military historians to learn the unadorned facts about ANZAC. But their work does not seep into popular consciousness. Not many are interested. What does pass as fact is the work of popular historians who perpetuate and reinforce the propaganda and mythology of ANZAC and who along with politicians and the media distort reality and so shape false perceptions for the next generations.

So what about mourning say, the dead of the New Zealand Wars, as well as the dead of the more recent wars.

Well, down our way Grandfather Whana’s father and grandfather didn’t go to war to try to keep their lands. They didn’t have a strong enough military base. They lost their lands mostly but not always by reluctant sale. The New Zealand Wars like the later World Wars were other peoples’ wars. Indeed some of the tribes who did fight actually fought on the side of the settler government. And some of those were also the tribes who made the greatest contributions to the Maori Battalion of World War II. No doubt they had their reasons but it might not be profitable to mine that seam too deep.

Some forty years before the New Zealand Wars our rohe was infested by marauding hapu during the Musket Wars attempting to dispossess our many hapu of our lands. They initially succeeded but were eventually repulsed as we acquired muskets and as the missionaries intervened. No doubt some of my tipuna would not have been at all inclined to mourn the dead of those invading hapu in the New Zealand Wars. We don’t all share a common history.

So I’m a bit ambivalent about commemorating other tribes’ wars whatever side they fought on. But if those tribes want to set aside their own day of mourning that’s OK by me. Mourning the loss of land might be something we could have in common. It would be a bit like mourning the loss of lives in war I suppose. It sounds like a good idea but it’s a bit more complex than it sounds.

Should we really set aside a day to mourn what divided my two grandfathers, or seek instead to celebrate what joins us. Much modern day ANZAC belief lies in the myth that New Zealand came of age, or achieved nationhood on the World War I battlefields, especially Gallipoli. Of course it’s pure rubbish. Grandfather Whana’s people were here in this land for some 700 hundred years before Gallipoli. Grandfather Fred’s people were here for about 150 years before Gallipoli. We try to celebrate the joining of these two strands of migration on Waitangi Day, not very successfully because we are still divided over what Waitangi means to the nation as a whole. Grandfather Whana seems to be pulling in one direction and Grandfather Fred in another.

They never met but as men of the land I’m sure they would have found much in common. A shared love of the land perhaps; the farmer and the bushman. Neither of them was much interested in politics. Grandfather Fred like most of his generation didn’t much like Maori. He did change his attitude a bit after he acquired a Maori son-in-law and Maori mokopuna. Incidentally he didn’t much like Catholics either and didn’t ever approve of his Pakeha Catholic son-in-law. Those were his times. Grandfather Whana didn’t go to war but I’m sure he would have understood and honoured Grandfather Fred’s decision. He did after all name one of his daughters Lemnos Mudros after the island and its harbour from where the Gallipoli campaign was launched. It’s a mystery. I’ve no idea why but he did.

I’ve no idea either how we might celebrate the real birth of this nation formed primarily from twin strands of migration through a clash of cultures, a short period of armed conflict in some parts, a long period of inter-cultural political and economic turmoil in most parts, and an even longer aftermath through which we are still finding our way. Perhaps if we’re patient the answer will in time reveal itself. Perhaps it will be in finally cutting the ties to monarchy and all it represents and in the birth of a new republic. Our day of celebration of nationhood might lie not in the past but in the future.

In the meantime let ANZAC Day remain simply a mourning for our dead in the conflicts where a lot of us fought on the same side, for whatever reason.

Lest we forget.

A Longhouse in Borneo

Hunting, gathering and living with the Dayak.

In the time before the Pakeha, in the time before colonisation, before settlement, do we really know how we were. In the time before Abel Tasman sailed into Mohua (Golden Bay) in December 1642.

What do we really know about how it was over 300 years ago. Our only term of reference is the here and now, and our own imaginations about how it might have been, based perhaps on a few stories and maybe on some old books, drawings, paintings or even on early photographs. But we don’t know do we. Sir Peter Buck and other anthropologists have documented the material culture of those times and Elsdon Best has descibed the old religion and a great deal more. F.E. Maning and others wrote about the experiences of “Pakeha Maori”. But mostly I think we just imagine what it might have been like.

My term of reference is a longhouse in the jungle in Borneo, the home of a group of indigenous hunter gatherers who were still living a mostly traditional lifestyle. I lived with them for a while in 1966. The Dayak are part of the Austronesian people, a broad ancestral grouping  that includes the Malayo Polynesians.

