Rev Dr George Armstrong


George Armstrong, Photo by Gil Hanly

21 July 2003, Interviewed by Ruth Greenway

What things were happening in the world or locally that formed an impression on you as a young person?

Well I can remember many things but perhaps one of the most important for the purposes of these memoirs would be the war time experience. I was a high school boy during the Second World War, 1939-45 and I was the youngest of the family, the baby of the family and had been a bit spoilt in a way and had a gentle passage through my early years, unlike my older brothers who had had a fairly rough time. But by the time the war came my older brothers were off to war, and my Father re-enlisted and became a warrant office or flight sergeant in the air force and served at Teary near Dunedin. During the 1940ís I began as a school boy at Otago Boys High School. What was happening there of course was that young men were going off from the school straight into the armed services and being killed over seas. Their names were read out week by week, month by month in the school assembly hall and these boys were often know to the teachers and had been their pupils just a few years before and sometimes the teachers would breakdown when theyíd hear names read out. So the whole gloom of the war and the whole seriousness of it and the whole idealism of it were very powerful and ANZAC was a very powerful day and the whole idea of loyalty and the honour of king and country and so on.

During those years also I became a Boy Scout and I took all that very very seriously. I had always been quite idealistic. But along side this kind of war-like sprit that prevailed, there was also naturally in me an instinct for peaceful solutions and harmony and friendship, well that was a big thing in boy scouts too. I remember being influenced by small things but which made actually quite a big impact on me, like a song from the Oxford movement. The Oxford movement, the moral re-armament movement which is still going in some quarters was a general spiritual movement which was trying to create peace in the world by a stress on values and morals and spirituality and so on. There was a little song I remember ďThe trouble with the world, is that folks that live in it, they all want to get and they never want to give in it. Youíll never build a world, youíll never build a world, youíll never build a world that way.Ē I must have been 9 or 10 I suppose when I heard that and I still can remember, the impact it made on me, thinking yes, thatís absolutely right. Those ideals are absolutely right. The ideas didnít come to me through the church, I wasnít a great church remember until I was a bout 15 or 16 yrs, but then with the church and religion in my later teens of course that all became far more important. The whole thing came to a kind of a climax for me in the religious sense when I was about 21yrs. That in a way is another story but, thinking of the earlier years, my Mother was an idealist as well. A very gentile woman from a kind of upper middle class I suppose. My Father came more from a working class, well he himself was kind of condemned to working class existence all through his working life, although he was quite capable of function in any professional setting Iím sure. He was deeply dyed in Trade Union politics and Socialism. So he and my Mother were quite different, but actually they were both idealists in their own ways. My Father hated war, he just believed, even though heíd fought in one world war and heíd served in another he just felt that they were, he felt quite cynical and sceptical about wars, they were just opportunities for armaments manufactures to get rich and all that sort of thing. So thatís the sort of experience, I grew up in the midst of all that, the boy scout movement, which was a kind of a moral sort of a movement, flowering into what I would say is a more sort of spiritual movement in the church, where one thought more in terms of the feelings of love, fulfilment, friendship and those kind of deeper things, and communion with that which lies beyond and a sense of perhaps the mystery and the beauty of life.

So, thatís maybe, I better just stop there and see where thatís leading.

I quite like where that is leading because I think whatís quite significant in your story is the spiritual side to you involvement in the peace movement, because people come to peace education, activism and peace work from a number of avenues and Iím quite interested in, maybe I could ask you how have you ideas of peace and what peace means for you developed alongside your spirituality.

Well, I think Iíve never been able to bear injustice or people being harsh to together people, or being grossly unfair to them, even though I was quite unfair in my own way as a young boy towards one of the other boys, who I treated really badly I can still remember and I feel very bad about it even today. But I couldnít bear to see people treating other people harshly, without justice. Itís one of the strongest emotions in me. My feeling is always for the one who is being denied equity. That explains a lot of re-actions to life today. So, that manifested itself quite early, it was tied up with these feelings of love and well being in the Universe itself. I can remember travelling in a tram with a whole lot of older people than myself and looking at them all and thinking you wonderful grown up people you are shining with some sort of maturity and Iím looking forward to the time when Iíve got wrinkle with this smooth face of mine as a young boy and Iíll be kind of wise and happy and I looked around all the people and I thought I really like you really love all of you and I feel good that itís that way and I am happy that I am felling that way. Almost like that and when religion really gripped me, later, or when God really, of the spirit really took possession of me, in my late teens I felt exactly the same w2ay about people I just loved people, I just enjoyed them, instead of being perhaps a bit afraid of them or a bit tense as to how other people would react to me I just felt full of good will and appreciation of people and in a way accepting of peopleís foibles and faults as well. So, that kind of desire for the well being of people and that sort of enjoyment of seeing justice and that sot of intense hostility Iíve always felt towards injustice when itís displayed, those factors are very much a matter of religion for me.

As I went deeper in Christianity and read the bible more carefully and studied theology I realised that there was a huge amount of struggle against in justice present in the whole story in the whole Christian story, the whole Jewish story. When I became a Priest or a minister in the church I found myself in a church that institutionally could actually be quite harsh on people and could be unjust in itís dealings with people and I was quite shocked by that when I first realised it. When I first became closely involved with the Anglican Church as I prepared to be ordained as a priest, I could see that the church was in a way a little bit sluggish and dead and not full of the sprit that was filling me. The sprit of happiness about other people and just delight to be part of the human race, more or less and desire to contribute and to be a recipient of being a part of the human family.

In just thinking about that, that yes you were entering into life as an ordained minister in the church but because as we move on with this interview we will look at some specific things and times when you actually took a leadership role but maybe also as a young person did you feel that there was still a place to be fully who you were and to explore you own spiritual growth even as you were faced difficulties where ever you were along the way?

Yes, I think so it was formulating so slowly in a way, I think the church was sort of like a museum in a way. But a very rich museum and if you like museums they are marvellous places, theyíve got all this incredible stuff in them. If you can appreciate whatís there, itís a rich treasure really, itís a rich treasure of wisdom, all these human beings stories of struggle and they have expressed themselves in prayers or in telling stories of their lives and so on in the bible and so on. In worship people get together and they kind of recite some of those things and so I was exposed to all of those things and gradually I was realising that this was a great strength to me, it was a shock to find that the thing that was a great strength to me that in the same place there was a lot of brutality and harshness and injustice. When I came to the theological College I was shaken to the core by the fact that there was injustice within the educational processes. I was trying to get a bad situation corrected as I thought. I came hard up against the authorities. This was an orphanage where I felt that the leadership was in bad hands. So we interfered in the politics of the place and we got into all sorts of trouble over it. We felt that the rules of the theological College were far too strict and inhuman. It was a kind of semiĖmonastic institution and really not a good pace, especially for married people because it was all men in those days and the men had to live apart form their wives and come and live in College and werenít allowed to see their wives more or less or co-habit with them except during the holidays. You know the more I sort of realised this the more outraged I became at the whole situation and yet it was, myself and the other us who ere critical, it was we who were being thumped for daring to criticise this thing even though shortly after I left the theological College the whole thing was changed and it became a family oriented kind of institution.

