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Call for urgent changes to aged care by three Wairarapa rest homes

David Famularo, July 2017

Chris Clarke, Manager at Carter Court Rest Home in Carterton, is not a man given to over-exaggeration.

Never-the-less, the picture he paints of the financial challenges facing Carter Court and other not-for-profit rest homes in the Wairarapa is sobering.

Last May,  Carter Society Incorporated (Carter Court Rest Home in Carterton),  Arbor House (Arbor House Rest Home in Greytown)and Wharekaka Trust (Wharekaka Rest Home in Martinborough) sent an open letter to the Wairarapa’s MPs and candidates in this year’s general election.

The catalyst was the pay equity settlement which saw a significant increase in pay for care workers in rest homes.

While the three rest homes see this as a “significant milestone”, it has had the flow-on effect of creating an imbalance in remuneration, with care workers now earning more than other staff with similar levels of skills and responsibilities,  and close to that of staff with significantly higher levels of skills and responsibilities such as nurses.

Carter Court has addressed this by giving all its staff a pay increase, says Chris.

“The carers’  pay increase threatened the team feeling and co-operation that is essential for our services. We didn’t want to undermine staff morale and goodwill by sending the wrong message to all our staff. We want all our staff to know they are genuinely valued.”

The three rest homes are calling for rapid action by the government to achieve gender equity across all sectors – “through much faster means than a series of employment court battles.”

But there are other issue in play as well, says Chris.

One of these is level of funding rest homes receive and how it is calculated.

Rest homes receive a set amount of funding on a per-resident basis. Healthcare in general in New Zealand is underfunded with aged care the Cinderella of health spending with no significant funding increases for years until the pay equity settlement.

“We got a  1.8 percent increase in the subsidy on July 1st but the CPI in the quarter to March was 2.2 percent so effectively our funding is going backwards.”

Meanwhile costs associated with running a rest home continue to rise.

“Compliance has increased tenfold in recent years diverting valuable resources away from the coal face and annual subsidy increases of up to one percent are totally inadequate.”

To balance their budget, the three rest homes need an almost 100 percent occupancy rate. While this is the situation at the moment, there is never any guarantee that that will remain the case.

“The present funding mechanism doesn’t enable rest homes, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas, to remain viable because occupancy numbers can fluctuate.”

Rest homes like Carter Court need to  be still around in a few years because demand for their services will inevitably increase. In the Wairarapa, the number of residents aged 65 and over is predicted to go from 18.3 percent in 2013 to 23 percent by 2043.

The present government policy is to support elderly people in their own homes for as long as possible. While the three rest homes say this is laudable in their open letter, “our experience tells us that there are elderly who are vulnerable, socially isolated and live in unsafe environments.

“Often there is a huge burden on other family members as well, especially as the elderly person becomes increasingly incapacitated.”

Chris says that while it is great that people are independent for as long as possible, some elderly people need to move into a rest home earlier and there needs to be a better transition process.

“The government needs to take a close look at the provision of care in community and how we support our elderly as they encounter the reality of needing more support – and every part of our community needs to be engaged.

“It’s all about how people are supported into full-time care and how communities can help, so when they move into a rest home they can still be connected to their communities – their church, clubs, friends and family.”

This is one of the reason that the survival of small community rest homes is so important, Chris believes.

“With the loss of Ultimate Care Greytown, for example, residents in the South Wairarapa now have severely limited options and have to move to Masterton and elsewhere.”

Another looming issue is the housing crisis. Not every older person owns their own home or has enough equity in it to sell up and move into a retirement village.

The Carter Society’s low cost rental accommodation is in strong demand and there is always full occupancy, Chris notes.

“Although it has only been small numbers to date, the Carter Society has been approached by elderly who are losing their rental accommodation and have few options on where to go.”

The three rest homes believe the government is not providing leadership on aged care.

“We need to have plans at national and local levels to ensure that we have the right mix of services and resources. The challenge of government is to establish and implement policies that show a commitment to addressing what are very important issues for our communities,” they say in the open letter.

They would like to see immediate action on redressing the funding mechanism so that rest homes are properly supported to remain open.

“We don’t want any more to close, says Chris. “I understand there is a funding revision going to happen but we have no idea of terms of reference or the scope of review – this is a quite serious situation with one of most vulnerable sections in community.”

The rest homes want a fair and equitable scale of remuneration for all aged care staff,  along with an increased recognition of what they do.

“We would like funding to reflect both the real costs we encounter  and reflect skills of staff. Caring for the elderly can be hard work and often staff are working with difficult and complicated health needs,” says Chris.

And they want the government to ensure that smaller locally owned services are valued and supported.

“The biggest tragedy is that we have lost some very important beds in the South Wairarapa and how are we going to get them back.”

Chris says there has been various levels of feedback from everyone who received the open letter.

NB Since this interview Chris has resigned as Manager at Carter Court to join the Red Cross Trauma Recovery Service in Wellington as Manager

Ray Woolf, Erna Ferry and the Rodger Fox Band

Masterton A& P Show, Saturday 18 February, 2017

By David Famularo

It’s not every day one gets to meet a musical living legend. For me it started with a phone interview. After a somewhat cagey conversation with Eddie Low about a year ago, I didn’t know what to expect.