Although the Dayak people are distantly related to Maori their life and lifestyle were not the same as those of our ancestors. To start with they live in a tropical jungle whereas here in Aotearoa we have the seasons to contend with including the sometimes harsh winters and the winter shortage of food. So food resources are different and food is central to the life of the hunter gatherer. Although similar in origin their religious and cultural practices have evolved on a separate path for a few thousand years. Despite that however there are many similarities in the lives and lifestyles of hunter gatherers everywhere.

I was in the state of Sarawak in Malaysian Borneo with the 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment on active duty during Indonesia’s “Konfrontasi” war against Malaysia. Our job was to protect part of the border between the two countries to prevent any incursions across the border by regular Indonesian troops or by irregular insurgents. Three of our rifle companies were in defended positions near the border and patrolled along the border. Our company was in reserve with battalion headquarters. We were used on various tasks throughout the whole battalion area of operations. As a rifle platoon commander one of the tasks I was given by the battalion commander was to live with the local indigenous Dayak people on a “hearts and minds” mission to gain their confidence as well as to act as a guard platoon across the area I was allocated. The area was thought by Intelligence to sit across an incursion route used by irregular insurgents.

There were four longhouses or Dayak villages in that area and I split my platoon into four patrols each one based in one of the longhouses. A longhouse is just that. It is a long narrow house on raised hardwood stilts about six to eight feet high off the ground. It is usually about 100 metres long but there are some that are much longer; up to 500 metres. The longhouse I stayed in was built on a slightly elevated terrace above a small river and about 50 metres from it. A longhouse consists of a row of individual family rooms. There were about 15 families and 15 rooms in our longhouse. Running the complete length of the longhouse in front of the family rooms was a verandah about six feet wide. Each family room had a door onto the verandah. At one end of the longhouse the verandah widened out onto a community deck in place of a family room where various gatherings were held. At the other end and removed from the main longhouse was a balai or round house on stilts. It was the trophy house and single men’s quarters.

I sent my other three patrols off to their allotted longhouses and with my six man patrol walked into the jungle to our longhouse. When we arrived later in the day we were greeted as is usual in Borneo by a small ceremony that involved drinking tuak or rice wine. Too much of that stuff can give you a powerful hangover.

After the formalities and introductions we were made welcome and shown to our sleeping quarters in the balai. I mentioned that the balai was a trophy house. The trophies were human heads. The Dayak of Borneo had for generations been head hunters and had only in recent decades, we hoped, given up the practice. But they still kept their trophies. During World War II the Japanese treated the indigenous people in Borneo very badly and many of them fought on the side of the allies. We thought that a few of the heads looked Japanese.

They would remove the skull then smoke the head until it was preserved and shrunk to about the size of a softball. Then the teeth were sewn back in. The heads hung by their hair all over the rafters, hundreds of eyeless heads looking down upon us. There were too many to hang on the rafters so the rest were in big cane baskets hanging high on the walls. The walls were made of atap or palm leaves and in the evening the breeze would blow through and cool the balai. And set thousands of teeth chattering.

We were four Maori and two Pakeha. When we saw where we would be living the Pakeha weren’t the only ones who were white. My guys refused to stay in there. They decided to stay out in the jungle where we usually lived when we were on patrol. I wasn’t very happy about it either but we were there to live with the Dayak according to their tikanga so we had no choice. I was not a popular officer until we got used to it but we slept in there the whole time we lived in the longhouse. No-one got much sleep for the first few nights.

The people of the longhouse

Once we were settled in we joined in the routine of the longhouse and became part of the clan. The tuai rumah (rangatira) and his manang (tohunga) took us under their wing and helped us to settle in and get to know the people.

In our battalion area there were a lot of Christian longhouses of various types. None of the four longhouses in my platoon area had converted and they were all described as animist or pagan. Their religion was the old indigenous religion. One of the clear differences we noticed between the two was that when we arrived at a Christian longhouse the patrol leader would usually be offered the hospitality of one of the tuai rumah’s daughters. They never seemed offended when I declined their kind offers. That offer was never made in a “pagan” longhouse. Which I thought was an enlightening difference between Christians and “Pagans” in Borneo.

