Remembering the 1980s golden age of Wairarapa Bush rugby

By David Famularo, October 2016

With Wairarapa Bush Rugby Union celebrating its 130th anniversary this year and 35 years since its representative side achieved First Division status, three of its captains from that golden era look back on golden moment in the region’s rugby history

Wairarapa Bush had had its moments of glory in the distant past.

I remember as a kid discovering in a book somewhere that in the early 1920s the Wairarapa team featuring prominently in New Zealand rugby history.

In fact, its brightest moments had been between 1927 and 1930 when it held the Ranfurly Shield on two separate occasions, was one of the strongest unions in the country, and produced no less than nine All Blacks.

It had another moment of brief glory in 1950 when it took the Ranfurly Shield from Canterbury 3-0,  only to lose it to South Canterbury in its  first defence 14-17.

As one of the smallest unions in New Zealand, Bush mostly had success in the Bebbington Shield, a competition contested by the Bush, Rangitikei, Southern Hawkes Bay and Orewa Downs regions, producing one All Black in Athol Mahoney.

The two unions combined in 1971 and usually gave most teams they competed against a run for their money.

In 1976 a National Provincial Championship was established with a First and Second Division, the lowest placed team in the First Division playing against the highest placed Second Division team in a promotion/relegation match. The Second Division was in turn separated into North and South Island competitions with the winner from each island playing each other to determine who would play against the lowest placed First Division team.

Wairarapa Bush was put in the Second Division and from then on till 1979, it was on the losing side more often than not – it won only one match in 1979.

Things took a turn for the better in 1980 when former All Black captain Brian Lochore became selector/coach, the team achieving six wins, six losses and a draw for third place.

Still, at the beginning of 1981, few would have expected the side to be in the First Division by the end of the year.

But the foundation was there. Lochore had all the leading players of the previous season still available, with 19 of 25 players still in the team, and he had been instilling in his players a belief in their own capabilities.

He emphasised attacking rugby with Wairarapa Bush scoring 39 tries scored in 14 matches, with seven straight wins.

But the best was to come at the end with three finals in seven days.

In his autobiography, Lochore described that programme as “crazy, especially for a union our size and our playing resources, but we had no alternative but to tackle it head on.

“The pressure on the players was enormous and, quite frankly, I couldn’t see them getting through it. The mental exhaustion alone would surely be too much for them to handle”.

The team got over the first hurdle, a  the North Island Second Division final  against Taranaki at Memorial Park in Masterton before a capacity crowd, winning 15-6.

They then beat South Island Second Division champions South Canterbury comfortably 16-0 while not playing at their very best, finally meeting Southland for the promotion/relegation match at Rugby Park, Invercargill.

The Southland game didn’t go entirely as planned, Wairarapa Times Age sports reporter Gary Caffell commented in a recent article.

“Wairarapa-Bush had the wind at their backs in the first half and Lochore stressed to them the importance of using it, even suggesting that anything less than a 12-point lead would not be good enough if victory was to be attained,” Caffell said.

“Imagine then how Lochore felt when halftime arrived and Wairarapa-Bush was trailing 6-9. Physically strong but mentally tired his players were struggling to get themselves out of second gear and promotion to First Division was slipping away.”

“It was terribly, terribly hard,” Lochore was later quoted as saying. “We had come a long way in a short time and a lot of it was due to the spirit existing within the squad. We had spent two years building confidence and self-belief amongst the players and now I had to go down there and read the riot act. I knew full well shock tactics were required but the thought of doing it didn’t exactly thrill me.”

A half time bollocking from Lochore had its intended effect with a try to number eight Carl Baker with about 20 minutes to go, the team holding on for a 10-9 victory.

Captain and hooker Gary McGlashan was a veteran by this stage. He had played his first game for Wairarapa, a year before the two unions amalgamated, in 1970 ( he went on to captain the team in the First Division in 1982, by then in his late thirties).

Also playing in the Southland game was halfback Graeme “Bunter” Anderson who had joined the team in 1979 . Bunter would go on to  captain the side in 1983, 1984 and occasionally in 1985.

Both Gary remembers the Taranaki and Southland matches as particularly gruelling.

“Taranaki came down here and thought they were going to romp home,” Gary recalls. “That was a great game with the crowd right behind the team.”

“We had to slog it all out that day. Carl scored a good try and we had to hold them out after that .

“They had us on the ropes a few times but our camaradiere held together. There was no way they were going to score, so we dug in and held them out.”

Bill Rowlands celebrates as Wairarapa Bush scores against Canterbury in1983 a match they lost 7-36 at Masterton - Photo: Wairarapa Archive
Bill Rowlands celebrates as Wairarapa Bush scores against Canterbury in1983 a match they lost 7-36 at Masterton – Photo: Wairarapa Archive

After making it into the First Division, remaining there was always going to be the next challenge.

“It was a fairly hard row to hoe the next year,” Gary recalls. “It was a different level for us. When you get up against teams like Auckland and Canterbury it is a different kettle of fish. We had a relatively small pack but we managed to battle on and stay there.”

By 1983 and 1984 when Lane Penn had taking over coaching duties from Lochore “it was more about survival”, Graeme recalls. “It always came down to a couple of games we had to win to keep in the First Division.”

However, one of the games he remembers with particular pleasure was their 19-9 victory over Hawkes Bay in 1984.

“It was right on the weekend of their centenary. I think the idea behind that was that they thought we would be easy beats. There were a lot of long faces in Hawkes Bay after that game. We took a lot of pleasure in that match.”

Both men had a high regard for both Lochore and Penn.

“They had different styles – one was a forward and other a back,” Gary says. “But it was basically the same simple style of rugby.

Graeme concurs. “It was a simple game plan, executed well.”

Lochore had a great knowledge of the game and was a great motivator, Gary says.

“He was a top class motivator and the sort of person that would draw the  most out of any player.”

Likewise, Lane was a also a good motivator, Graeme recalls. “He wanted the game played in the way that he wanted. Brian was always going to be a hard act to follow – all credit to him  for stepping up to the mark. He did a really well and managed to find a few All Blacks.”

Both former captains believe one of the most outstanding features of Wairarapa Bush teams of that era was the spirit.

“Camaraderie was one of our greatest assets,” Gary says. “It was a really close knit team and everyone got on well. We got on the paddock and everyone would work for their mates.”

“There was phenomenal team spirit,” Graeme recollects. “Everyone got on really well. In those days you would tour for ten days over two weekends so we got to know each other really well.

“It cost a lot of guys money to play as they had to take a week off work but if you spoke to anyone they would say they wouldn’t have swapped it for anything. It was a pretty special time.”

After making it to the First Division in 1981, Wairarapa Bush mostly hung around the bottom half of the competition, always battling to stay in the competition.

Brent Anderson hands off to Glen Fraser against Hawkes Bay in1985 which was won 53-5 Photo: Wairarapa Archive
Brent Anderson hands off to Glen Fraser against Hawkes Bay in1985, a game won by Wairarapa Bush 53-5 Photo: Wairarapa Archive

But then in 1985, something no one expected happened and they became one of the most formidable teams in the competition, finishing in fourth place. Potentially they could have reached even higher.

Loose forward Paul Hawkins played in the team from 1979 to 1986, and captained Wairarapa Bush for most of its matches in 1984 and 1985.

He believes the groundwork was laid in 1984 which was not Wairarapa Bush’s best year by any means.

“1984 was a bad year. We didn’t know till the last couple of games if we were going to manage to stay in First Division,” Paul recalls.

But the landscape of Wairarapa Bush rugby had been changing since 1981.