So, when you say you were being thumped what you mean?

Oh well we kind of be formally denounced you know as people who had down wrong and had interfered into things that we shouldnít have interfered into. We should have been playing quietly with the orphanage children but here we were interfering with the way the place was being run and governed and all this sort of thing. Which perhaps is quite an image of things. The church wants you to do things quietly and peacefully with human beings, you know, but donít upset anything. Donít worry about politics, leave that to somebody else. Leave that to the leaders or leave it to the Government, or something you know, but donít you interfere. But to me I hadnít linked in my mind that fact that the church was pretty dead for me, even though there were good numbers in the churches at that stage, it was still the baby boomer time and everybody was sending their kids to Sunday School and bible class and the churches were full and if you preached a good sermon, or even if you didnít they still came along in great numbers. So it was quite encouraging, but I felt they were sort of spiritually dead some how. I suppose I was linking that up with gradually, I suppose the fact that the church was in many s an unjust place. I found that in the parishes when I began to working them and I came into very harsh conflict with my first affluent parish. That was Cashmere in Christchurch. Very server conflict there.

What years were you there in Cashmere?

About í63-65, a fairly short time because I always felt my vocation was in theological teaching and when the opportunity came to go into that I took it eventually, although I felt I was unfair to the parish giving them such a short time. We were getting on quite well together even though there was this fairly severe conflict with us over the location of handicapped childrenís home in the parish. A lot of the people who objected to this formally were named in the newspaper as the objectors to this home, were some of my leading parishioners. I attacked, in the sense I rebuked them publicly. Challenged them to withdraw. Which none of them of course did, but I realised what a hard nut I had to crack if I was to really work in this establishment, so when I finally did go to the theological collage as a teacher I went with the felling that Iíve got to warn these students what they are in for, so that they know a bit than I knew. That they are dealing with some pretty tough people out there who arenít; going to welcome a leadership that cares about justice and a lesser mortalsÖbut Cashmere in Christchurch were quite a story in themselves for me as a young priest. As a young vicar.

What age would you have been then?

Oh I would have been about mid thirties I suppose, 34, 35yrs which seemed to me to quite young at that time I suppose.

You were married to Jocelyn?

Yeah, yeah Jocelyn and I were married and we had two children, no we came there without children so we were very bright new young ones. The parishioners had now idea of what they were getting when they got Jocelyn and me, but they were thrilled to bits when they knew who Jocelyn was as the daughter of the Bishop of Dunedin and such an elegant young woman who was keen on the church and we were the model kind of young clergy types you know, obediently having a couple of babies and so there were four of us, Simon our youngest wasnít born until we came to Auckland but the other two were born in Christchurch. During those years, Jocelyn gave birth to the two children, and it was a great parish, it was a very affluent parish, it probably still is reasonably well off you can tell by the buildings and so on and itís a lovely place to live up there. I was very attracted to it, partly by that fact. I mean I wonít deny it; I like the middle class kind of orderly affluence and success, and all those feelings that go with that kind of community. Of course geographically it was a lovely place. We were just above the fog line and so on. It was completely new and the people were eager to have us so we were wanted and so on. So that was great, but I gradually realised that Iíd come into the midst of some pretty tough customers who were used to, they were used to command and they were used to being leaders and they expected a fairly tough kind of process of decision making. Which often went the way that I didnít want it to go and I wasnít prepared to go the way that some of the decision making was going. I was very disappointed with it but, I kept at it sort of figuring out what to do about this and tried out various things, some of which were quite successful.

Thatís something Iím quite interested in because I am interested to know, you said something about that you realised that inferring was important and that being prepared for public confrontation was something that you felt that you needed to be, so thinking about peace and justice and also in thinking about your spirit, how you said that you were disappointed in seeing that the church, the injustices that were going on and Öand Iím just trying to gage a picture of you as a young person and also about how did you then think that you were going to be alright or that you would get through this by inferring? And having the courage to do that.

I never thought about getting through it, I suppose most of my thoughts were well Iím going to have to do this and Iíll do it. I never even thought of the consequences too much, I mean I knew it was going to be difficult. But the greatest satisfaction for me came from doing what I thought was right. Even though it was a bit rash sometimes and I mightnít have always done the best possible thing in the circumstances, but one of the things I hated doing was hurting people in the process. I knew I would hurt people and to see the disappointment in them and to feel I had been the cause of great pain for them even though they were perhaps in the wrong and some what anyway. No, I couldnít, this business of realising what is was going to cost I suppose I never did quite realise what it was going to cost and whether I would get through it or not. Because it just seemed the right thing to do, it just seemed, I mean it seemed utterly appropriate. But I was thinking my way through it all the time so that when I was critical of the people, or when I was challenging the people who wouldnít have this handicapped childrenís home there ion their midst. When I was challenging them I realised that I had support in that, one or two people and to them and said we support what you are doing. But then I looked at them and I thought now would they support me if they actually had the home being built right next to them?

I sort of thought, now youíre not too different to the people up the hill a bit further where the house is going to be and I thought I donít know, Iím just a little bit concerned in case you are self righteouslyÖ.And I kind of switched round a bit and I was thinking quite hard about that and when I had to preach a sermon and I knew the guy form the newspaper was there and that was quite flattering in a way because I mean I like the public noise that I was able to create and itís quite gratifying, maybe a small boy likes doing that but and older small boys do too. But then as I came to the sermon and preaching that night and all the people knew I was going to preach so there was quite a crowd there, I was very concerned to figure out the right, so what I said was what I ended with a sermon about not judging one another. Strange really when I think about it and the reported when he came out said thank you very much for that, that must have taken a lot of courage he said, and you havenít given me really a story but Iím impressed and I was very disappointed because I wanted him to have story. I thought well I hope he publishes some of this. But he never did I donít think. I wasnít creating division amongst the people. I was trying to say well even though we have a very sharp disagreement here and some people may have done something really bad in rejecting these people, because we had a full scale court hearing about the whole thing. Oh it was terrible. Even though we had all that I was saying to them you know weíve just got to live together and not sit in judgement ultimately on one another because we might not be all that different if it really impacted on us. So, there was that kind of learning going on all the time and I think the people probably accepted me because they could I was trying hard to work my way through it personally. Even though some of them, they were deeply hurt by what Iíd done.
I was just thinking, taking a step like that and bringing an issue to the publics attention even beyond the parish you just said that it was learning experience that you didnít know what was going to happen but you had the courage to say what you felt was right to say, then so in seeing what does happen, what did eventuate, did you have any surprises in terms of connections with people, after something like that? With the people that maybe had been in opposition with you, were there any surprises there?

