Archive for December 2021

For Auld Lang Syne, Bits of Coal and lots of Blarney

We were brought up, my brothers and I, to believe that we were Scottish to the extent that we would practise the ritual of first footing. Armed with liquor (the only time of the year please note), the family would procesh with small gifts and pieces of coal to visit neighbours and friends to first foot by leaving a gift and a piece of coal.

We could all do Scottish Country dances and what a thrill it was to dance with my Mum when she was at an advanced age. My father was a piper in New Zealand’s best Pipe Band – the Hamilton Caledonian Pipe Band. In both 1946 and 1947 they were the “A Grade Champions of New Zealand and well into the 1950’s we would go into a respectful silence when on the Sunday Request Session on 1ZH when the request for the Hamilton Caledonian Pipe Band performance in the quickstep march competition was completed to absolute perfection – 100 yards completed in 120 steps to the exact inch.A commentary accompanied this and rose in pitch and volume as the march was completed – imagine the end of a F1 Race, or the All Blacks scoring.

Well, in fact, we were only half-Scottish, the rest was Irish. That side of the family came from a young man who lived in a village called Ballingarry in County Limerick, Ireland, to be followed by two years later by a young woman who lived in the village of County Tipperary. They never knew each other in Ireland but married in New Zealand and they became prominent is local government and the hotel trade in the South Island.

Looking back I can see tinges of some tense opinions that the Scots in the North Island had of those from the orange sunset! Values and principles are set at a pretty young age. Secure in a set of beliefs and prominent among the values and behaviours of service and respect of others are paramount.

On Another Note

MIT started a project in Tonga in 2013 introducing the Certificate in Technical and Vocational Skills. Essentially this was a version of the Secondary/Tertiary Programme pioneered by the early trades academy programmes. The statistics are impressive. In 2021, 17 high schools delivered the programmes to a total of 767 students. 259 students graduated with the full programme while a number passed sufficient curriculum parts to qualify for entry to the Tonga Institute of Science and Technology. This programme, supported by NZ MFAT, has led to a doubling of the numbers of young students entering tertiary technical and vocational education.

Have a respectful Christmas and a Happy New Year.

The Detritus of Colonialism

I was in a meeting in Wellington thoroughly enjoying the harangue directed at the collected Vice- Chancellors of NZ by the Prime Minister David Lange – it was the famous occasion on which the VC’s, spread across the front row and collectively attempted to demolish Lange’s plans for reforms only to be beaten down by the Prime Minister who boomed out “I’m not afraid of you, you’re just a gang of bikies in suits!”

I remember this because just after that an official from the Department (I think it was just before Tomorrow’s Schools elevated education to a Ministry), awkwardly shuffled up the row I was seated in to say he needed to talk with me, right now. I had no idea what it was about or who he was.

It turned out that he was an official from Education who was responsible for liaison with Foreign Affairs and his request was an off to me to take up a contract to go up to the Solomon Islands as the New Zealand English Consultant – three weeks that were to introduce me to the Solomons and start a six-year period of my life that saw me up there two or three times each year. “What were the expectations as to outcomes?” I ask.  “See what seems useful once you are there – they haven’t a consultant for a few years and we have some money, enough for two visits this year,” I am told.

The key event of the visit was a weeklong meeting of all the English teachers in the Solomons held in the middle week of the three-week period to give the government time to collect them all from the outlying islands and deliver them back for the next term – a vast undertaking for a fleet of rather small boats. When they gathered and I was able to meet them, they turned out to be a group of keen and dedicated teachers – native teachers, ex-patriots, young and pld, a group of teachers of wide dispositions. Some were missionaries, some were highly trained citizens, some were very young indeed – most had been working with few resources and with not much guidance. It was a privilege to undertake this assignment.

The islands of Malaita and Guadalcanal had both been hit seriously by Cyclone Namu some months earlier. Damage was severe, especially the coastal roads that ran alongside the ocean and therefore were positioned close to the water’s edge. The officials wished to have me see as much as possible and that led to a request that I make a visit to Malaita to be a special guest at a Prizegiving that Namu had made impossible to hold earlier. This was to be somewhat difficult logistically and involved a flight – leaving Henderson Field (a famous airfield in the Pacific War) at one end, and at the other landing on a small strip that went from one beach across the island to a beach across the island to the other side. There then followed a fifteen-hour canoe trip in a fibre glass boat/canoe driven by a teacher who went on to be a significant academic in New Zealand, Professor Kabini Sanga. I was nervous about this especially when Kabini slowed the open boats down to throughfully tell me that “We usually see sharks around about here.”

Over years when I was engaged with the Solomons, I enjoyed opportunity and excitement. 

It pains me greatly to see the suffering that they must now endure and wonder why for the second time in their recent past that they have felt the need to take extreme measures to reconcile the disparate factions and views of people who are drawn into a country mostly by the pen of some British diplomat who had decided that this long straggling chain of islands would be one country! 

O returning to my day job in New Zealand (training English teachers exhorted the students who were heading to teach English to consider not  teaching the book that was A Pattern of Islands, Arthur Grimble’s story of his time in the Gilbert and Ellis Islands. These islands are now called Kiribati and Tuvalu. And did you know that the movie South Pacific (1958) was based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein (1949) musical which in turn was loosely based around James A. Michener (1947) short story collection Tales of the South Pacific. As T.S.Eliot said – “Human Kind cannot bear very much reality.”

I can’t help thinking that different ethnicities need to be left to work in their own ways, a visit from a consultant doesn’t really solve it.