Club rugby was getting stronger as rep players brought their experience back to the clubs which in turn were producing a higher standard of players to choose from, Paul points out.

“I think club rugby was so good that it followed through to the representative side. We had been in the First Division for a while by that stage and it had  improved the overall standard of club rugby without a doubt.

“I think (one of the reasons for the team’s success) was that there was just a good core of players. We had 20 or more players to call on when there were injuries, and a lot of our players had been in the team for a while.”

Something that was a bit out of the ordinary was having the captain of the day in the selection meeting, Paul says. “That worked for us. It gave us more of an idea of what they wanted and how to get it.”

There was also a change in mind-set of the players, Paul says.

“Before the season started we would normally worry about if we were going to be relegated or not. At the beginning [of 1985] we stopped worrying and started just playing rugby.

“We realised in 1984 that we could achieve more but everyone had to buy into that. When everyone turned up and gave their all, we did exceptionally well.  But it would only work if everyone bought into it. If a couple of guys were not 100 percent it wouldn’t work.”

Paul believes the team had the potential to do even better than fourth place.

“We beat some good teams. We had wins over three of the top four teams. The only top team we didn’t beat was Auckland and that was only by about 10 points. So there was no reason we couldn’t have beaten anyone in the competition.”

One of the victories Paul relishes the most from that year was beating Wellington. “That was at Athletic Park – we had never done that before. We won a lot of away games that year.”

It wasn’t just the team that had a good year. Paul suspects Lane Penn was improving as a coach as well. “He must have, he was an All Black coach about a year later.”

Paul respects Lane for what he achieved with the team.

“He came after Brian Lochore. Everyone loved Brian. Lane was a very good coach but you had someone else telling you what to do which must have been hard for him.

“It wouldn’t have been easy for him to fill Brian’s shoes but he did a tremendous job in his own way.”

Wairarapa Bush played in the First Division for two more years, being relegated at the end of 1987 – although it should be pointed out that they still won five matches and drew one.

So after such a successful 1985 season,  why did the team begin to fade?

“I just think the other teams were more wary of us when we turned up the next year and a bit more focused.

“We were the so-called easy beats most years and all of a sudden we were turning up and beating them. When we played Counties we were down around 13 points after the first ten minutes but we still ended up winning.

“The next year they remembered what we had done to them in 1985 and were more focused.”

Top photo: Andy Earl against Taranaki ,1981 Photo: Wairarapa Archive

Interviews by David Famularo. Additional sources: Wairarapa Bush Centennial 1886-1985; NZ Rugby Almanack Franchise; Wairarapa Times Age; Wairarapa Archive

Mark James – fighter for the Union

By David Famularo

For a man with a stressful job, Mark James has an upbeat personality, but also an intensity that comes with his conviction that Unions are good for workers – and employers.

I sat down for a coffee with him late last year to ask what it is like being a Lead Organiser for E Tu Union in the Wairarapa, which I would consider a fairly union-unfriendly region.

While based in Wellington, Mark regularly makes the journey over the Remutakas to connect with delegates in the workplaces in the Wairarapa that have members of E Tu which covers aviation,  communications,  community support, energy and mining,  engineering and infrastructure,  food  manufacturing, public and commercial.

“I grew up in Titahi Bay and still live there. Fortunately, we own  our house which we purchased 22 years ago. Mum lives just down the road from me. My parents split up when I was young and my father lives in Tawa. I went to St Pius Primary School in Titahi Bay. I chose not to follow the Catholic way and around ten or eleven and went to Titahi Bay Intermediate and Mana College.”

Do you think the Catholic focus on social justice has had any influence on you?

“I think it did actually, because it is about being kind to each other, and caring about each other, and understanding that greed is not a good thing – those are taught in Catholic teachings.”

Fifty years old, Mark is a qualified printer by trade.

“As soon as left college with Fifth Form Certificate in those days and a couple of subjects in University Entrance, I aspired to be like my father who was a printer at Government Print in Molesworth Street and went to work there too. I did a comprehensive apprenticeship and then wanted to go on to greener pastures and try other types of printing so worked for Bryce Francis in Marion street and then The Copy Shop, a small shop in central Wellington, then Graphic Print in Porirua which went into receivership.

I changed my lifestyle then and became a postie for 12 years and was a union delegate there for four years for EPMU (which has since been renamed E Tu).  One day an organiser came through and tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would be interested in taking up this sort of job. I said ‘yes, of course’. My father had worked for the PSA so he taught be quite a bit, kept me grounded around working class people. I had already been doing extra mural studies – a diploma in business studies and diploma in industrial relations at the Open Polytechnic. I had found that very hard as I was working all day and studying with a family but it was very gratifying and worthwhile doing. So that gave me the grounding I needed to start working at EPMU. As a postie I could see  it was going to be a very physically demanding job as I got older and wanted to  go on to bigger and brighter things. My every intention at that stage was to be a manager for New Zealand Post but  it was the union that  had recognised my potential. I had a fully unionised workplace. I had managed to get everyone in the union. I impressed [to other workers] the benefits of the union and what we were trying to achieve.

I cover Wellington up to Levin and over to the Wairarapa.  We have a number of organisers based in Wellington that come over to the Wairarapa but I am the principle organiser with E Tu sites in the Wairarapa. I cover approximately 900 members of E Tu. We have around 400 members that I look after in the Wairarapa. I visit sites,  engaging members and non-members, management, advocating for our members for  wage increase via the collective bargaining framework, disputes, disciplinary, ACC issues and holiday pay issues.”

How unionised is the Wairarapa?

“In my view pretty poorly unionised and I think that is reflected in lower wagers that are paid over here.”

Has it ever been a well unionised area?

“I imagine prior to 1991 when unions were compulsory it would have been a very unionised area.”

What are some of the businesses that have fairly strong union membership?

“Well certainly Wairarapa Hospital – cleaners, orderlies, the maintenance guys and all that. Nurses have own union, but they are still very well organised.  Beehive Bacon, JNL, Webstar, Holmes Construction, Renalls Joinery, the Wairarapa Times Age.”

Are the employers will disposed toward you?

“New Zealand is signed up to ILO (International Labour Organisation) and we have the Employment Relations Act which recognises the right to collective bargaining. The Employer Relations Act 2000 promotes collective bargaining and also union membership. It is unlawful to discriminate against someone for being in the union along with sex, race etc.”

Are employers fairly pleasant to deal with?

“This is my own opinion, and it is reflected in the way the rich are getting richer in this country – businesses have a view that we are probably a hindrance to them because we are distributing income that they think they should have. Instead, we argue that the workers that created the  income, should have a fair share of that income.

Generally, larger employers who would have to deal on a daily basis with employees knocking on the door, asking for a pay rise, do like unions because the union comes in and does the bargaining for them. But a lot of smaller employers still see us as an hindrance.

And also smaller businesses don’t have the money to pay for  Human Resource Managers or Contractors and are wary that if you don’t follow process as to disciplinary outcomes or redundancies, there are ramifications. So they feel threatened by us because we hold them to account for their poor decisions. So there is a bit of animosity towards us because of that and they feel threatened by us. But we are only asking that a fair and reasonable process is undertaken when you are trying to deprive someone of their right to earn money. People need to understand that when you are dismissed from your employment you have a 13 week stand down at the WINZ office. You are depriving a work of any income for 13 weeks when you choose to dismiss them.”

Are they are nice to your face?

“I get mixed messages, to be quite honest. They may be accommodating to my face  but say  different things behind my back. And look, I didn’t come into this job to be popular. It is not about that. It is the social justice and rights, and also when you are delivering a good outcome to workers, you are delivering a good outcome for their families as well – that’s the social justice aspect of it.”