No, we managed to stay on reasonably good terms with one another, thatís what I would say. We werenít even tense with one another we just managed to live through and I think I was a bit surprised at that. But I came to feel very clearly that these people were not exactly my kind of people. Not that I wasnít prepared to work with them and learn how I could relate to them really well but they seemed to hard to me and I suppose I was re-thinking what is this Christian faith all about anyway, why are these people coming to church? Why am I doing this? There was a whole lot of things that were happening at the same time like, we did have a very affective programme that we were running called the group life laboratory programme which was sort of working out the death and resurrection of Christ in the life of the local community. There was a whole pattern of pedagogical sort of package that, by which you could do this. Devised by the American Church and then picked up by the Australian Church and then bought to NZ by Americans and Australians. These were Anglican Episcopal people. It was miles before its time but it was a brilliant way of offering people a form of Christianity that would be meaningful to them so all of this was happening at the same time it was all packed into two or three short years. It was like that actually right through. When I came into theological College, I mean what we packed into those few years, between 1965 and 1980 was simply amazing. Those 15 years, three of them were in America anyway but Ö.

Side two, Tape one.

(St Johnsí Theological College)

And now Iím really doing what Wordsworth talked about in terms of poetry, he described poetry as ďEmotion recollected in tranquillityĒ. Well they was heaps of emotion here, very quickly after we arrived at St Johnsí. We arrived. I think middle to late one year. That would have been 1965, I think. I had to apply myself to this teaching work which was fairly intensive. The pedagogy puzzled me greatly as to how to teach and I didnít really quite believe in standing in front of a group of people and just speaking for about ĺ of an hour. So I was sort of working my way through that, but in the middle of all of that, came the first challenge to the whole question of justice and injustice. It didnít come in the first instance internally from within the church but it came from the political environment at the time. We were just well and truly engaged in the Vietnam War controversy and I was asked to take Ted Johnsonís place, he was quite a pacifist I think, Ted. Is quite a pacifist. Ted was to chair an anti-Vietnam war committee meeting or something, and he asked me to do it, he couldnít be there. So I went along not knowing very much about things and feeling a little bit out of my depth, but I chaired this and gradually I became a little bit drawn into the Vietnam situation and gradually became aware of the Buddhists in Vietnam and the fact that some of the opposition to the war on Vietnam was coming from within Vietnam from the Buddhists who were saying things like they are our brothers whom we kill. So the whole sense of humanity in Buddhism was welling up from within Vietnam and I could identify with that very quickly. Some of us went; a small group of us went to the peace power and politics conference which was a major event in the organising of the resistance to NZís involvement in the Vietnam War.

Where abouts was that held?

That was in Wellington. Iím not sure what year it was, but it was a really, tremendous conference. It was the first of those sorts of things that Iíd been to and there were all these quite spectacular, analytically minded people who were good speakers and also very steady measured people like John Mayall the diplomat. A whole range of excellent people, including a lot of religious people who were there and quite prominent. I came back from that very moved by it and feeling that we really, this really was a cause that was thoroughly unjust and that our whole country was involved in it. About that time, the regular Good Friday procession took place. The Anglican Church, the Anglican Diocese here which I always regarded as being a bit stuffy as a church a bit high church and a bit caught up in themselves and not really outward facing all that much, but they had this Good Friday procession when they, we marched up Queen St in our cassocks and had a religious procession and every now and then weíd stop and somebody would preach a sermon, theoretically anyway. It was all rather a gloomy business, as befits Good Friday, in that particular tradition. The media usually covered it but it was rather a dull affair really. Some of us were puzzled about Good Friday because you were meant to spend it in sort of doom and gloom and reflecting on the passion of Jesus and so on and thatís quite appropriate but some of us felt that this was a bit disembodied and religious and not quite related to this world in a way that it could be. For some reason or other we decided weíd have, weíd spend some of Good Friday studying and discussing critical world situation in terms of, I think it was in terms of development, you know economic development in the third world. So we got into this and we were quite steamed up about it really and we thought well weíll go to the Good Friday procession which was in the evening of Good Friday. Weíd spent the three hours from 12-3pm on this studying and reflecting together. Weíd decided more or less weíll go to the procession but weíll give it a bit of real contemporary feeling because hereís the Vietnam War going on and there are people dying out there. This is all about people dying and people being victimised and resurrection being possible despite all this injustice and so on. So we tried to figure out a few slogans and we thought of ones like ďChrist died for the VietcongĒ, which was the enemy of course in the North. ďChrist died for ANZACSĒ, ďChrist died for allĒ. So we made up some placards with these sort of statements, and then ďChrist talks peaceĒ, because there were all sorts of discussions about peace talks and we painted up these banners, maybe about half a dozen of them and about a dozen students and myself, we all trooped off down to the procession, to the assembly point. It was only as we drove down to the assembly point that I realised that we would not exactly be welcomed, I hadnít even thought about that, thatís where this business of not thinking about the consequences comes in. I had sort of perhaps thought that we might not be welcome but we certainly were not welcome. Some of the substantial church leaders in Auckland were very offended by the fact that we were going to come into this procession and gate crash with our banners, even though we thought we were saying exactly what Christianity was all about and what Good Friday was all about, in terms of that present situation. So, we joined in and we were all assembling there and suddenly the Bishop appears, who was against the Vietnam war himself, but some of his weighty church men had said look, those fullers joining the procession they have no right to be here, they are hi-jacking our procession, you know, they are interfering, this is supposed to be, what the bishop told me later a quiet contemplation of the crucified. Iíd never forgotten the phrase he used. But he said to us, well Iím asking you to withdraw from the procession and I looked at him and I had to figure out what am I going to say because I had to answer him. I said well I really canít answer for the students but as far as I am concerned Iím really going to have to do this and Iíll tell you what bishop weíll keep a bit behind the procession so that it will be separate tai, you know, to this dog, I didnít put it that way, and people will be able to distinguish between the procession and us. That was as far as he was able to get to. Some of the students pulled out but quite a lot of them stayed in there. One of them, Iím pretty sure was David Coles, whoís now Bishop of Christchurch. Itís quite interesting because David was a very thoughtful chap and also, one man who came and stood along side me and I found it immensely helpful at the time was, Rob McCulloch. His support at that time, Iíve never forgotten.

Who is Rob McCulloch?

Rob was in Christchurch was caught up in a very unfortunate case, subsequently, but I mention his name because I want to honour what he did on that occasion because he fell into some dishonour later on and Iím certainly not ashamed to say that I was profoundly grateful for his strength there.