Apart from the trophies in the balai there were a few other things that took a bit of getting used to. They kept pigs, dogs and chickens as they traditionally did all over South East Asia, Melanesia and Polynesia. The chickens were eaten but the pigs and dogs weren’t. The dogs were actually sacred animals and were never laughed at or mistreated in any way. It took us a while to work out the role of the pigs but we cottoned on. There were no toilets at all. When you wanted a tutae you went out behind the longhouse and after you’d finished the pigs and dogs would have a kai and clean up after you. Very practical and hygienic.

The day would start with a small meal and then everyone would go about their daily duties. Some of the women would sweep and clean the rooms and the verandah, and clean up around the outside of the longhouse, and some would go out gathering food. The men would also gather food and might go hunting once or twice a week. That only took up a few hours each day for the jungle is rich in foodstuffs. The rest of the day might be spent in conviviality or maintaining the longhouse by repairing walls and thatched roofs. Late afternoon we would all head down to the river and bathe before dinner. In the evenings we would all gather on the verandah to eat followed by talking, singing, story-telling and dancing.

We were there as a guard platoon so we would also go out on patrol most days for an hour or two. After we got to know and trust our hosts some of them would come with us as our eyes and ears. It was their territory and they knew it intimately. After a while we realised that we didn’t need to patrol because they knew when anything moved in their territory and they would let us know if strangers were coming.

Gathering food was the main activity during the day. The two staples in their diet were the tapioca root and sago starch from the sago palm. They were not processed into the small balls like frogs eggs that we buy in the supermarket. Tapioca is also known as cassava, yuca and manioc. It was the only crop that they grew. The root had a purple skin and when they boiled the root for a meal it ended up like a purple slimy jelly that was difficult to eat with your fingers. It was nutritious and a source of energy. For a few days while we were there we helped them clear a patch of jungle and prepare the ground for planting tapioca. It was probably the hardest work we did while we were there but it wasn’t too hard.

The sago palm grows wild and about once a week the men would go into the jungle, cut one down and bring it back to the longhouse. The trunk was then split and we scraped out the white pith. It was generally used as a type of flour. Apart from the two staples we ate just about anything that moved including monkeys, snakes, bats and fish. Red ants were a delicacy. We would hold a flaming torch under the ants nest in a tree and catch them in a big banana leaf as they fell out. They would be fried as a crunchy treat for the children and for curious soldiers. But the real delicacy was the juvenile larva that looked like small white huhu. They would be picked off the leaf and eaten straight away.

We ate the bananas of course. The women would gather a variety of fruits and berries from the jungle. Our favourite vegetable was kangkong which is a cross between a spinach and water cress that grows near swamps and creeks. When we were on patrol in Borneo we carried our food with us in 24 hour ration packs. It got boring and there was no fresh food so we would always stop to pick kangkong when we came across it.

One time we were talked into going on a big hunt. The Dayak men were armed with blowpipes and old shotguns and they wanted us to take our military rifles and the Bren light machine gun, especially the machine gun. Mostly they wanted to see our weapons in action but they thought we might be able to shoot more game than they could with their shotguns. We all headed for the top of a valley and all the young people from the longhouse started down in the valley and drove the game up to us. We shot a few monkeys and when a bear appeared they insisted that we shoot it with the machine gun, so we did. That was the highlight of their hunt. The next night they boiled up that bear and the whole longhouse had a feast. It was really tough but they seemed to enjoy it.

One of my guys had done a cooking course. He had brought a supply of flour and a steel ammunition box with him. He made an oven out of the box. His first loaf of bread was greeted with amazement. Not just by the Dayaks.

The evenings were enjoyable. The Dayak had two main dances. One was performed by the adult men and it was a fighting dance with their parangs. The parang is a long steel jungle knife very useful for chopping in the jungle and also a lethal weapon. The dance was elaborate and choreographed a fight with the parang. As a dance it was ceremonial but was also used to instruct in the techniques of parang fighting. We learnt how to do it but nowhere near as proficient as the Dayak. The women’s dance was the bilangi and it was a bird dance modelled on some long extinct big eagle. It involved quite an intricate dance step and the women were amazed that I could do it straight away. It was the same as one of the steps we used to do at the local rock and roll dances when I was a teenager!

The music was provided by a set of brass gongs hung from a long branch. They ranged from the big one almost as tall as a man down to the small one about 12 inches across. In full performance they could be heard in neighbouring longhouses. The gongs were part of all ceremony, ritual and celebration. The drinking of copious quantities of tuak was also part of ceremony, ritual and celebration.