“Extremely stressful job.”

So how do you get away from your stress?

“Physical activity after work and obviously I have a very good employer that ensures that  we are trained to de-esculate things, and who  listen to your concerns about stress and workload. But I love mountain biking and physical activities, so that is how I destress myself.”

What are some of the things that have been going on in the Wairarapa?

“Sadly for me it’s the restructuring at Webstar. They have gone through a recent spate of restructuring because of the decline in phone books. They recently lost four staff and another six before that. There are around 100 staff there but there used to be more than that. We have around 85 members there.”

What about Beehive Bacon. What’s happening there?

“We had quite a difficult renewal of the collective employment agreement which went on for about three months of bargaining. There was quite an aggressive approach by the employers trying to a openingly negotiate directly with our union members who then had to resign from the union to get a pay rise so that was undermining the collective employment agreement.  When you have desperate workers who are wanting a pay rise and they can see individuals achieve a pay rise, that does drive that behaviour. Members saw through this through my representations to them and stuck together and we achieved a fantastic outcome – 2-2.5 to 4.16 increase for 12 months. We had a 43 percent increase in one of the allowances and other increases in allowances ranging from 10 percent to 17 percent. An allowance is where staff work at unsociable hours – when you are at work during a night shift when your family is at home and you should be supporting and being with them, but you are not so the accommodation allowance is to compensate for that.

We have 151 members out of around 250 workers. 100 of the workers are contractors from Kiwi Labour and Reed who are contracted to work for Premier Beehive. They have precarious employment which can be finished with one day’s notice. They don’t know from week to week how many  hours they are going to be working, for how many months or anything like that. That is why these sorts of relationships with contracting businesses are quite enticing to employers –  tap on and tap off. The relationship  is severed and there is nothing they have to pay that worker because they are not the employer. There is no redundancy, so all that would have to be paid is outstanding  holiday pay, if any.”

Are union members the ones that have been there a long time?

“No, generally what happens is that good workers who came from Kiwi or Reed are swapped over but it is not a guarantee. You have to prove yourself. This is great for them but not as productive. Morale is down. How can you pay the rent or mortgage when you don’t know how many hours  you have. How do you feed your kids and how do you pay your bills?”

To celebrate the collective agreement Beehive Bacon allowed Mark to organise a barbecue on site for E Tu members.

“It was to show our gratitude for staying together with us and achieving a great result. It could have turned really sour, and the  only people who would have benefited out of that would have been the bosses, because people need to understand that you have no bargaining rights on an individual contract. It’s like it or lump it.  Whereas as a collective we have the ability to say that is not good enough.”

A lot of younger people are not even aware what a union is.

“That is exactly right and this is upsetting for me because unions have done great things and a lot of terms and conditions and some of the long term conditions in the region and country have been negotiated by union members and yet now we have  group  of young people who don’t know what a union is or what their rights are at work.”

You were saying that unionism could be taught at schools.

“I think so. The education sector is very unionised  and there is the opportunity to try to include the school boards by getting on the boards in your kids school and so then talk about covering it in the curriculum. Get voted on and then talk about the benefits of collective bargaining and international labour  organisations and the rights of workers so schools can teach those sorts of things.”

Potentially schools can introduce those sorts of things?

“Yes. We have tried to set up union organiser visits to schools to talk to classes about unions. In Wellington , Kim Ellis, a colleague of mine on a number of occasions has gone to schools and presented  to the class around what a union is, what the benefits of a union are and what our role in society is. You know, we are a public institution. We are here for the greater good of our membership and society in general. It is around trying to ensure workers have a voice at work and they are rewarded well for their labour. That goes back into the community through their families and then everyone benefits.”

We were talking about some of things people may not realise they benefit from by being in a collective. One of those is redundancies.

“Yes, redundancy isn’t legislated in law in New Zealand. It is there in a lot of employment agreements but it is not legislated.”

And sick leave.

“The minimum in this country is five days a year which can accrue up to a maximum of 20 days whereas many of our collectives have better entitlements. When you are quite crook with some of the flus these days, you could be off work for two or three weeks. If you are with the collective you have enough sick days available to you to take that time off and yet when you get back to work you still have some sick leave entitlement.  Sick leave is not only about you, it is about using it for your spouse and your children, and five days a year for any family is a very tall ask. You would find many families would struggle, especially in winter. For example, a partner and two children and you only have five days sick leave a year, which means you are going without pay which puts more stress on your family.

The union collectives outline workers’ rights at work with respect to dispute resolution, parental leave, health and safety, what happens  when a new employer takes over ownership of a business.”

Mark points out that 45 percent of New Zealanders last year didn’t get a pay rise.

“But 98 percent of E Tu collective employment agreements did. That shows you the benefit of collective bargaining – workers standing together in the workplace with a united voice. That figure has been the same since 2008. Almost  half of New Zealanders have not gotten a pay rise each year. And yet the financial sector has had a rebound – the pay of CEOs has up in 10 percent levels but workers have not gotten a pay rise.

We have demonstrated many a time that when employers are  under stress, we are not there to send them to the wall. We ask them to demonstrate that to us to substantiate their financial position. Collectives can do that, individuals cant. If an employer says they are broke and can’t afford a pay rise, then they have to demonstrate to the collective. That is required under the good faith bargaining provisions of the Employment Relations Act. Whereas people on individual contracts are told ‘if you don’t like it, there’s the door. Go and get another job. And why should people have to change jobs to get a pay rise?”

You were also saying how unions can help with ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) claims which is interesting.

“The ACC is making billions of dollars at the moment. That is not for silly no reason. They are denying New Zealanders coverage. If a union member is injured at work the union will represent them to ensure the right decision is made. Often the employer won’t argue the case on behalf of the worker.”

Health & safety is outlined in collective employment agreements

“You are twice as likely to get injured in New Zealand as Australia and three times as likely compared to England. So we need strong health & safety provisions in our collective employment agreements.  But they need to be even more improved and enforced.”

Once the microphone had been switched off, I chatted with Mark some more and he recounted the battle he had with a landlord who had tried to charge him $3000 for supposed damage to the rental accommodation. Mark collected the necessary evidence and went through his old receipts etc to present a case that saw the landlord’s claim thrown out. That seemed to pretty well express the type of person Mark is.

“I’m a fighter. Most people can’t do that and that’s the benefit of having a union representative. People need to understand that your choice is either to stand up and fight – and if you are not in a union it is going to cost you a lot of money – or  just move on. My view is, if my kids are being bullied at school, do I just pull them out of school and take them to a new school?  No, we address the bullying at the school. It is the same as at a work place. If you have been unjustifiably dismissed and unfairly treated at your workplace, the answer is not just to get up and leave, because you are allowing that employer to do that to someone else, and it is just not fair, we need to be able to stand up for our rights.”

Mark also believes unions are good for employers too.

“People who feel respected, will treat you with respect, and reward you with their labour. But when you are not respected, when you are treated unfairly, you have a demoralised workplace that isn’t productive. It’s a lose/lose situation, and that is what employers need to start to understand,  stop seeing people as just a number and that profit will actually grow. You may have to pay them a little bit more but it will grow and grow because people will feel valued.”

Extracting pleasure and profit out of a bitter fruit

By David Famularo

Olive oil expert Pablo Voitzuk was in the Wairarapa this July 2017 to help with this year’s harvest. He took time out from a busy day at The Olive Press to share some of his knowledge and love of olive oil.

One doesn’t expect an interview with one of the world’s experts in olive oil to detour into the subject of the tango – unless you know they grew up in Buenos Aires and you like tango. But it’s still a surprise to discover Pablo Voitzuk was once part owner of an award winning record label with tango influences.