This procession did it go right through the city?

Right up Queen St yeah. There werenít many people in town of course on a Good Friday night I mean it wasnít like now days with cafesÖ

What was the point of it?

Well, it was to be a public witness I mean it was meant to be a witness anyway but with hardly anybody around. But what we didnít bank on of course was the television cameras. They were churning away there; this was the early days of television. But when they saw us coming they were delighted because here was something with a bit of statement and a bit of colour and they could also smell that there might be some dissention. And by this time the police, because weíd joined the procession. Because of the traffic flow we needed to stick with the procession to get around while the police were stopping the traffic for us to get there, what little traffic there was. So we were to all intents part of the procession and the police came back and said well the bishop has asked us to remove you from the procession, he says you are not part of the procession and youíve got toÖ and I said oh well weíll leave our signs here if we are being that offensive and weíll just carry on and they said no, no youíve got to be out of here personally, which was exceeding their brief really, they didnít need to do that, and I was quite offended by that but never the less we fell out of the procession and we put our signs in a bundle and we trundled up and joined in the service at the end of the occasion as well.

Was that the first time that youíd ever had interaction like that with the police?

Probably yes I think so. Though they didnít loom very large on my horizon there except it seemed odd to me that a bishop should be getting police to remove some of his clergy or one of his clergy out of a position that belonged to both of them but I knew Iíd probably be talking it over with the bishop later on he was a very nice man actually Bishop Gowing heís one of the finest bishops Iíve known gentlest and most thoughtful and most engaged in society actually so you know itís talking about hardline people and I didnít want to be seen as a hard-line person myself anyway so anyway we but of course this got the TV news that night or whenever it was that it came through and they made a big thing of it and the New Zealand Herald carried some big stuff on it as well

What did they say about it?

Bishop Expels Protestors From the Procession and they had a picture of us with the banners so that was really very good because I realised what I didnít realise I donít think until I thought about it later but we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams in conveying some sort of message about this thing whether it was right or wrong weíd succeeded in breaking right through into the public arena in a staggering way really I still am amazed to think about it because suddenly from trying to raise Christian issues publicly in small places or even in the Christchurch event in Cashmere we were precipitated into this major issue concerning a national and international question in the most kind of dramatic sort of way we actually using a liturgical event to express what some people might have thought was a political message but I saw it as a profoundly Christian message so that was very hard I think once Iíd done that I could face anything once Iíd been through that and we both really had to face the fact that if I was going to do something like that we werenít going to have a quiet life and it wasnít that I could pull back from any of that then because I did know quite a bit about the Vietnam war and I was reading more and more and I was becoming more and more aware about the Buddhist point of view which seemed profoundly Christian to me and it was but I can still remember saying to one of the enthusiastic left wingers perhaps or he seems that way to I was saying to him look Iím joining in everything but I donít know that I really know enough to be absolutely convinced about that and he just looked at me and he said o you will and I thought well thatís an amazing answer he didnít try to convey information he was just so sure that the evidence was strong that Iíd come to my own conclusions so we that was very good I think actually that procession took place before the Peace Power and Politics Conference because we tried to sort of build up the idea of praying for peace in Vietnam but I was I always that prayer had to be somewhat active and demonstrative in a way I thought that part of prayer needed to be that anyway so I was always looking for the angles on that so we did have sort of retreats and prayers and that sort of thing but they didnít we didnít that wasnít very substantial apart of the thing it was much more joining in with the political event it wasnít it wasnít it was following the politics rather than leading them whereas I was much more satisfied later with the Peace Squadron because we were leading the politics and not following them we were actually taking the initiative thatís what really pleased me about that and I really feel thatís where the church should be is giving a bit of a lead trying to detect what the right lead is and giving it and seeing if people will respond to that or will be pleased to associate with themselves with that so that was our introduction to Auckland

Well that makes me think when you say about taking a lead you say that that was the first conference of its kind that youíd been to and also when you said you were reading a lot about the Vietnam War was reading up on thing really important for you to know what it was that you were responding to or needing to talk about and also the other side of it was when you would hear people talk like you said at this conference that they were wonderful people and when you would hear what they had to say there were things that you grasped onto and you said yes I can use that thatís what Iíve been thinking was it like that?

Most of my intellectual ideas came from my reading most of the general stimulus came from listening to some of those speeches but I wasnít reliant but I get my best intellectual material from my reading and from my doing of thing and strangely enough and thinking about them but listening to speeches although it was a great even Iíd quite happily walk out of a lot of the speaking because I knew that I donít listen to speeches very much I did occasionally but I wouldnít want to miss somebody who was quite spectacular as a speaker but I think it was just a general conviction of the whole great body of people not a mob conviction exactly but a very intelligent conviction and here were the people really working away at these things they knew what they were talking about they were exploring them they were teasing them through they were trying to figure out tactics perhaps about this and there was a whole what they called a mobilisation going on because I remember thinking about this word what do they mean mobilisation but looking back of course I knew what mobilisation meant it was sort of mobilising the whole of society against this war and you know the Vietnam War Protest built up to something quite enormous and actually if we went on and on I could give so many more instances too it was all tied up strangely with development aid and the third world and of course the Vietnam War was the fault line between the countryís desiring liberation and the imperial countries that wanted to keep them in sort of subordination really in the old imperial way of it the French wanted to keep hold of Vietnam when they moved out eh Americans moved in to pick it up and then tried to get all the rest of us to join in as well which is typical sort of behaviour as you can see from modern Iraq but so but you know the aid stuff there was the liberation of the park that went on that was kind of astonishing

What was that?

Well this was Tim Shadbolt this was the end of the sixties now there was an orator you could listen to he was a fellow just was amazing and he still is I think you know him?


Heís just an amazing man and still is but he was at University or he was within the University environs anyway and I got to know him quite well and so but the idea was there was a big hullabaloo about Victoria Park Victoria and Albert Park just by the University there