The first ceremony we participated in was the one in which I was granted the status of tuai rumah to sit alongside their tuai rumah. They were probably just flattering me but the ceremony was real. My group sat on one side of the verandah facing the adult males on the other side. The gongs were gonging and the Dayak people were chanting. A live chicken was brought onto the verandah and waved over my head then it was killed and prepared straight away to be cooked. All the while we were served tuak. The drinking went on while the chicken was cooked and while we ate it. During the ceremony they decked me out in a headdress with feathers and with a few other items including a sash I had seen the tuai rumah wearing.

A few years later I read an account of a ceremony in Vietnam, 1000 kilometres away, that was exactly the same ceremony. An Australian Army officer was raising and training an army of Montagnard hill tribesmen to fight against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. He was working with the Rhade people who lived in longhouses and his induction ceremony was exactly the same as mine. The two groups of indigenous people were separated by 1000 km and a perhaps a thousand years of separate evolution but had retained exactly the same ceremonies.

The next ceremony of note was a marriage ceremony. Ours. I mentioned that the so called “Pagan” Dayaks did not offer their daughters as hospitality. But they did have their eyes on us.

This evening we were lined up sitting on one side of the verandah, the six of us, and the tuai rumah sat the seven young marriageable women in the longhouse on the other side of the verandah facing us. The ceremony proceeded with the gongs gonging and the young women serving us our food and tuak. Then the tuai rumah sprung his surprise. We were being married and we had to choose a wife each! Quick thinking Ross. So I said there were six of us and seven of them and one would be left out and we couldn’t offend her so thank you very much but no thank you. The old guy just laughed and said you’re now a tuai rumah, you choose two for yourself.

A couple of my guys seemed quite willing to comply but I managed to get us out of that predicament without offending the young women or the rest of the longhouse.

This whole ceremony was not really about us. In stationary or nomadic hunter gatherer groups there is always a need to refresh the gene pool to prevent inbreeding. To do that the young women would be exchanged with women from other groups in arranged pairings. We presented an opportunity for our young women to be partnered without leaving their longhouse. I don’t think any of my guys later took advantage of the offer but you never can tell. I can guarantee that I didn’t. True e hoa ma, true.

The author right rear with two patrol members, Norm Smith and Bruce Purdom, and our volunteer interpreter, Tuai Rumah front right, Manang front left, and six of the seven young ladies

While patrolling in Borneo we always carried our medical kit and at the longhouses we visited our platoon medic would treat any minor ailments and wounds. It was a popular service. Any serious cases we came across would get sent out by helicopter, or vehicle if there was a road nearby. We provided the same service at our longhouse.

One night a midwife sent for me. I woke up and went to one of the rooms where there was a woman in labour. She was in difficulty and the midwives couldn’t help. So I sent for my medic in the balai and for my radio set. We radioed back to battalion headquarters and had the doctor woken and brought to the radio. The medic described what was happening and the doctor proceeded to diagnose what it was over the radio and to explain the history and frequency of the condition. The woman was in severe muscular spasm around the birth canal and the baby was prevented from birthing. Basically the medic had to massage in exactly the right places until the spasms stopped, and the midwives had to help by encouraging the mother to relax and reassuring her that all would be well. We had the doctor on the radio for about two hours and in the end it was a successful birth. The midwives were amazed. Such is the life of a soldier.

We lived in the longhouse for a few weeks and when the time came to leave it was quite sad. We had grown to like each other. I asked the battalion commander to send in a 44-gallon drum of kerosene and a hand pump to fuel their lamps and stoves for a few months. It was winched in by helicopter and was much appreciated.

We left a short while later after a ceremony of farewell. As we were leaving the tuai rumah approached me with an offer. He wanted to buy one of my soldiers. He was a tall, young, blonde and handsome Ngai Tahu and the longhouse wanted to keep him to breed from. Tuai rumah offered me 100 ringgit or Malaysian dollars. I accepted and sold him. I don’t know why but Mac would have none of it and insisted that I give back the money. He came out with us. To this day I still give him heaps about reneging on my deal.

Some of the longhouse people came with us for a few hours until we reached the road head where we were picked up by truck. The seven young women were among them. Our packs and weapons were carried all the way for us and the parting was genuinely sad. We went back to our regular operations and got on with our patrolling duties and never went back to our longhouse.

Just over six months later we were in another war in another country; Vietnam.

Borneo and our stay in the longhouse was the highlight of my 20 year military career. I was just 22 years old at the time. Many years later as I hear Maori pontificating wisely on traditional life before settlement and colonisation I smile and remember my real experience living the hunter gatherer life as it really was.