But the two are not so far apart, Pablo argues, along with his other vocation as an elementary school teacher – all require a certain meticulousness and sharing of knowledge.

Despite his Latin American origins, olives and olive oil were foreign to Pablo until he acquired a taste when hanging with Italian friends in New York. However, he points out that “unless you are very lucky, no one is born knowing olive oil.”

Recession in the Argentinian economy and the arrival of digital downloads forced Pablo to look at other options and by the early 2000s he was living at the foothills of the Sierras in northern California, and working for Apollo Olive Oil, one of the leading organic oil producers in the United States.

“I initially helped with the sales. They decided to improve their facilities and bought a new prototype for extracting oils, devised by Dr Marco Mugelli, a great innovator in Tuscany. He came to California and said I should become a taster so I  went to study with him.

“When he died I felt my education was not complete so connected up with some of his collaborators and studied with another expert, Pierpaolo Arca, in Sardinia.”

At this point Pablo mentions one of many surprising facts about olive oil. While olives have been harvested for thousands of years, improvements in the quality of olive oil have only  been recent and are still developing, “even in the older olive oil culture of Italy.”

Which is where The Olive Press comes into the picture. Established 17 years ago and now located at the south entrance to Greytown, The Olive Press presses almost all of the Wairarapa’s olive harvest.

Here for a three week visit, The Olive Press Managing Director Bruce McCallum says as far as he knows Pablo is the first overseas professional to come to these shores.

“The olive oil we produce is already of a very high quality. Pablo will lift the bar even higher, and has already introduced new practices. He is imparting his knowledge to our team and also having one-on-one time with the growers so they have a better understanding of what they can do before the fruit arrives here for pressing to improve the quality of their oil.”

Ask any grower if there is a lot of money olive oil and will likely give an ironic laugh. But Pablo points out Wairarapa growers are not unique in this department.

“It is heart-warming to see all these growers so dedicated and passionate about olive oil even when, as in most countries around the world, they are working against the odds. It is very hard to make it viable commercially, even in Italy.”

Pablo is well-versed in the commercial challenges facing olive oil producers here and around the world. In San Francisco he helps chefs and retailers find the olive oils that best serve their customers’ needs for Pacific Sun Farms.

“It’s a very short supply chain that is a way to favour quality and authenticity, which are essential for farm-to-table restaurants.”

Pablo is an optimist, believing in time more people will discover the value of this “super food.”

“Olive oil is under appreciated. People are better educated and have more of an appreciation for wine so they are prepared to pay more for it. Wine is a couple of generations ahead of us. Millions of people go to supermarket and know a good wine from a bad one.

“How many go to supermarket and know which is the better olive oil – just a few. When we collectively understand what an exciting superfood olive oil is, there will be more than enough demand.”

Which is where Pablo comes out with another of his interesting facts about olive oil.

“Olive oil is rich in anti-oxidants that can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, arthritis, diabetes and other illnesses. Most importantly, its anti-oxidants are fat soluble, not water soluble.

“This means it has a natural fat shield that protects the anti-oxidants as they pass through the gastric juices of the digestive apparatus, reaching the lower intestine where they are absorbed into the blood stream and eventually offer protection to the cells from free-radicals.

“When used for cooking or drizzled over food, olive oil enhances the anti-oxidants in other foods as well, by protecting them and therefore, making them more available for us.”

Which is where he drops another interesting fact.

Unlike wine, olive oil is best fresh. “Even the best olive oil goes off. You should always buy the freshest olive oil from one season to the next.”

Extra virgin olive oil is the best to buy as it is defect free – defects not only affect the taste but also the nutritional value. Beyond that, olive oil will vary from one producer and another, one cultivar to another, and one season to another.

This season has been a challenging one for the Wairarapa’s growers due to the unsettled weather with bouts of wet and dry, but Pablo suspects it will produce a pleasantly mellow oil.

Pablo is a member of the California Olive Oil Council tasting panel and a judge at international olive oil competitions in the United States, Italy, and Japan.

Bruce is hoping his presence will have a flow on effect not only to growers but also the general public who can taste a variety of oils in the shop at The Olive Press at 14 Arbor Place, off Bidwills Cutting Road.

“You have good olive oils in the Wairarapa which is quite an achievement, and the growers are doing their best. Don’t take it for granted – take advantage of it. By buying from these growers you are supporting the local economy and that leads to multiple positive consequences.”

And one final surprising fact from one of the best tasters in the world – bitterness is a positive quality – “this is the juice of a bitter fruit.”


RiverWatch on the lookout for funding

A new water monitoring invention developed in the Wairarapa promises huge savings to farmers and a billion dollar industry for the region – so what’s holding it up?

Hinakura farmer and environmentalist Grant Muir is founder of Water Action Initiative NZ (WAI NZ). In conjunction with Victoria University, Grant has developed RiverWatch, a water monitoring devise that is ground-breaking in both its capabilities and low production costs.

Designed for New Zealand conditions, it is left in the river to collect data every 15 minutes 24/7 including temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH level, turbidity, conductivity, with E. coli water-soluble nitrates and phosphates currently under development.

Solar panels mean it can be left for weeks in the water, and WiFi sends the GPS tagged data straight to a smartphone app, computer, or website, enabling immediate action as well as long term management.

The price tag when in full production will be around $2000 per unit whereas current water monitoring technology sells for $25,000 or more.

Grant believes farmers should not view RiverWatch as a threat but a tool that in future will save them many thousands of dollars.

He predicts that the cost of water monitoring is going to inevitably fall on farmers.

“You just have to follow the dots. Central government is putting all water measurements and controls on to regional councils who are not resourced, don’t have the money and don’t have the people or equipment. Very soon they will be charging for some form of water testing. Because of RiverWatch’s price and capabilities, it is suddenly within the realm of farmers to do their own water testing.”

He also says without very high levels of testing and data farmers could be wasting their money on improvements that don’t actually have any effect.

“Farmers want to make a change and manage their farms in an environmentally sustainable manner but without sound scientific data to base farm management investment on – which will cost thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars – it is inconceivable to expect farmers to pay for improvements that may or may not improve water quality.”

Only eight to 15 percent of New Zealand’s 450,000 kilometres of rivers, lakes and streams are tested for water quality. This is because current testing practise is expensive and time consuming.

“Testing for water soluble nitrates is very difficult and very expensive and you are not going to remedy this if regional councils can’t do the job properly.

“You have to have water monitors in the water 24/7 because the water changes dramatically over short periods of time from night to day – so you are not getting the picture unless you test the water every 15 minutes 24/7. This gives you a whole lot of information you haven’t otherwise got.”

Farmers must have robust and sound water quality data before they invest in improving water quality, Grant says.

“They must be able to monitor and audit their own on-farm water quality easily and affordably to fully engage in water restoration. Relying on regional councils and NIWA to do this will only increase on-farm costs and not produce the data sets required for farm management.

“RiverWatch can do its own monitoring so it doesn’t take up farmers’ time, and the beauty of this is that it networks with other monitors, all feeding into the same portal or a regional council website.

“Farmers will be able to use historical data to make wise management decisions on their farm to reduce nitrogen. That’s impossible without data.

“They won’t be wasting time spending money they don’t have to, and they will be spending money where it makes a difference.

“It also means people living in towns and cities will have to lift their game. When they wash their cars or pour their paint down the drain we will be able tack it and pin point the discharge.

“We can easily stake out the entire Ruamahanga River and be able to determine what level of impact agriculture is having compared to the towns for example.”

New Zealand is not the only country with these sorts of water issue, Grant points out.