Albert Park

People werenít allowed to have sort of parties in there or demonstrations or something some silly ruling that the city council made so Liberating the Park became the great programme it was amazing what happened all these kind of people in their late teens and in their twenties turned up and put on Tim Shadboltís idea was and he got it through to people he says donít wait for someone else to do something do it yourself I mean donít wait for someone else to put on a drama for you to watch you perform a drama lets all perform dramas and weíll go around watching one anotherís and thatís what actually happened there were some phenomenal kind of little dramas going on all over Albert Park and everybody tried to bring along some symbolic gesture or some skit or something and we made a great big papier mache cake and took it along with idea that the rich world kept most of the cake and allowed some tiny little slices to the third world that was the idea and we had little pamphlets and stuff and Geoff Steven who actually made the film of the land march later on Geoff and his partner had just come back from Sweden and we bumped into them so we teamed up altogether and a whole bunch of young people and all of this went and that was quite a spectacular incident that one because we ended up by a group of them having a fast and down in one of those seats down in the Civic area just below Albert Park there we took over this corner and they held their fast there because we invented this idea of thin Santa Claus instead of a fat Santa Claus we had a thin Santa Claus and so we tied this in with fasting and Christmas time and all that this fast caused quite a furore in a funny sort of way because it was the city council forbad us to do it and refused to give us a permit and then when we went ahead and did it they complained to the bishop (laughs) and Tim Shadbolt was hugely impressed by our doing this and in his little book called Bullshit and Jellybeans heís got a description of what we did itís a wonderful one page description in there and so all of this was quite fun because wherever there was young people something would start to happen and Iíd often go to try to get young people to help me with some project I had in mind and Iíd end up having to help them in some project that they had in mind which was not what Iíd intended at all got me into a lot of trouble but we managed to put on some great visuals that caught public attention and we used the thin Santa idea was fabulous we got a lot of mileage out of that

And media coverage as well?

We did actually but not as much as weíd have liked but I think it was very because what we did was we made thin posters that would go on lampposts and stuck them all over the place and nobody was worried about you pulling a poster on a lamppost and they lasted for ages and they were very simple just a thin scraggy looking Santa Claus

And did it say something?

Perhaps thin Santa or something thins Santa doesnít have anything to give his children or something like that you didnít need to say anything because I think we managed to get the idea out and we had the thin Santa Claus going around shaking hands with all the Fat Santaís in the stores (laughs) of course fat Santa didnít know quite what to do but and we gate crashed the Farmers Christmas Parade which perhaps wasnít such a good idea actually (laughs) it was a really zany so all of that happened I must say I was utterly exhausted by 1970 this was all this started around 1965 and we had five years of non-stop of this sort of stuff

Lots of zany activities?

Zany and difficult stuff and very unpleasant stuff really sometimes.

And did you surprise yourself that you were getting involved in some of these things?

Well I couldnít keep out of it I was longing for a break in a way and I donít know how Jocelyn felt about it she had to look after the household but Ö

And was it was because people were just asking you all the time to come?

Well Iíd go and ask them and then it would turn around it happened quite a few times with young people and that was usually meant quite a long commitment because you didnít do things easily youíd usually be meeting week after week for a few months and then youíd do something and then lead to somewhere else and all that and Iíd built it back into the College Iíd bring all these interesting people back into St Johns to meet the students and talk with them at one stage we had that fellow whatís his name the fellow who Crump Barry Crump yeah because Barry and his mate were Bah ĎI so we bought them back to talk about what this was all about and how it was quite intriguing and Iíd always try to bring interesting people back and expose the students to them.

The students at the College must have loved it?

Well they did of course there were kind of they came into religion and the church for different reasons you know not the kind that would have brought me in or your Dad in and so they were kind of some of them were rather pious and but it wasnít not too bad but the Vietnam War was tough because that one was a deeply divided society and so I felt that was really hard it wasnít like the Peace Squadron that was a fun thing in some ways but that comes later in some ways in 1970 I felt utterly exhausted and I was so glad that we got a three year sabbatical basically or a yearís sabbatical and off we went to the United States and so we sailed away on this ship from Auckland Harbour and we had nineteen glorious days and landed in America and then went up to Princeton to this ivy covered sort of place and it looked absolutely heaven after all that sort of stuff so we settled in there quietly the five of us the three boys and Jocelyn and me so we can have a pause there maybe

Side two tape one.

You were saying a Commission for SocietyÖ

Yes Iíve been so concentrating on local initiatives and so on that I havenít paused to say that we realised quite early that we were part of a world wide spirit you might say that was operating in the ecumenical church that is right across the churches the ecumenical church was not simply a collection of churches that decided to get together after having been arguing all these centuries it was a body of churches that were actually committed to doing something together doing justice seeking for peace looking for disarmament looking for a form of development that would give equity to third world and oppressed and excluded people all this sort of thing that was very strong in the world church in the ecumenical church and it was from that inspiration thatís the document we were studying on that Good Friday that started us off they were ecumenical documents and very shortly after that I think 66 this was there was a church and society conference which blew things apart and particularly the American church leaders were complaining bitterly about their own nation and its behaviour over Vietnam much to the annoyance to some of the conservative American church leaders but it was very clear that the church needed to interrelate intimately with its society and our own national church set up a church and society commission and D T Niles who was a very prominent leader of the Christian conference of Asia which was the Asian part of the ecumenical movement DT Niles offered to us Yanam Sundabam from Sri Lanka and he became the first salaried secretary of the Church in Society Commission in New Zealand and this is part of the official history in the ecumenical movement in the national council of churches and that was a tremendous event actually we had to fight quite hard to get this because Ted Buckle came to Auckland about the same time that we did and Ted was vicar at St Matthew in the city and was a very prominent church man very strong chap very strong willed man and an Australian and I admired him tremendously and he made a big impact on the city and we did a lot of work together but he was instrumental in some of this and so and the Presbyterians were strongly involved in it as well the Presbyterian pastor Norman Gilcason was very effective and active in this too and also Joan Anderson who was a key figure who was a wonderful ecumenical leader at that time very active so we got the church and society commission going and they were very interested in what I was involved in and Yanam was very supportive Yanam couldnít get over this liberation of the parks idea it happened just about the same time he arrived and he was o pleased he wanted to come out with me when I left a meeting to go to the park and just so that he could be there and find out what was going on It was interesting because Yanam had been a prison governor and had been through some really harsh times imagine a governor in a jail in Sri Lanka which was part of the English imperial system but anyway thatís the ecumenical background. Itís not background so much
As foreground it was an immense strength to us it stimulated us it stimulated me and it provided support and encouragement for me

And I guess it would have also made you feel that you werenít just working for New Zealand for the sake of New Zealand but that what you were doing here in New Zealand was part of an international context?

Very much what I felt was that we had to pull our weight it wasnít we better not lag behind we better get in there and take some initiatives and of course thatís typical New Zealand thatís even Rogernomics I mean the idea that New Zealand could not only make sure it kept up with the world but actually surged ahead and offered something new itís like being the all black team that wins itís a similar sort of spirit and it worked well with the peace squadron because nobody had ever seen things like that before although I knew there had been things like that before thatís where I got the idea from.

But had there been anything like that from New Zealand?