Operation 8: The police raid at Parnell that got stopped in the High Court

Read the complete analysis of alleged Maori terrorism in the Urewera

We were raided at Parnell in Auckland on Monday October 15th 2007, exactly six years ago. It was part of the NZ Police’s Operation 8 “terrorist” raids at Ruatoki and elsewhere. There were raids on approximately 60 houses and premises around the country.

You can read about fifteen of those raids in a book edited by Valerie Morse, one of those raided, arrested and imprisoned that day (“The day the raids came: Stories of survival and resistance to the state terror raids“, Rebel Press, 2010). It includes the stories of the four known in the media as the “Urewera Four” who were the only ones who eventually went to trial in 2012.

Like many other raids all over the motu you didn’t read about this one in Parnell or see it on the TV. There was a good reason you didn’t see this one on TV. We took the police straight into the High Court, stopped the raid, and got a suppression order to prevent any publicity.

We had been in Tuhoe country for a few days before the raids, at my brother’s tangihanga at Tuai near Lake Waikaremoana, and got back to Auckland fairly late on the Sunday. At the time our company’s office was in Parnell and I had a small apartment downstairs from the office. I made it upstairs to the office about 9am. Some of my staff were already at their desks. It was a normal Monday morning at work.

Then I took a phone call from Wellington and was told to turn on the TV and watch a police operation in the Urewera. My caller also asked after one of my staff who had connections down there. He wasn’t at work and it didn’t take long for me to realise that he was probably one of the targets of Operation 8. Like thousands of others we watched that very public operation unfold. It seemed to me that a professional media campaign was an integral part of Operation 8 and that the police were deliberately imprinting their narrative into the public mind as part of the operation, before any other narrative could emerge. My media advisors agreed.

Just after midday three carloads of police drove up and parked outside the office. I saw them from my office window and went downstairs to meet them. They were CIB detectives and personnel from the Electronic Crimes Laboratory rather than the heavily armed faceless paramilitaries we were all watching on TV. They were led by Detective Wayne Bailey and Detective Joe Tipene, both Maori. Wayne showed me their search warrant and assured me that they were not armed. They were wearing the usual protective stab vests. I led them upstairs to the office.

The search warrant was a huge 20 page document. It listed all the items that the police were searching for including weapons, military equipment, clothing and computers. There were pages and pages of lists of things they were looking for. It was obviously an “omnibus” warrant that they were using right across the country. Most of it could not have been relevant to the raid on my office. There was no evidence at all that any of that stuff was in our building. It was a ridiculous warrant. It was also a lazy warrant and a shoddy piece of staff work, with nothing specific about what they expected to find at our location. There was this short paragraph about seizing computers.

  • All computer hardware and software necessary to gain access to data or programs contained on the storage media,
  • All computer storage media including ‘floppy’ diskettes, tapes, hard drives, and other devices containing programs or data,
  • All leads/cables and peripheral equipment necessary for the proper operation of the computer system,
  • All documentation including manuals, guides and other references which provide information necessary for proper operation of the computer hardware, software and peripheral equipment.

They herded us into our boardroom and told us that’s where we were to stay while they searched the premises. Wayne Bailey was in charge of the operation and he sat with us at the boardroom table taking notes. A policewoman photographer took photos of everything, including all the Maori art on the walls and tables. She seemed especially interested in the art. Maybe she was an art lover too. Or thought we were art thieves.

It soon became obvious that they weren’t looking for any of the weapons, clothing and equipment that made up most of the warrant. The detectives were there to allow the electronic crimes people to attack our IT network and computers. The first thing they did was turn off our connection to the internet and forbade us from going anywhere near our network. I realised then that only the one short paragraph of that voluminous warrant was applicable to us. The bit about computers. The rest of the 20 page search warrant was absolute rubbish, and they knew it. It was a fishing expedition, looking for anything that might justify what they had enacted at Ruatoki and elsewhere.

I also thought that in that case the warrant might have been illegal and that whoever had obtained the warrant from the Court might have perjured himself.

The electronic crimes people were not sworn policemen and were led by a German fellow. He seemed to us quite nasty. We found out later that he had been a NZ policeman before joining the electronic crimes laboratory and that even some of his colleagues thought he was a nasty piece of work. We nicknamed him and called him “Fritz” to his face, which didn’t endear us to him at all. Fritz’s real name revealed in the Crown Indictment of 2012 was Juergan Arndt.