“Nitrate is a problem all around the world where there is intensive agriculture. Worldwide market research shows the global potential for RiverWatch is $4.65 billion annually by 2025.”

In the immediate future, WAI NZ needs enough funding for final prototype testing and setting up a manufacturing plant in Masterton, selling RiverWatch throughout New Zealand.

“The speed to market is all about money. We could have the project going all over New Zealand by November for $500,000.”

WAI NZ has approached Fonterra, DairyNZ and Federated Farmers, none of whom have indicated they are prepared to support the project financially, Grant says. Beef & Lamb New Zealand has expressed some interest.

In the meantime WAI NZ has set up a “PledgeMe” page to raise funds –

The first $50,000 will be spent on final prototype testing using farmers, iwi, citizen scientists, community groups and regional councils throughout New Zealand.

The next step is pre-production which will cost $100,000 and the final milestone is full-production for $200,000 plus.


Karl du Fresne – A Road Tour of American Song Titles

Anzac Hall, Featherston, September 2016

Reviewed by David Famularo

Having stopped to talk to Karl Du Fresne on a Masterton street one Friday afternoon in the past, I was aware that he was a fan of country music, and also that he was writing a book about his journey to the United States to visit places made famous in song.

Du Fresne begins the talk by reeling off a longish list, but in fact just a few of the seemingly endless list of songs that have a place mentioned in a song’s title or lyrics.  A state like Alabama could have had a book by itself, he pointed out.

The fact that du Fresne could have chosen so many more is a testament to Americans’ attachment to town, cities and landscapes, real or imagined.

As Du Fresne points out, “American music is very rich in referencing place.”

While the talk inevitably charts some of the same waters as the book, du Fresne’s adlib insights are some of the little gems on a rainy Sunday afternoon in the atmospheric Anzac Hall.

His final list of 24 songs were chosen because they were the ones that most resonated with du Fresne when he was growing up in Waipukura in Hawkes Bay from the late 1950s to early 1970s.

The aim of the book, du Fresne said at the outset was “to explore the imagined places of my youth…… they made an impression on me when I was at my most impressionable – emotions are so vivid in your teenage years, so all the songs have strong associations for me.”

Du Fresne seems to have been under no illusion at the outset of his journey that he would find exactly what he imagined.

As he points out, the San Jose that was a sleepy little pastoral town Hal David remembered from his youth and dreamed of escaping to in the lyrics of “Do You Know The Way to San Jose” now has a ten lane motorway running through it.

Some places like Bobby Gentry’s Tallahachie bridge exist, but not the town, while  other instances, the places do exist but the writer had never been to them, choosing their name for purposes of alliteration or rhyme. Marty Robbins say “Rosie’s Cantina from his tour bus and grabbed it for El Paso.

However, when du Fresne stood looking over the sea wall to the ocean at Galveston he felt it was a place Jimmy Webb must have visited.

Whatever the potential for disappointment, du Fresne was interested in “going to see some of these places – to learn more about them and what inspired the author to write a song about them.”

The question that naturally arised during the talk was why, of all the countries in the world, the United States has had such a propensity for featuring place names in songs, going back as far back as Home of the Range, Oh Suzanna and other nineteenth century standards.

Du Fresne grew up in a musical household and was serious about his music, playing bass guitar and singing in bands in many of Wellington’s most famous venues of the 1960s from the Majestic Cabaret to the 1860 Hotel.

But he recognised early on that he was never going to be good enough to make a precarious living out it, and instead became a journalist and eventually editor of The Dominion in the late 1980s.

Now a semi-retired freelance writer, du Fresne and wife Jolanta took three road trips through the United States, visiting children and grandchildren as an additional incentive.

The first journey was travelled in a RV (motorhome) “that performed flawlessly when it was stationary” but ranged from the difficult to the dangerous on all other occasions.

For the other two trips, the couple instead hired a car and stayed in the Motel 6 and Super 8 motel chains, low budget but pleasant.

Du Fresne argued in the talk that while great songs have been born in other parts of the United States, the two great centres of American music have been New York, home to large Jewish and Italian communities, and the musical artery that travels north from New Orleans to Memphis and then Nashville – birthplace of jazz, blues, soul and country.

“America is intensely musical but this is where the musical pulse beats most strongly.” Du Fresne also noted that the great American music has always come out of poor communities.

A number of times during the talk du Fresne highlighted the significance of the road to America.

“The road is such a crucial part of American culture – the American mythology of the road – the restless westward push. America has developed a culture that romanticises and almost fetishicises the road.”

Du Fresne read three extracts which gave a taste of the book – a mixture of history, observation and personal experience. His delivery style reminded me somewhat of Australian journalist and satirist Clive James.

One can’t help but feel that time and progress have evaporated whatever charms once existed in many of places cited in song.

But a few have managed to keep their charm, like Mendocino on the northern Californian coast, which impressed du Fresne.

The author also has a fondness for Nashville,  still a comparatively small city of 650,000 that still seems to have a thriving live music culture going on.

Which brings me back to the subject of country music. It is unclear if the strong country flavour of the 24 songs du Fresne chose  is  a reflection of his musical tastes, or suggests country music has had a particularly strong propensity for referencing locations in its lyrics. This may be due to country music’s strong emphasis on story telling, which is inevitably located in place and time.

 There is no definitive answer to this or any of the other questions raised by A Road Tour, but like so much else about music it makes for interesting speculation.

Dave Murphy – blues mojo still working

The Tin Hut, Featherston September 2016

Reviewed by David Famularo

I’ve known Dave Murphy since his family lived in Masterton in the mid-1970s. He had just returned to New Zealand from a sorjourn at Nimbin in northern New South Wales, famous for its alternative lifestyle.

Dave was very much a hippy then but a few years later he was well and truly immersed in the Blues, working for a Masterton market gardening Chinese family at the same time as finishing of an horticultural degree, if I remember correctly.

By the mid-1980s he was already a technically accomplished blues musician. I remember him playing upstairs at the Oak Arcade in lower Cuba Street, one of those trendy new  arcades that replaced the beautiful old buildings in Wellington that were deemed an earthquake risk, part of a destructive frenzy  sparked by the introduction of “Rogernomics”, New Zealand’s version of Monetarism, by the new Labour government.

Dave disappeared off the Wellington music scene after a car crash, the catalyst for a deep depression that saw him give up all music for a significant number of years.

Dave’s journey back to music and his first CD is captured in the film “Yes, That’s Me: Dave Murphy Plays The Blues”. Very much in the classic blues fashion, Dave was rediscovered and appreciated more than ever.

It would be impossible to suppose that such a story lies behind his music, such was the  assured performance Dave gave at The Tin Hut – except perhaps in a small number of spirituals he performs on the night that hint at an inner transformation.

I’m not a huge fan of the song Amazing Grace, I have to say, but Dave’s performance had the conviction of a true believer. He chose to play a much more up tempo version than I’ve heard before which worked to excellent effect.

It is literally decades since I last listened to Dave play live, in the intimate setting of his family’s home. After all those years,  the foundation of his music remains the same finger picking style of the early blues twentieth century musicians he admired then.

There is always the danger that homage can turn into impersonation but Dave has avoided becoming a slave to his heroes, and has instead become a unique performer in his own right.

There has been a noticeable broadening of his repertoire, with the inclusion of some of his own songs that in no way pale in comparison to the standards that fill most of his set.

Dave is a superb guitarist and it is this musicianship that his performance  is founded on, but his singing as well is  stronger than ever.

I suspect the character of his music will continue mature with the years, in the tradition of all good blues singers.