No I donít think so no but as with most things youíve got a great history thatís buried away there and sometimes the real originators donít get the credit for it and I always want to give those people plenty of credit because they had to do it on their own whereas we had all the luxury of being a public movement that was acclaimed and was successful spectacularly successful in the case of the anti-nuclear so that covers the thatís in a sense saluting the ecumenical movement before we went off to the states and what I havenít touched on you might think werenít you a theological teacher when did you do any teaching you were doing all these other things. As a matter of fact I was really very busy on the teaching but I was very unhappy as I said earlier with the pedagogy the classroom method I just didnít believe that worked in some ways I believed in activity that you reflected on afterwards very intensively and I still believe thatís the best way of learning to be actively involved in trying to sustain or change the world to be actively involved in that and then to intellectually and with great power and discipline reflect on it well using all the sacred writings and other traditions at your disposal and I still would base teaching on that and I think the universities have gone backwards on that one in some ways

When you said earlier that reading was really important to you drawing from what you were reading what were you reading at that time?

I suppose and that brings up another issue I can go into the theology that I was reading but some of the other things I was reading was more just straight out history of Vietnam for example not that I read any great fat tomes of it but some of the basic histories of what had happened particularly what had happened just before the war thirty-nine Ė forty-five war the history of actually Ho Chi Minh and hi fight against the Japanese I think and when the war was won they confidently expected what they had been promised that they would get self-government they would be able to cast off the imperial yoke and become an independent country and thatís indeed what they assumed and when they found the French were not going to do that and do what the French had promised it was clear that they had to decide what were they going to do and they just decided to take up an armed struggle as they call it and liberate themselves and that lead to the partition of Vietnam same way as you had the partition of South Korea all the roots of the present problems reading all that and reading the ecumenical literature which was very substantial there was a lot of writing being done then.

Where was that coming from?

It was coming some of it was coming out of Geneva they had a well financed World Council of Churches set up by Rockefeller money at the end of the second world war and they had some very good people there and where else

You were reading up about Vietnam and you talked about the ways in which people were dealing with struggles of the time and a movement of people was this something which you were interested in reading about how mobilisation of people were you interested in reading about the mobilisations of people and how they responded to the struggles they were facing?

Yes thatís absolutely right particularly the common people and their struggle whether against dictators or within their own outfit or imperial sort of forces that came from outside and crushed them the struggles of peoples I was well aware that those struggles of people had gone terribly wrong as in the French revolution when the mob turned or in the Stalinist revolution where the power had all gone and all you had was a new bunch of tyrants at the top I was well aware of that happening and the problem of what happened when the oppressed got free when they created a new kind of oppression is one of the major things I wanted to study when I got to the States was something like that

What were things that you were reading that you felt were effective ways of making a change?

I felt that in the third world there was some sort of struggle starting it was fairly obvious but it wasnít until the seventies for example see the year we came back from America 1973 that was the year that Paulo Friere visited New Zealand

Who was he?

A Brazilian educator who turned things upside down in a way he had a whole theory of education which was education for liberation he called it The Pedagogy of the OppressedĒ thatís his famous work and he wanted education to education he felt came with the struggle against oppression and he had that all worked out and he visited New Zealand not long after we got back and this was an amazing visit this was and it was organized by the church in society commission and the education department of the University of Auckland so it was quite a prestigious kind of thing so he was working for the ecumenical movement as well and he went into other parts of the country as well.

What was amazing about it?

Well what was amazing was that everybody else had heard about him except us white middle class people I knew about him of course but when we had the seminar well every Maori radical in town turned up and the Samoans and Black Power anybody who was anybody they knew about Paolo Friere and we had no idea that this manís kind of influence had gone through the world like a dose of salts you know and as he explained to us when he finally got around to saying anything which he refused to do to start with for hours and hours and hours he wanted to hear about we had to say and he didnít want to be poking his great theories thatís not what he was here for to educate us how to get liberated we had to liberate ourselves he said and he couldnít tell us what to do but what he said was amazing his books were prohibited in his own country in Brazil he was kicked out of Brazil but they were prohibited in a lot of other first world countries too but they were translated into Lord knows how many languages and sold on street corners and found their way into every where and theyíre not easy books to read either I donít find him easy to read but so we were aware that this phenomenal thing was going on and this he no sooner arrived than he was thrilled to bits because theology of liberation the great book by Guiterrez had just came out was published about the very same time that he arrived and I discovered later that the professor Iíd studied with in Princeton was responsible for a lot of this stuff because heíd translated it and encouraged these theologians. Heíd come from South America heíd got kicked out of Brazil. Heís about ten years older than me this man Dick Shaw Richard Shaw. So I suppose what Iím describing is that going off to these leafy bows of Princeton what I was privileged to come in contact with was the one white man whoíd had an awful; lot to do with South America and who should have who it was just astonishing

For you, how was it when you realised you said you already knew about him how was it to realise that here in this country that Maori people and other Polynesian people knew of someone like this and what did it mean at that time in terms of Pakeha relations with Maori and ideas around it honouring the Treaty

That was all just beginning then too the it was very interesting because once the Vietnam War was over I can remember thinking well what do we do next because obviously that was only one thing it was a terrible thing and it was great that it was over but what was it next and then the nuclear thing thatís what really started to come up into the headlines but at the same time the whole question of Maori Pakeha bicultural treaty and so on that came up too and all of those gradually from about seventy three through to eighty all of those things started to come together with apartheid in south Africa all of those issues started to coalesce and for me the nuclear was the main vehicle for understanding all of that because it was such an expression such an abuse of physical power to create and use one of these damn things and to stockpile them and to be engaged to produce as many as you could as accurately as you could you know and to be preparing for massive intercontinental exchange of all this unbelievable nuclear power all of that stuff

From the time that you spent in the United States did you also was that influential in your wanting to do something about the nuclear issue when you came back to New Zealand did you start thinking about it from that time in the United States?

The nuclear issue didnít come up so much when we were in the United States I donít think.

But were you aware of the nuclear arms thing in the US and how that was building up?

Yes but not so vividly I mean I think what generally staggered me about the United States was the savagery of the culture well I felt it was savagery the people were savage with one another and they were savagely imperial and all this in the midst of the nicest kind of American middle class success and comfort and all that and America was a huge disappointment in many ways we were situated in one of the most loveliest places on earth probably in Princeton and most privileged too and itís just beautiful and it was lovely to be there with the family and there was Einsteinís house just around the corner so that you could feel that you were in and here the man was teaching there that had translated all of Nietzcheís writings and I was a great admirer of Nietzch at his best and there was all this scholarship and there was all this scientific brilliance and there was all this wealth and there was all this countryside beauty and there was New York city just up the road and there was Philadelphia just down the road and a bit further down was Washington DC and all our friends were coming through and so it was and we were completely cut off from all the worries and troubles of New Zealand so we could just relax and enjoy ourselves and meet the other international students and so on.

Was it while you were there you witnessed this event in Philadelphia which was an action by the Quakers?

Yeah I watched it on television and the image just stayed with me.

Would you like to just explain what that was about and what you saw?