After all, how easy can it be to maintain musical charisma when your career started as a 17 year old supporting a national tour by Helen Shapiro in 1966?

Would Woolf be hard and cynical from years of scrabbling a meagre living below the level of his talents by fact of living in New Zealand?

The answer was the opposite – a lot of energy and enthusiasm coming down the line as we discussed music, his life and having few regrets despite coming to New Zealand with his family just after he came to the attention of a leading booking agent in London.

“Make sure you say hello”, he said at the end of the interview after I told him I would be going to the Masterton A&P Show.

Which I did. Ray was talking with a circle of people when I walked over with a cup of tea in one hand and a plate with two scones with jam and cream in the other.

Dressed in a smart black leather jacket and creased black dress trousers, Woolf was capturing just the right look for someone whose career had spanned early sixties rock and roll, psychedelic rock (including rediscovered psych classic “The Little Things That Happen” which Woolf penned after listening to a little too much Jimi Hendrix), to his present jazz crooner persona.

I knew I would be interrupting him but didn’t think I would have a chance to talk after the performance.

“Hi”, I said. “I interviewed you for the feature.” He said hello back and went to take the cup of tea. I said I wasn’t bringing him a cup of tea and he said “No I’m going to shake your hand.” He took the cup to tea. We shook hands. And that was it. My brief moment in the personal space one of New Zealand’s greatest pop stars of the 1960s and early 1970s was seemingly over.

Retiring to a seat out of the rain under the veranda of the nearby historic kiosk, I settled in to wait for the Rodger Fox Band to get going. Possibly due to the closure of the Remutaka Hill which had stopped one band from making it to the Show,  they were running behind time but after a bit more sheet music shuffling, the band got rolling, supporting vocalist Erna Ferry with a surprising list of songs considering Fox’s heavy jazz leanings, including China Groove by the Doobie Brothers, Elton John’s Crocodile Rock and a Bill Halley/Jerry Lee Lewis/Chuck Berry rock and roll medley. Their best moment was when they got a disco groove with “I Love The Night Life.” Enjoyable enough.

ray woolf roger fox

And then Ray steps up the hay bales and on to the stage,  his leather jacket removed to reveal a stylish black suit.

Like I remember when 1950s RnB artist Screaming Jay Hawkins played a Wellington pub in the late 1980s, suddenly the energy lifted. I was about to be reminded why great live music gives you something a record never can.

Woolf was doing what all great entertainers do – summoning up energy out of nowhere and blasting it out into the audience.

His instinct to communicate immediately expressed itself with a promise to “take your mind of the rain,” later reminding everyone that “sh*t happens so just go with it and enjoy the music” – or something like that – before launching into Stormy Monday.

With every song I was become more in awe of his vocal skills. By Van Morrison’s Moondance both Woolf and the band were heading towards it, Woolf’s energy charging everyone else, with some particularly good solos coming from the tenor sax.

It was in this jazz pop vein that Woolf found his sweetest moments, finishing off the set with his version of Bobby Darin’s version of Mack the Knife,  one of his favourite songs from his youth.

The rain beating down harder than ever and the set over, I went up to the stage, looked up, and said “Hey Ray.” He looked down. “Those were awesome vocals.” I misinterpreted him putting his hand out toward me as him being about to shake my hand. We shook hands. He thanked me and added “I appreciated the story. It was a really good.”  Or something like that.

The destructive effects of the river erosion control programme

 David Famularo, February 2016

The Waingawa is a typical braided river that constantly shifts its flow
The Waingawa is a typical braided river that constantly shifts its flow
Work carried out on the Waingawa in February 2016
Work carried out on the Waingawa in February 2016

While going for one of my semi-regular early Saturday morning walks (and occasional swim) at the Waingawa River by Hood Aerodrome, a beautiful braided river system running from the Tararua range down to the Ruamahanga River, I came across the latest work of Greater Welling Regional Council and the contractors it uses in their river erosion prevention programme.

A single vehicle track had been bull dozed into a two lane road with vegetation and rubble pushed into a pile along the way. But this was a minor piece of work compared to the latest channel the bulldozers had gouged out of the river bed in an attempt to create a drain like direct channel for water.

As grand as this work was, it is only the tip of the iceberg of the work that has been carried out over the past nine years or so. Almost all of the Wairarapa’s major rivers have had bulldozers digging and scraping the river bed, wiping out flora and fauna along the way and making it impossible for them to become re-established.

But this is only one aspect of the problems created by this programme which very few Wairarapa residents know about and which has never had any public input or notification. I have had long time fishers like Graham Howard (see below) explain the catastrophic effect the work has had on fish life, a Fish & Game employee say that they are ripping open the river bed leading to greater loss of water underground, and another person who was in charge of south Wairarapa catchment in the 1980s and 1990s explaining how all the loosened gravel and silt is going further downstream creating potential future flooding hazard.

Then there is the aesthetic issues where once attractive spots have been made into ugly wastelands as is progressively happening.