A testament to his performance was how much the musical energy lifted to another level in the space of just his first song, with Dave holding my attention to the very end of a set that started a bit later than it needed to.

Dave has never lost his modesty. His engagement with his audience was as  unpretentious  as ever. It included the story of how he and his dobro were reunited years after it had been stolen. Dave discovered it being played by a friend who had bought it on Trade Me.

Dave pointed out how beautifully the 30 year old dobro had mellowed with age and sounds better than ever. The same could be said of Dave Murphy.

Riki Gooch (0-0) and Campbell Kneale (Birchville Cat Motel)

Reviewed by David Famularo

Wits End, at the southern entrance to Featherston, is better known for its new age products than live music. But this has changed with a partnership between Victoria Brown and musician and artist Campbell Kneale.

Given the unique character of the venue, a brief description is deserved, this being a space about the size of a small living room which makes for limited ticket sales, a homelike environment, and complete focus on the music and musician only an arms-reach away.

I had already listened to recordings of Birchville Cat Motel, the name Kneale usually performs under, but this turned out to be a shadow of the impact his music has when performed live.

Kneale started off by moving into a prayful state, breathing into a microphone to create a sound akin to Tibetan throat singing.

Through a combination of  cheap electronics, percussive instruments and malfunctioning appliances, Kneale then began to gradually alter the texture of the music which evolved into a crescendo of sound and energy, but  never lost its subtlety, or became overpowering.

Anyone who has ever lost themselves totally in music will understand the essence of Kneale’s performance, the difference being that Kneale has trained himself to enter that state of mind in front of a live audience, a feat of courage and skill not to be underestimated.

As the music continued to evolve, Kneale slowly distilled the river of sound back into a human voice but not his, a neat and tidy way of coming back into the conscious realm.

Where Kneale’s music had an almost industrial edge to it, Gooch, best known as a member of Trinity Roots but performing solo under the title “0-0”, was more reminiscent of your French Impressionists like Debussy and Satie, with a delicate and richly melodic composition.

While sitting comfortably under the label of “minimalist electronica”, Gooch’s music was both a classical and jazz inspired – the arrangements were orchestral while the performance was improvised in the spirit of jazz.

While Gooch primarily used electronic instrumentation, he included live percussion to enrich the sound and add extra elements of spontaneity.

The overall impression of the night was that while electronica is mostly critically overlooked, in the hands of musicians like Kneale and Gooch it expresses the present cultural moment better than any other musical genre.

Wairarapa Bush versus East Coast

October 2016

Reviewed by David Famularo

I have to admit a certain level of excitement was building as the recently erected flood lights beckoned me from the grey overcast sky as I drove towards Trust House Memorial Park.

There was a lot riding on this game, at least for Wairarapa Bush  who were playing lowest placed East Coast.

Win the match and they would be in the semi-finals of the Mead Cup which goes to the top team in the Heartland competition – the second tier of provincial rugby, the first being the inspirationally named Mitre 10 Cup.

Lose the match and Wairarapa Bush would be left battling it out for the  Lochore Cup which goes to the top team in the lower half of the Heartland competition.

Plus it was the weekend of the reunion of players, coaches and administrators who were part of  Wairarapa Bush’s last great era of rugby, when the union climbed out of the Second Division to the First Division in 1981 and hung in there till the end of 1987.

That era’s best year was 1985 when Wairarapa Bush achieved fourth place, beating all the major unions except Auckland.

I arrive about 15 minutes before kick-off at 6pm, expecting tickets to be around the $15 to $20 mark but am surprised to find they are just $5 and that includes seats in the grandstand which is good as it is uncertain if the rain that has been around earlier in the day is going to reappear (it doesn’t).

Contemporary R&B pumps from the speakers on the sideline, the teams are warming up on the field, and members of the 1980s teams are mooching about on the recently installed artificial turf.

I easily find a seat dead centre in the grandstand which eventually nearly fills up – a big crowd by normal standards.

Looking around, this is not a typical cross section of your general public, which suggests local rugby does  not get the broad public support it did back 30 years ago.

A group of somewhat cool twenty-somethings sit in front of me, an anomaly in the crowd.

The two teams retreat under the grandstand to emerge about 10 minutes later, the Wairarapa Bush team lead by winger Cameron Hayton who is playing his 50th game for the union, with a guard of honour from the 1980s player, although it seems it should be the other way round as it is the eighties players who are being celebrated this year.

East Coast starts things rolling with a rousing haka. Sometimes during the match this ferocity spills over into a couple of questionable cases of playing the man and not the ball, and a few flare ups between the teams.

All the early pressure is coming from East Coast and as one bench expert a few feet away from me says “You don’t really want to be camped in the corner by your own try line against the lowest team in the competition.”

But against the general run of play the first try comes from Hayton with support from former All Black Zac Guildford.

East Coast reply with their own try about eight minutes later, with Hayton striking again a few minutes later.

It starts to become apparent that while East Coast is playing a fine all round game, Wairarapa Bush just has those couple of backs who can break through at any moment, and this becomes the general story of the game.

At times the Wairarapa Bush scrum and lineout is dominant, and the next moment East Coast is rolling the scrum and stealing the line outs.

Still, Wairarapa Bush looks like a team with potential if it can improve its tactical nous, do the basics like taking down players with the first tackle and getting to the breakdowns quickly.

Wairarapa Bush is only metres from the East Coast try line and with the scrum put in when the half time whistle blows, the home side enjoying a flattering 22-8 lead, but there no sense that the game is in the bag.

The Bee Gees blast from the sideline near where BJ Lochore loiters, All Black captain, coach of Wairarapa Bush in 1981 and 1982, and coach of the 1987 World Cup winning All Black team.

The break over, Wairarapa Bush is on the attack only for East Coast to score a try to bring the score to 14-22.

A few more complaints about the ref’s decisions from the nearby experts  – “He’s a socialist ref – he wants everything to be easy,” then Wairarapa Bush number 10 Sam Monaghan scores the try of the match, breaking a series of tackles for a good long run to under the goal posts.

Hayton arrives at the same destination a few minutes later with his third try, followed a few minutes later by a heavy tackle on a Wairarapa Bush play that sends auditory shock waves right into the grandstand. No one dies though. In fact, it is an almost injury free game.

East Coast is back for another try, and then it is Wairarapa Bush’s turn with a rolling maul to push captain Eddie Cranston over the line.

The conversion attempt from a somewhat challenging angle ricochets off the post but for some reason the ref calls for it to be taken again.

With the game safely in Wairarapa Bush’s hands, this time the ball is  handed over to Hayton in honour of his half century of  games with the ensuing half-hearted kick travelling well east of the goal posts.

The game is over, and all the locals are happy.

It’s a great 80 minutes entertainment for the price of $5. The atmosphere is relaxed and good spirited, and you don’t have to be an avid rugby follower to enjoy the game.

In fact, it offers a refreshing alternative to the excessive hype of Super 18 rugby for people who simply enjoy a good sporting match.



Tour de Science – a science story-telling show

By David Famularo

Thought you might be interested in this” said the note from a friend on a Tour De Science postcard she had posted to me. That wasn’t the only old fashioned thing about the show which featured David  Klein and his “Big Dummy” cargo bike on which he had been cycling around New Zealand, performing in 60 locations over summer.

Now his early thirties, Klein had gone through a stage familiar to many New Zealanders when in his twenties – what am I supposed to be doing with my career/life? A science nerd from an early age, it seemed inevitable Klein would become a scientist.

But he dropped out of university after 18 months and started packing boxes in a factory. Klein isn’t the first academically oriented person to have done this, Arthur Miller, for instance, worked in Brooklyn Navy Yard while writing his early plays.