It came to me that this was the same Fritz who had a score to settle with one of my employees. About three years earlier Fritz had tried and failed to have my man charged with computer hacking, a benign petty offence about defacing a political website on the information super highway. My man would never do that of course. But it would be about as criminal as defacing a political billboard on any other highway but the police have convinced the parliament that it is a serious crime. It gives them something to do. So Fritz might have had another agenda apart from Operation 8 – a little bit of unfinished business.

We found out that Fritz planned to seize every computer and hard drive he could find. That would have been over twenty five computers and servers and would have put us out of business. I did my calculations and worked out that with our offsite data backups I could recreate the network but that it would cost over $70,000 and take weeks to get back into business.

In the meantime we amused ourselves poking fun at them. Part of police method is to impose themselves, physically and psychologically, on the people and situations they are dealing with. Intimidation is another way of describing it. We saw on the TV and heard later from the media and from the Tuhoe people how that tactic had been applied in extremis down there. In our case it was mild by comparison. But being who we are we were having none of it anyway.

One of my sub-contractors arrived and was directed into the boardroom. He was the only Pakeha who worked out of our office. My business manager introduced him to the detective and told him that he was a Pakeha, and to be careful because Pakeha were dangerous. He was not amused.

Then we heard loud voices coming up the stairs and recognized the voice of Te Awanui Reeder of the Nesian Mystik band (now the famous entertainer Awa). His father worked with us and was in the boardroom. I’d known Awanui since he was a small boy. When he strode into the boardroom he saw Wayne Bailey, greeted him warmly “Hey Bro” and shook his hand. Then he told us that he and Wayne were drinking buddies! Awanui then pointed to his father and told Wayne to arrest him because he was very dangerous. It was hilarious.

One of the Nesian boys was with him and they had come to get my signature on his passport application. Awanui told me that they needed a kaumatua to sign and I was it. I asked Wayne if he realised that I was the Nesian Mystik kaumatua. The look on his face was priceless. They left with my signature after much banter about us being dangerous criminals.

At some point, probably a bit later, I went to my library and got my copy of “Mihaia: The Prophet Rua Kenana And His Community At Maungapohatu”, by Judith Binney, and gave it to Detective Bailey. He said he hadn’t read it and I told him he needed to.

It went on with Detective Bailey doing his best not to laugh or even smile. Eventually he gave in and left the boardroom. He was replaced by a young Pakeha policeman in civvies. I asked him why he wasn’t wearing a stab vest and he said he’d left it at the office. I told him he’d better get one because we were dangerous criminals. He was totally confused by our lack of respect. I felt sorry for the young man.

Throughout the afternoon Detective Bailey tried to get me and my staff to give statements about what we might know about the activities of our co-worker but he met with a wall of silence and outright refusal. And he couldn’t get my people to take the raid seriously.

While all this was going on Fritz and his people were busy locating and labeling every workstation, every server, and every portable hard drive they could find, including equipment downstairs in my apartment. After I realised what they were after and how it would affect my business I tried negotiating with the detectives to get them whatever files they might be after without taking down the business, I knew they were fishing anyway and wouldn’t find anything they were looking for. They consulted by phone with their supervisor Detective Sergeant Mark Gutry and the answer was an emphatic “No”. They were seizing everything.

So I rang the lawyers.

My lawyer was one of the partners in a big law firm and he quickly found another partner to represent me. This one was a former prosecutor, was highly experienced in criminal law and was an expert in the law regarding warrants. I faxed him the warrant. He thought the warrant was probably illegal and was certainly unreasonable as defined in the legislation. He recommended that I go to the High Court to obtain an injunction and I gave him the go ahead. He obtained a hearing for that afternoon, rang Detective Sergeant Gutry to tell him that the operation should stop until the High Court decision was made, and asked me to be at the Court for a hearing at 5.00pm.

My lawyer and Mina Wharepouri who was representing the police met in chambers with Justice Helen Winklemann. Detective Sergeant Gutry and I waited in a waiting room. I gave him an earful and he left to wait somewhere else.

    Detective Inspector Mark Gutry resigned in 2014 as he was being investigated for unlawfully accessing the Police National Intelligence Application twenty times seeking information on a woman who had laid a complaint against him.

It didn’t take long for an interim injunction to be granted with a full court hearing set down for 10.00am the next day. The raid was to stop until the court heard the application. I was to have no access to my technology and a police guard was to be posted in the premises overnight to ensure that I didn’t use it. The police were ordered to produce to the court the next morning the affidavit they had used to obtain the search warrant. We were attacking the warrant.

