My Life Line (Ep.2)

Beached Sunderalnd Flying Boat

We caught the overnight train from Wellington to Won Gary as we pronounced it in our proper English accent, only after some quizzical looks they translated it into Fong gar Ray (Whangarei). We spent the first couple of years going to school there, visiting the fantastic clean white Ocean beaches, unlike Bognor’s stony and oily shores (from the Torrey Canyon oil tanker disaster), eating fresh shellfish and snapper that we actually collected and caught ourselves, snorkelling and experiencing the Kiwi way of life thanks to Wiki, our new Maori guide (kaiārahi). We lived at Onerahi, and with my two brothers, Simon and Shaun, one year either side in age, we regularly played in an old seaplane (Sunderland Flying Boat) that was sitting on the beach below our nearby nearly cliff top home pretending we were marine aviators. The plane was eventually taken to MOTAT near Auckland, for renovation and wider public appreciation. We then moved to Auckland to what we called Ot’ra Heights (outer Otara) and attended Hillary College where my brother and I, even though we were the only ‘pakeha’ (white) guys in our classes, enjoyed the camaraderie of our new Maori and other South Pacific Island friends. We subsequently went to Manurewa (or Manure War as my first Ozzy boss pronounced it) High School for our senior schooling years after the family moved close to Manakau harbour. I regularly ran along the shore, camped and even rowed in an old coxed eight boat we fixed up at the Weymouth boat shed, before my brothers and I went on to Auckland’s University (Uni)/Technical College in Auckland city in the late 70s.

Looking back, I really became a ‘Greeny’ at the age of 15 but I did not fully realise it at the time. In my High School Certificate 5th form year (10), we were fortunate to have a great geography teacher who made learning fun. She was one of those rare people that inspired me and although I didn’t appreciate it then I now realise how important her contribution to my life choices were. Every day we would have a fun quiz based on the previous day’s lesson and this not only encouraged us to do our homework and, in my case, find new and novel ways to learn and trigger my interest and in hindsight love of learning. Even now living in and learning about the natural world and following general knowledge quizzes but unfortunately, I’m now too slow to outrun The Chaser, Shut the Gate or Lock it in Eddy!

I did enter the first International Krypton Factor competition in NZ in my 20s however a history teacher in our final foursome ended up going to the UK and won several times. I never thought about quiz shows again, which is unfortunate because my recall doesn’t work as fast as it used to without needing a good jog, both figuratively and literally, to pump the oxygenated blood to my dulled brain, despite exercise, eating healthy food, sound sleep and low alcohol consumption (I’m a cheap drunk). I’m also lucky that I can re-boot my brain by having a quick nap and even if only out for a few seconds can wake up and feel refreshed!

I recall our 5th form textbook by C.A. Cotton called New Zealand Geomorphology and in particular the beautiful drawings, the pictures that paint ten thousand words. I loved copying the drawings as I not only enjoyed the artistic focus but also learnt about landscapes. In fact, I also loved art class and I wanted to be an artist as well but didn’t believe I was good enough to make a living from it thanks to brotherly advice. One of NZs most famous artists, Colin McCahon, was also inspired by Cotton’s work and used it as a basis for his stunning landscape paintings. It’s possible from copying Cotton’s drawings that I developed my ability to read 2D maps and mentally convert them into 3D landscapes as well as learning by physically recreating drawings rather than using the lazy way of copying and pasting that is overused today.

We also had three textbooks for physics, chemistry and biology which had the incredible optical illusions by M. C. Escher on their covers, and they became well-worn fundamental science bibles as they opened our eyes and minds when studying the foundations of science based on a contemporary understanding of the tectonic earth. Everything seemed so straight forward and clear cut then. Maybe this was the first sign of Asperger’s because I spent hours obsessing over every last fact and working out creative ways of learning them off by heart with pictures and acronyms/mnemonics but not always seeing the forest for the trees, the bigger picture that I try to see now. I now realise my inordinate attention to detail was part of being on the spectrum of Asperger’s disorder (SAD) with the need to put everything into boxes. However, I did also realise that once you have the scientific fundamentals under your belt over time you can start drawing connections that form greater understanding and insights.

In my first job at 15, I remember taking some of my hard-earned, hard to believe at the time, $1/ hour, working 10-hour days on the weekends to scoop chook poop (Manure War) with a shovel into wheel barrows and pushing it to a hopper for recycling the urea rich fertiliser. One smaller boy went head of heals into the hopper when he couldn’t stop it flipping, we called him Dennis (from Easy Rider). From this, my first ‘green’ job, I invested in the amazing NZ Natural Heritage weekly magazine that brilliantly brought together all aspects of NZs incredible natural wonders. The introduction was by the Duke of Edinburgh (DoE) who highlighted his concerns about degradation of the environment. Later on, I completed the DoE scheme that included outdoor and conservation challenges. I’ve been a badger ever since as my wife knows wherever we go I can’t help myself collecting the next best one.

When I picked up a copy of Silent Spring a few years later by Rachel Carson, who first focused the world’s attention on the contamination of groundwater aquifers and bird life killed by eating DDT poisoned insects, which literally created silent springs, I became a convert. A minority said that she had stopped malaria from being wiped out but the unfettered use of toxic chemicals could not continue contaminating every living thing including us and possibly teratogenically altering our foetal brains. At the time I became what was then called a naturalist that has different connotations now, although I do enjoy getting my kit off in secluded natural areas, I then became a conservationist, environmentalist and now ecologist (True Deep Blue Ozzy)!

The thing that stands out most for me now is the realisation all these years later is that I had everything I needed to know at the age of 15 that served me well for the rest of my life. That is, I had a passion for learning about the planet, to protect it, a love of the Great Out-Doors (my GOD), and interest and later profession as an earth general practitioner (Eco GP?) and despite economic cycles impacting my employment and lifestyle at times I am still fascinated by the planets puzzles and how to develop its resources wisely without gravely compromising its ecological sustainability (ESD).

Hope you enjoy, see you tommorrow?

Museum of Transport and Technology

Two and Three Dimensional





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