Klein soon realised basic labouring work was not his future either and returned to university. Receiving his graduation certificate through the post (due to the cancellation of a graduation ceremony because of the Christchurch earthquakes) only brought up the same ennui as before.

Klein loved learning but didn’t love boxes – either packing them or being in one. For the past six months, perhaps temporarily, he has stepped out of a box with Tour de Science, a one man, one hour show in which Klein attempts to share the awe he feels for life and the universe through science.

Can a man and a bike performing for a live audience achieve anything that the Internet can’t? The answer to that is no and yes.

Nothing Klein explains to his audience is not available online but I came away with a better grasp of evolution and DNA than before. Although it wasn’t a part of his talk, I also had a glimpse of an understanding of the theory of relativity.

When Klein was talking about the distance between the earth and other objects to give some sense of the enormity of our universe, he was talking about it in terms of the number of years it takes for light to travel that distance (light years), using a measurement of time that only makes sense when you live on the planet Earth and which would make no sense in another part of the universe – hence the relativity (well, my skewed version of it anyway)

I had a friend drop by this morning who said how he had found a book he had gotten out of the library was too dense to read. I said this was possibly the fault of the author packing too many ideas into every sentence, paragraph and chapter.

Most people can only grasp a small number of big ideas at one time – well that’s the case for me. And here in lies the brilliance of Tour De Science. It doesn’t overload the audience with information, and it explains ideas in a simple logical flow, with amusing props to underline concepts.

Klein also understands that knowledge is a form of sharing, storytelling and entertainment. When he wore a large silver disc of the moon, Klein reminded me of Flavor Flav, hype man for rap group Public Enemy wearing a giant clock while on stage.

A “hype man” contributes to a performance of a band by using themselves as a prop, much like Klein used his body and his life story to encourage a love of learning.

Geoff Walker – side by side with Uganda

By David Famularo

Sitting down to some chips and pizza in a Masterton cafe with Geoff Walker, he hands me a stapled five sheets of A4 paper headlined “SidebySideUganda – Projects: A 4 year vision”. It’s an intriguing list of 16 projects over the next four years. It’s an eclectic mix that includes four containers of educational, humanitarian and farming goods over four years, 7000 Wairarapa school students supporting the education of children at Awere Primary School in Ludok Village, recording the experiences of refugees, and a business making reusable sanitary pads.

Geoff is the first to admit he’s not your conventional aid worker, but he has managed to whip up a lot of support for his projects already, and just as importantly, he has built connections between residents of the Wairarapa and around the village of Ludok in Uganda where Geoff has made his home away from home.

This incredible journey began in 2012. A friend from Denmark had made a number of trips to Uganda to deliver containers of donated goods. “She had travelled to Uganda a few times and had always said ‘Come and take some photos.’ You always go ‘yeah yeah, I will do that some time.’ Then in 2012 she was going again and maybe this would be her last visit. She said ‘You should come’ and I thought ‘what a good idea’ – getting away from here. 2012 was an interesting time.” Geoff is referring to the Carterton balloon disaster he had witnessed first-hand just 10 months earlier, photographing the passengers before the flight, as he always did.

“I went there [Uganda] for about three weeks, got introduced to different people and ended up in this area in the north so then I went back in 2013. I thought ‘what a nice place, the people are great.’ I felt compelled. Here’s my friend doing something, these people have been hard done by, we are one world, we are one family. They have a strong connection to us because of the Commonwealth and we’ve done nothing. Because of the Commonwealth connections there are a lot of things that make doing things a little easier, they even drive on the left hand side of the road like us, stuff like that which makes engagement a little easier. So that’s how it started off!”

young geoff walker

It was all a new experience for Geoff. “I’d never done anything like this before. I was in the Lions Club and that’s about serving your community. There’s a picture of me in the Wairarapa Times Age, I must have been about nine or ten, outside our house in Cole Street, in presenting a bag of money to the IHC director because I had raised money by having a cake stall and stuff like that outside our house.”

At this point Geoff breaks into a hearty laughter, much as he does throughout the interview. “Where it comes from, David, I’m sure, is people have been really kind to me, people have been really, really kind to me. I’ve had an interesting life, that’s for sure.”

Along with an altruistic streak, Geoff has always been a creative free spirit. “I’ve always been creative. I’ve been into photography for a long time, a long, long time, even at school (Wairarapa College). I met Doctor Roger Freeth one time who said ‘You don’t know how far you can go until you have gone too far.” Geoff follows up that comment with another hearty laugh.

“I’ve meet lots of interesting people in my life. I had the only the third digital photo printing machine in the world in my shop in Auckland. It cost $300,000 which was a lot of money. I had a photo shop in Remuera, one in downtown Auckland before that. Things had gone to crap. Things had gone not very well for all sorts of reasons so I came back to the Wairarapa [in 2001]. “In 2000 I stopped drinking, that’s a good thing, and I even I’ve stopped smoking.”

Geoff is not averse to taking detours along the path of the interview and at this point takes the opportunity to slam the influence of alcohol on society. “Alcohol is an avoidance of reality and that’s why governments like it. It’s easy to control people. Look at the Aborigines, look at what’s happened to them. Same thing’s happening in Africa. They have got a horrific drinking problem. That includes Uganda. “It’s soul destroying. Drinking is soul destroying. that is what had happened to me, it was destroying my soul. Now it’s not (laughs) and that’s great.”

As can be seen from the preceding comments, Geoff is not impressed with some of the changes Western culture has had on Uganda. “It’s getting worse and worse, Westernization is destroying the culture. What do Westerners do – go and conquer places and look what we are doing – we are destroying the world. It’s not working, what we are doing is not working.”

“I feel quite pleased that when I decided to go the first time, I thought long and hard about it,” Geoff reflects .“I looked up about Uganda because like you I didn’t know much about it. It had been kept pretty low key. Religion has been through there like a dose of salts as well, so they are confused by that. What does religion to tell? – that you are bad and you are going to go to hell. Guess what, bad is a judgement and religion says don’t judge. It’s taken away their way which worked very well. Bits of their culture are still there but it’s being eroded away, and that’s sad. Look at here, we are trying to get our culture back.”

At this point Geoff takes a sudden 45 degree turn at that last thought. ”How cool is this – at the signing [of the Treaty of Waitangi settlement between Wairarapa Maori iwi Rangitane and the Government in Wellington] they have got me as their photographer. What an honour, how humbling, what a wonderful honour.”

Anyone familiar with Geoff on Facebook will know that he loves taking and posting photos of his everyday life. “People appreciate what I am doing because I am living in the village, I am there as a participant, not as an observer. “I’m sharing their life, I live like they do. I live in a hut, I eat their food. We don’t have power.”

geoff walker home

What’s in  your hut? “Oh yeah, a mattress. We are fenced off, they connect and we are continually building more fences around ourselves and we wonder why we have problems. We are not connected any more. “Guess what? We are like molecules, the Earth is such a small dot within the context of the solar system, the galaxy etc, we are nothing, and yet we are everything at the same time.”

“But look at our society, we build more and more fences and we have more and more rules, they’re stupid rules. You can’t protect people from themselves and life still happen, accidents still happen. “In the context of the village they work with nature, not try and force nature – that’s what we need to learn from them.”

I have to confess that I quite like my fences but I appreciate what Geoff is achieving in building bridges between the two communities. I ask him what he has to say to people might ask why they should give money for his projects when there are other established aid agencies they can donate to. “Because there’s value in connecting people with people, you know? Making it a personal thing. It’s taking away the fence between us, its opening up that channel again, and I think there is a lot we can learn from each other, that’s really the key. Aid agencies do great jobs. I’m not putting them down, but those [personal] connections are what we are missing in the world.”