I went back to my office. A junior lawyer from my legal firm came with me to ensure that the police complied with the terms of the injunction.

By the time we got there the detectives and Fritz and his people had left and were replaced by a uniformed sergeant and a few constables. The sergeant was setting up an overnight guard with two constables in the premises at all times. He had placed one of them in my bedroom where there was a workstation and also a portable hard drive on my work table. I went into the bedroom and started to unhook the computer. The sergeant ordered me to stop but I told him there was no way I was allowing a policeman in my bedroom overnight. I told him I was ex-army and I didn’t trust sailors or policemen. He was not amused. My young lawyer was. So I handed him the computer and the portable hard drive and told him to put it upstairs with the rest of the equipment.

I had a bit of a laugh as well. Sitting on the table next to the labeled portable hard drive was a 60GB iPod. There were no files on the hard drive but all the personal and business backups were on the iPod. Fritz the computer forensics expert hadn’t realised that an iPod is also a hard drive and hadn’t labeled it to be seized.

There was another plainclothes policeman there. We hadn’t seen him earlier. He was big and intimidating. He asked my quite petite lawyer what she was doing there and she let him know she wasn’t intimidated at all. He then took an intimidating stance in front of me and asked me who I was. I looked at the nametag on his chest “Phil Le Compte” and said that’s a Hawke’s Bay family isn’t it. Taken aback he asked me how I knew that. I told him I went to school with a Le Compte and he asked me who that was. He was even more aback when I told him it was Alan Le Compte because it was his father. I said something uncomplimentary about father and son and he left.

You won’t see Phil Le Compte mentioned anywhere else in connection with Operation 8. Detective Sergeant Le Compte was at the time with AMCOS (Auckland Metro Crime and Operations Support) based in Harlech House with the Auckland SIG (Special Investigation Group) which was the lead agency in Operation 8. Le Compte did have a role in Operation 8 and that will be explored in a later article.

The next morning at 8.15 I got a call from the lawyer to say that the police wanted to negotiate an agreement before the full court hearing. They claimed that they didn’t have enough time to redact (blackout) confidential parts of the affidavit before they had to produce it in court. They had about 16 hours to do that between the hearing on 15th October and the full hearing on 16th October, so that was no excuse at all. It was bullshit. I knew then that they absolutely did not want that affidavit to be scrutinized by a high court judge lest the warrant be struck down. That was the same warrant that they were using all over the country and that would have been disastrous for Operation 8 (from their point of view).

My reaction to their raid had obviously taken them completely by surprise and they were scrambling to contain the situation.

Emotionally I was inclined to ignore them and to go straight to court. I was in the right sort of mood to take them to the cleaners regardless of the cost. But logic and reason prevailed as I had a business to protect and staff and their whanau to think of. So we went into conference at 9am at the High Court. My lawyer and I sat down with Detective Sergeant Gutry and his lawyer Mina Wharepouri. The two lawyers had already drawn up an agreement which we signed. Under the agreement:

  • They would not remove any of my computers and drives except for the one computer on my staff member’s desk; the staff member they had already arrested and imprisoned.
  • That computer was to be returned to my office within 72 hours (the police usually keep seized computers for months or even years).
  • The electronic crimes people would be permitted to inspect my file server, under my supervision, to locate and remove any files relevant to Operation 8, specifically files related to an encrypted online chatgroup called AoCafe (I knew that there would be none).
  • The police would facilitate contact with my man in prison so that I could obtain any passwords I might need.

We went into court to wait for the judge.

A feisty woman lawyer walked in for another case entirely. She looked around and remarked that the only criminals she could see were my lawyers, given the outrageous fees they charge. She was right in a way because High Court injunctions don’t come cheap and you have to be prepared to pay whatever it costs to stand up for your rights. Justice doesn’t come cheap.

We sat there twiddling our thumbs waiting for the judge. I told my lawyer I had his waiata ready. Then I asked Mina if his clients were going to sing his waiata. They were not amused. No sense of humour the cops.

It was Justice Winklemann again. She endorsed the agreement we had negotiated. Mina Wharepouri declared in court that the police had no interest whatsoever in me personally. We applied for blanket suppression of anything and everything that would indicate the identity of me or my business, and the location of my business, and it was granted by the judge. That was it.

In writing this piece I have unilaterally lifted that suppression order.