It was the war in Pakistan was going on what do they call it now Bangladesh the war Iíve forgotten how they described the war at that stage.


Yeah well the war was a division of the country and then western Pakistan sent its armed forces over and it was incredibly brutal to East Pakistan and there was shipments of arms going out from east Philadelphia and the Quakers down there had just got a couple of canoes and sailed down in front of the freighters that were carrying off the armaments and of course the wharfies werenít at all unsympathetic to that either and neither were the shipping people and so it was all kind of rather added up to something quite powerful because it was a brutal kind of event and here were the Quakers just putting their little canoes and bodies in the way and I remember seeing these boats in front of these big cargo ships and thinking o hell and also thinking what a great idea and so I carried it back and two years later it certainly came straight back into my mind as soon as we knew we were going to have nuclear warship visits and I saw the man The man who did that wrote a book called blockade Taylor his name was I think and he wasnít very interested in me when I first met him until I told him that it was their ideas that had started our Peace Squadron off and then he became more interested he was a very quiet Quaker unsensational sort of guy thorough going.

Had you had much to do with Quakers before you saw that on the news?

Yes in the anti-Vietnam War years. Oh yes they were tremendous people

Is it through the Quaker tradition or had you already been thinking about non-violent direct action? Or was that a time when you started to think about it?

I didnít have a theory about it I could just see that this was a good idea to get some more justice into a situation to just sort of get in front of something and say well over my dead body kind of thing I mean itís just a very basic kind of idea like that I didnít have a non-violent direct action you know thereís a lot of stuff been written about that now and Martin Luther Kingís that whole campaign there it was all in the air and Ghandi and so on I didnít theorise about it, it wasnít part of my theoretical intellectual it never ahs been really Iíve been interested in that kind of theoretical work and Iíve been closely in touch with the people who are very interested in pursuing that very zealously but Iím not but my own interests lie in slightly different directions.

Do you want to just explain that?

Yeah I think I was always interested in ideology actually because of theology to me is a kind of ideology I was interested in the ideas by which people justified their actions the thing about the Vietnam War was the politicians the arguments they used was that by us having troops in there that was an insurance policy premium we paid the premium by sending our troops and the when the time came if we every needed the Americans to come here and help us against the Australians or who we had to pay the premium to make sure the Americans would come in and kick the Aussies out you know that kind of theory was there it was a insurance premium the other idea was a domino theory that if South Vietnam was allowed to fall then what would be next and the dominos would fall and suddenly weíd find a bloody great domino falling on top of us in New Zealand so the domino theory was very and I used to look at these ideas and think these newspapers are seriously putting these forward as a kind of sort of strategic discussion I thought thatís absolute nonsense but itís an idea that the media can use and repeat and repeat and repeat and the politicians use it to justify something and itís exactly the same as the Iraq this weapons of mass destruction stuff which is perhaps a more telling argument where it actually turns out to be wrong inaccurate or a lie or it seems to be so itís the ideological what is the rationale what is the logic of the mind that persuades people even though it may be a crazy logic or a logic with no real substance to it at all which actually does capture the minds and thoughts and emotions of people and you know I can immediately see that theology was just like that religion was like that because it has ideas and themes and symbols and stories that capture the imagination and hearts or used to of people and so thatís where my interest in a sense lay not only in understanding how this ideology business worked but also in being a practitioner of good redemptive ideology but ideology expressed more liturgically expressed in some symbolic action so that was what was taking shape in my mind and Iíve written a chapter precisely on that theme where public action is liturgy or something like that or theology is public liturgy with the idea that all this things that Iíve been engaged in I prefer to see as public worship really than anything else

Did you feel that there just wasnít enough out there to counteract this ideology being put forward in the media just accepting the domino theory accepting this as a predetermined fate of how things could occur did you feel that actually we needed to put into practice or into the public arena the alternate ways of creating new ideologies?

Yeah you had to sort of erode these rather farcical logics that were being used and you had to come up with something more substantial but something just as colourful but at that point itís not a question of ideology itís a question of a whole corporate sort of planning really you have to I donít know at that point I can only say weíd done pieces of that planning and pieces of that strategy I suppose creating images of a happy and peaceful and just world and that sort of thing

So when you thatís interesting when you talk about images do you operate in a way thatís quite visual do you think that engaging people is also through a way of putting something in front of them that they can see to then engage with and take something from it is that important?

Very much so thatís why like drama and the latest thing that has really driven my has been Tolkien and the Whale rider these two rather epic type tales which have gripped the popular imagination I love that Iím really interested in what grips the popular imagination especially when itís something good like both of those are brilliant now the CS Lewis stuff thatís going to be produced I donít regard them as very good in fact I regard them as quite dangerous you know now theyíre going to be producing those and Iíll be interested to see what happens
Tape two side two.

If we move on to recordings and stories about the Peace Squadron, one thing that has really struck me is that it really attracted a whole range of people who were coming from quite different areas of focus some were environmentalists others were labour party supporters Values Party people, people with different political allegiances church people boaties a whole range of people how did that sort of start to come about the mix of people?

The first thing I noticed was the boaties of course because that was the great unknown the first real indication that we had a peace squadron was the meeting of skippers that was held just before the Long beach arrived and we had very little notion of who was going to turn up to the meeting of skippers and we had the meeting around at the big Methodist house around in Glendowie where Katie Dewes and John Boanas and the others were living and Peter Glenshaw there was a great bunch of people students living there. They had a big living room and we crammed about ninety people into that living room I canít believe that we had ninety in one room but it maybe my figures arenít exactly right but it was a huge body of people and all jammed in there like sardines and most of them had boats so we could see that something was going to happen the next day some of them were crew of boats but a lot of them were skippers of boats and so I realised that here was a I had a tiger by the tail in a sense that Iíd convened this thing and as far as I could see I was going to probably have a leadership role in this although I was open to whatever developed and by the end of the meeting weíd ranged over tactics and stuff and I thought now how on earth can we have some sort of coherence out this and I took my courage in both hands and I said well listening to all that it sounds like and then I summarised as quickly as I could it sounds like this and this and this and the room fell quiet and then they all said yea thatís right thatís it and that was the end of the meeting and by that time the media were panting outside the door we hadnít let them in and theyíd come up from Wellington it was the TV people and everything and so but what was clear then and what I was most concerned with was the boaties and the boats and the skippers but what Iíd realised by this time was that this tiger by the tail was a fantastic tiger they were a wonderful group of people of every conceivable strip the boaties themselves and youíre quite right it was a very broad range of people

How had you advertised so that people knew about it?