The sole beneficiaries of this work are owners of land beside the rivers who contribute around half the cost of the work while Greater Wairarapa Regional Council (AKA Wairarapa rate payers) pays for the other half.

Following is an earlier article on this subject which highlights some of the problems the work is creating along the rivers.

While Wellington Regional Council along with other organisations is asking the public to become conscious of the Wairarapa’s eel population, in particular Tuna Kuwharuwharu (Longfin Eel), it seems the council has become the eel’s worst enemy, sanctioning the bulldozing of a straight channel all the way along the Ruamahanga River from Mount Bruce in Tararua District down to Lake Ferry at Cape Palliser – the main highway for all eel migration along the Wairarapa valley.

Wairarapa fisher and fishing journalist Graham Howard has been almost a lone voice in speaking out against what he says is the destruction of vital fish habitat in not only the Ruamahanga River but its tributaries, the Waipoua, Waingawa and Waiohine Rivers.

Graham says this is due to the straightening of the river for erosion control which has removed the pools, runs and meanders which are the habitat of elvers (baby eels) crayfish, bullies and other aquatic life that need them to survive.

“Every eel in the Wairarapa Valley, from Lake Wairarapa to the headwaters of the Ruamahanga River pass through the river as elvers.

“They live, as they pass through the system, in the rocks that form the pool ‘aprons. (aprons are the collections of rocks and boulders deposited just downstream of the pools).

“They would have killed thousands of eels when the bulldozers went through where all the elvers live. They would never have survived that.

“By law they are supposed to have so many pools per kilometre of river but this isn’t happening.”

Ironically, Graham says, he enjoyed the best fishing ever at the end of the summer of 2009 downstream of the bulldozers as all this dead fish matter fed fish further downstream, for one season only.

It is not just these river’s fauna is affected by erosion control, Graham says. The work is also quickening the flow of the Ruamahanga, with other impacts like lowering the aquifer (80 percent of a river’s water flows underground).

He also notes that the road that runs alongside Lake Ferry is suffering from erosion for the first time in the history because the lake bed is being filled by sediment from the run off which increases the height of the waves created by the regular north westerly winds that hit the area.

Following are excerpts from a Letter to the Editor of the Wairarapa Times Age which was written by Graham in 2009.

While there have been great strides made by many organisation and individuals (in improving the ecology of the Wairarapa), there has been a concerted effort by the Wellington Regional Council to destroy the natural beauty, ecology and wonderful trout fishing resource that is our Ruamahanga River and its tributaries, the Waipoua, Waingawa and Waiohine.

For the past two years a large number of locals and visitors have observed with growing alarm the blatant vandalism that has been visited on our rivers.

Gone are the pools, runs and reaches. Now the river is wide, featureless and barren in many of its past fish-filled reaches.

Gone are the little eels, crayfish, bullies and bottom dwelling fauna that lived in the aprons of the many pools.

Eels are a special case. They are reportedly under huge stress in the Wairarapa with numbers in serious decline.

Every eel in the Wairarapa Valley, from the lake to the headwaters of the Ruamahanga, pass through the Ruamahanga as elvers. They live, as they pass through the system, in the rocks that form the pool “aprons.”

How do you think they survived the bulldozer rippers that have totally destroyed kilometres of this crucial habitat?

Earlier this year there was an article on the front page of the Times Age detailing the concerns of the residents of Lake Ferry where the road to the outlet is being eroded away.

This road has been in existence for a hundred years. What has changed? I have been reliably informed that the lake bed has risen sharply since they started remedial work upstream.

Guess where the sediment that used to hold the gravel and rock beds together came from – there-s none left where I have fished for the past 40 years.

NB Here is an interesting comment from on Facebook on this subject from Rob Kennedy

After fifty years of river straightening there has been a considerable reduction in river complexity and riparian habitat. Although this practice reduces flood risk in this area the risk is exported down-stream. However this is a risky strategy because the flood peak is larger and faster and leaves down-stream communities with greater vulnerability. this down-stream risk then needs more infra-structure for protection e.g. Ruamahanga Diversion.
However flooding is not the only concern, and since a 1-in-100 year event is much less common than droughts, under enlightened water management systems a more balanced approach to managing flooding without harming water availability is taken. Within this approach, referred to in scientific literature as “Integrated Water Resource Management” the ecological and habitat values are secured within the management framework by choosing methods which reduce the risk of flooding by denaturalising floodplain areas and allowing rivers to display more natural fluvial geometry (meandering and migrating) which boundaries where valuable assets do not occur (or are removed).
There is much more than can be said about why the rest of the world is trending their water resource management towards the “IWRM” model while NZ is not. Perhaps the most pertinent comment is that IWRM is about the managers proving they can cooperate while the NZ model is about the community being made to do what each management group thinks is best …

This story from the Tasmanian Times does a very good job of giving a general outline of what current river management river practices are doing to the Wairarapa’s rivers here.

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.”

Stressful?

“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 – https://www.pledgeme.co.nz/projects/5218-riverwatch-making-a-big-splash-to-save-our-rivers

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.

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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.