My lawyer remarked to me that it was rare indeed for anyone to bring a police operation to a grinding halt.

Back at the office Detectives Wayne and Joe were back and were very friendly. They seemed quite relieved that things had turned out as they had. Couple of good Maori those two. Then a new more senior contractor from electronic crimes arrived. He was businesslike and courteous and we got on with it. He found five files that he thought might have had some bearing on the case. I knew they wouldn’t and was quite happy for him to copy them. He restored our internet connection and we were in business again. We chatted and established that his father and I had both been majors in the Army and had worked together for a couple of years.

Wayne and Joe came over to hongi and they all left. My man was still behind bars of course.

My lawyer suggested that we ask the police to pay $2,000 towards my legal fees. I would have preferred to sue them for the lot but they would have contested that and it would have cost me a small fortune to recoup a tiny fortune. That same day the police agreed to pay the $2,000. Strategically it was a good move as it was an admission of some sort of liability.

That was almost that. We had some trouble with journalist Jonathon Marshall who was working for the Sunday Star Times. He was trying to get around the suppression order and was hassling me over the phone and had appeared at my office and tried to intimidate my business manager. A phone call from my lawyers to his editor put a stop to his shenanigans, before I got to him with a big stick.

We got the seized computer back from the police within the 72 hour timeline. I was a bit suspicious that they might have loaded it with a bug or two. We took it apart and didn’t find anything but just to be sure we cleaned the hard disks and got rid of it. We donated it to a needy community group!

Over the next few weeks a few right wing bloggers tried to get around the suppression order by mentioning that my man had been employed as an IT manager and inserting links to my company website. So we wrote a script, a small programme, that intercepted any traffic coming to my webserver from those blogsites, and diverted the requests to a spoof website. That website was pretending to be by one of the worst of the bloggers and it was lampooning him mercilessly. Some kind person had conveniently built it right at the time we needed it. We thought that was an elegant strategy.

After we had settled down and got the business back on track we had time to reflect on a few incidents leading up to the raid on 15th October 2007.

Our office cleaner usually arrived at about midnight. One night she disturbed someone in the office, near the computer server room, and whoever it was fled down the stairs and out the door. Which we realised in hindsight was a bit strange because our office was locked and alarmed. Whoever it was would have had to disable the alarm without setting it off. On reflection we thought it was probably the police and they had probably used a warrant to force our security company to disable the alarm for them. Whoever it was would have found that our server room was locked and alarmed as well.

In the week leading up to the raid my sister (who was my business manager) had noticed two suits sitting in a car in our carpark. She used to arrive at work very early and go for a walk. They were there when she arrived about 6am. They were still there when she got back from her walk. She challenged them and they left. However her red car was the one that spent most time in the carpark and we are now fairly sure it was bugged with a GPS locator.

In the few days before the raids when we went to my brother’s tangihanga at Tuai in Tuhoe country she came with me in a rental car. Her daughter and son-in-law drove her red car to Tuai and back. On the way back to Auckland on Sunday 14th October they followed us in the red car. Along the way they were stopped for no reason at all by a police patrol. They were questioned and explained that they were following their mother in her car. The police let them carry on. They thought it was strange at the time.

So we were also under police surveillance leading up to the raids.

I readily acknowledge that our experience was mild compared to others at Ruatoki and elsewhere. We for instance did not have rifles or submachine guns poked in our faces and pointed at the heads of our families. Ours was a minor episode in the whole shocking saga.

But this story is the starting point for a full analysis of Operation 8 in future articles. As a retired army officer and a former intelligence analyst I was very interested in the intelligence analysis that led to the “termination” phase of Operation 8. I then started to collect as much information as I could to analyse the intelligence operation behind Operation 8. I followed the case through the courts to the High Court criminal hearing in 2012 and thence to the Court of Appeal. I did some work for the defence team at the trial.

I early on came to the conclusion that the police operation was incompetent and unprofessional. I concluded that the detectives involved were total amateurs in the field of Intelligence and that their incompetence, and the incompetence of their superiors, had led to a debacle from which they scrambled to extricate themselves. They had the the help of a very professional and strategically canny prosecution lawyer, Mr Ross Burns. The courts have also established that the police had knowingly acted unlawfully in obtaining and executing warrants during the intelligence operation.

This series of articles will describe in detail all of that. And Te Putatara will raise a series of questions that have never before been asked, and certainly not answered.

Links: The Operation 8 Series