Geoff has been organising a more formal structure for his projects. By the time you read this, a Charitable Trust called the Sidebyside Foundation will have been established. “From my own point of view, because it’s gone big, it needs that structure,” Geoff says. “It just means it is moving to another level –I’m really proud of that. It’s not about me, it’s about doing the good stuff and that’s a wonderful thing.”

As highlighted earlier, there are certainly an interesting variety of projects on the go, other’s being LEAP – Lions clubs supporting the empowerment of Albinos in northern Uganda and Coffee Kids – ten children supported from cafes in the Wairarapa. It was interesting to hear an interview on Nights With Bryan Crump on Radio New Zealand where he interviewed the founder of an aid project that simply donates cash to those who need it, with the faith that they know best what to use the money on and will spend it wisely. A similar sort of philosophy informs Geoff’s projects. “Instead of us saying they should do this and that, just let them do what they need. Actually, we can learn a lot from them. We’ve got a lot to learn.”

On the other hand, Geoff has been grateful for the huge support he has received from Wairarapa residents. “I just talk to people, people are enthusiastic. The Wairarapa has great people.” He cites Farmers4Farmers where Wairarapa farmers and others will support a programme of $15,000 over four years to revitalise and develop the farming capacity of Ludok, the village he lives in, assisting in its recovery from the civil war in northern Uganda from 1996 to 2006 between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and government of President Yoweri.

“Most of the projects are designed as a four year thing, to get people going again thing. Then we will see what happens. They have had enough aid and dependence on aid for too long. “All the projects have the aim of being self-sufficient. We surveyed 128 kids and their families around the village last year. The average family income is around US$200 a year. It’s all subsistence. I was  aiming for grass roots [assistance]. It started with wanting to support the kids and the farming was their idea. I said ‘What do you really need a hand with and what could really make a difference’ and they said ‘Help us to get our farming going again, and educating the kids.’ So that is what they wanted and everything else has flowed from that. Because they lost all that stuff in that war and it still hasn’t been returned. There is a whole range of projects but they are all interlinked. It’s just connecting the dots.”

boy with chicken

Geoff remembers a former boss saying he could sell anything, even sanitary pads, which fate has proved true. Lions and Lioness clubs are supporting the development and implementation of a programme for the manufacture and supply of reusable sanitary pads as a small business, along with tailoring, enabling female students and others to lead full lives free from the constraints menstruation can cause, saving money and creating a small business. “I knew that was a something that was needed and it was something simple.”

There are also plans for a “Heather Burgess Nursery School” comprising three rooms and named after a Featherston woman. “Just ten days prior to her passing, Heather asked me to visit her. She’s always followed me and chipped in $20 bucks here and there – someone with a heart. When I came back ‘I thought must go and see her.’ I hadn’t picked up how sick she was. A few weeks ago I get a message on Facebook. ‘Look Geoff, come and see me before I die. I want to give you some money.’ We had a chat and then she got tired as you would expect and then she gave me some money because she knows I don’t have any money. It was very touching and humbling.”

Geoff is open about how he has managed to come so far without having a full-time job. “I’m trying to support myself by selling my photos. I get asked ‘How do you support yourself?’ A friend of mine drank himself to death a few years ago. He was a smart money person. He gave half of his estate to ten of his friends. It was nearly up to six figures I got, so that has enabled me to do this. And his brother goes, ‘This is so cool. He would be delighted by what I’m doing’ – that’s true. What a nice thing! “That enabled me to do it, buy the tools I needed. I haven’t gone on a cruise or something self-indulgent. It’s good that people know that because they go ‘Gulp, how are you surviving?’ Well that’s how I survive. I’ve got nothing to hide.”

Geoff is equally open about his experience of a night of imprisonment which made the news back in New Zealand. “The funny thing was, I was arrested partly because I had this t shirt on which is from the Bayimba Arts Festival.” He pulls out a yellow T-shirt which he had been given when he ran a photography workshop at the festival last year. Geoff and his driver were taking an albino boy to have his eyes tested at a low vision centre. But it turned out that that day the main opposition party – whose colour is blue – was holding a rally in the same town (NB the government colour is blue).

“I was by the army barracks just by chance taking pictures of the nearby mountain. We had gone past the spot where it was good to take a photo. I thought this is  hopeless because there are all these slummy looking buildings in front of me. Anyway, I had just jumped back on the bike and all these guys came running out saying ‘What are you doing, these are army barracks blah blah blah. I said ‘Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t know and I was not taking pictures of the buildings, I was taking pictures of the mountain behind.”

“They believed me but said ‘We will have to get the intelligence officer to come and make sure it’s okay.’ The intelligence officer eventually came and he was okay. But while we were waiting for him to come, the girl from the village rang to see how the day had gone. When she found out where we were she panicked and rang a friend who rang the presidential offices in the State House. The man in the State House rang his boss and he ran the police. The army guy is talking to me and then the phone rings. He goes away and then comes back and says ‘I was just going to let you go’ – it had all been friendly – he says ‘That was the police in State House and they are sending someone out from the town to collect you.’ Because they need to take statements. Everyone is trying to look good, because you are a foreigner as well.”

“Then the police come and they were nice too. But it is maybe 9pm at night. They have got to do everything by the book because the orders have come from State House, so everything had to be done properly. I was questioned and so was the nurse who was helping the albino boy. They just wanted to make sure everything was covered so State House didn’t come back with more questions. So that was that. In some ways it was funny. So I had to stay in the cells. I got out the next day about lunch time.”

I ask Geoff if he is worried about being viewed with suspicion by the government, especially given his outspoken views. “I do. They know what you are doing and keep an eye on you – Yeah, I get warned.” So how have you managed to walk that tightrope so far? “The people are just nice. They are ordinary people. Even the police and military, they’ve all been good. But they keep an eye on me, I know that. But I don’t try and stay out of the political side of it “I’ve been warned about making comments on Facebook, because they monitor it all.”


One of Geoff’s most endearing projects is LEAP – supporting the empowerment of Albino’s in Norther Uganda. “They need special things like sunscreen, eyeglasses,, reading aids and even long sleeved clothes, and if we can provide them with education as well – they are less likely to get an education. But we can do that, that helps the families as well, you know? Do you think people seeing others helping albinos helps change people’s perception of them? Of course it does. I know it does because the first boy we’ve been supporting for a year and a half with our lion groups, I’ve been to his school twice. They are doing a great job, making everyone aware he is just normal, instead of being hidden away. We still do that with disabilities here. People who are different get pushed away.”

As a “mzungu” or European, how is Geoff viewed by the locals, I ask. “They are looked up at, looked down at, all of those things depending on the person who is doing the looking “Most people are great. They understand that you are there to help out and are just a human being.”

We end the interview with a brief discussion on the temperature and geography of Uganda, as you do. “They have the perfect climate, 28 degrees all day. The whole country is about a 1000 metres above sea level. It goes up to about 35 degrees and comes down to about 20, and at night time it’s probably about 18. There is plenty of vegetation. It’s tropical. Up north it gets a bit dry.”

I inquire as to whether the country has a litter problem as in common in many developing countries. “They have a litter problem. Because you see, it’s all non-biodegradable stuff which comes from Western culture, everything they have decomposes except the Western stuff – that’s a problem.”

Does Geoff have any advice for others interested in pursuing a similar path? “Yeah, follow your nose. Listen to your heart and intuition, not your head, because that is where your truth is. Your truth is in your soul, not your head.”

You can view more of Geoff’s photography at the Facebook page

And website

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