To come and find out and be involved well I kept the media on a string I kept saying weíve got five boats and theyíd ring up the next day and say how many have you got or weíve got a few more now thatís eight boats and I kept building the number up and I it wasnít entirely imaginary I did have various people I knew you know but I was thinking well we donít really know how many weíre going to get there because I knew some of them were leaky old tubs up creeks somewhere and I could have them for publicity purposes but not quite sure about anything further so at that I managed to keep the media interested and what we did once we had a kind of launching of the Peace Squadron and then we had a picnic of the Peace Squadron then we had manoeuvres of the Peace Squadron so we kept inventing events that we would send press releases off to the media.

So how did you launch the Peace Squadron?
We just had a few boats down there under the Savage Memorial. We were having a communion service at the Savage Memorial which was very moving actually early in the morning just had a communion service out in the open and then we went down and pushed off a few boats with sails and things on them it was a very small event but it was enough in fact being smaller it was more effective in funny ways and I couldnít get the motor of my boat started but I think it eventually started but there was a couple of students in a little dingy with a square sail and Terry Wall was one of them a guy whose chaplain at the University of Auckland now and Alan Upton and Terry sitting in one of these little boats and that was the launching.

Just back to when did it come back to you the idea that this boat thing could happen you said it had been two years previous that youíd seen on Television the Quaker protest and so this was two years later how did you in fact recall that idea and think ah ha we could do that?

I donít remember when the exact moment came but it stuck with I have visual memories of that sort are very strong with me and Iíll never forget the image on the TV that night and that I saw it in the states so it must have just stayed with me but I didnít I though very long and hard before announcing that we would have a blockade because I had to make the decision I talked with all sorts of people but in the end I realised weíre just going to have to say weíre going to have a blockade and so I then had to work out how to say that to Mr Rowling who was still the Prime Minister at that time because it was the Labour Party who was under pressure so I sent him this telegram and a whole lot of the members of the College signed it even just whipping it around quickly and it was a telegram saying we will support you saying absolutely no to nuclear we intend to arrange for a blockade of ships or something like that and sent off the telegram and so that was that I mean exactly when or how that image came back into my mind it always seemed to be there.

Do you think the timing was really crucial for the establishment of the Peace Squadron was there any other taking place were people talking about actions to do at that time?

Well people were thinking that the nuclear issue was coming back onto the agenda after the Vietnam war and of course the environmental movement thatís really the main thing I think we go back at really the time of the whole question of how electricity was going to be produced and whether it was going to be nuclear and whether we were going to have a nuclear power station it seems unlikely now at this stage but that whole the environmental movement was gathering there was a damn for the aluminium smelter they were going to raise the level of the damn was it Manapouri they were really going to do something absolutely dreadful and then somehow Iíve got that linked in my mind with the nuclear power and in a sense the kind of instinctive horror of the nuclear is part of the environmental movement so and the fact that nuclear power could sort of suggest itself into a situation by saying well if youíre not going to be willing to raise the level of the lakes by power we might have to get it by nuclear power the whole of the environmental movement was just coming through.

And at that time in the background thereíd been already French nuclear testing?

Of course I think thatís the biggest thing of the lot as a matter of fact the nuclear issue was coming through in the testing of course it was and the first thing that happened to me when I got back here to College was that a bunch of students grabbed me and said come on youíve got to come with us and they took me down to some of the small yachts that were going off to Moruroa and the students had taken up a collection and brought some harness gear for one of these yachts so we took it down and presented it and I thought Lord these students are really on to it because that would have been around seventy-three I suppose.

And the Greenpeace took a ship out to Moruroa.

O yes that whole movement the Greenpeace movement and the Peace Squadron were very close all the same people were involved in that Anna Horne who came on deck sheíd been on the Greenpeace Three that had got boarded by the French and savaged by them.

Iíd just like to read you one thing here this is the essay that John Boanas wrote and just wanted to get your comment on what he says hereĒThe Peace Squadron under the leadership of Rev Dr George Armstrong was not completely pragmatic nor lacking in coherent planning but it was a unique mixture of spontaneity pragmatism and planned resistanceĒ. Would you agree with that how would you describe it?

Yeah it was it felt unique in the middle of it there was a lot of hard planning work went into it a huge amount depended on the spirit the spontaneity of it you never knew what was going to happen but after the first two ships visit I just knew that every time that something would happen that would create a good image well hopefully a good image like the first on the Long beach what happened with that.

Well talk about a good image that photograph of you in the paper of you looking across your shoulder and the Long beach was right there is amazing.

Well there were lots of good general images like that but some of the ones that were kind of the media created themselves you see ďHot Welcome for Yellow SubmarineĒ Was the most notable one per see what happened with the Haddow I think it was or the Platatdo what happened was that yellow paint got splattered across the front and radiation coloured paint so the media linked it up with the Yellow submarine and the guy riding on the bow of it Steven Sherry riding on the bow of this submarine and you look at that and you think you know and you can have a whole army of those advertising people whatís the name of the Japanese one you know the advertising firm Saatchi and Saatchi you can have a whole army of Saatchi thereíd never dream up a better image than that and it just composed itself so the spontaneity itís more than spontaneity itís just a coincidence of everything including that guy who never intended to jump onto that submarine and whoíd been reaching over to pull somebody else off the submarine whoíd got jammed there in his canoe and he pulled him off alright onto the other boat the rescuing boat but then he changed places with him and jumped onto the submarine himself, Oh Boy!

Can you maybe just tell me what it was like was Long beach the first that was the first one to come into Auckland can you just maybe remember what it was like, like the night before and the morning on the day when you were hoping there would be numbers of people out there did you have a feeling of what it was going to be like or did you have some worries?

What I felt was cold loneliness thatís what I felt even though I was surrounded by the boats and but I was cold and nothing was happening as yet and we all knew something was happening and lonely because there was no other leader but me in fact there wasnít any leader because I wasnít a leader but I was going to have to carry the can in a way and a lot of them thought I was a much greater leader than I was which to my mind was sort of nothing.

How do you describe yourself do you see yourself taken on a roll or how would you describe it?

I saw myself as being directed by the whole of the Peace Squadron they would direct me especially the inner circle of people who did some of the planning they would tell me what they wanted me to do and they would tell me if I did it wrong in no uncertain terms and they would not give to me any authority that I didnít earn and they would not give me any honour that I didnít deserve that was the feeling I had all through and I though this is perfect.

So you felt really supported and lifted up by the people?

Yes in a way but in another way very very lonely because there were responsibilities there that I wouldnít be able to duck and they werenít things that I was in control of exactly.

Did you feel responsible for peopleís safety?

No I donít know that I did No they were responsible for their own safety really.

Had that been talked about at the gatherings?

Oh a lot, a lot.

I know in reading through this that you actually read up on the international sea regulations or something like that.

That was a tactical thing as much as anything. The whole thing of wearing lifejackets and all that and not overloading your boats and following the rules of the sea we didnít want to be found wrong we didnítí think that anybody was going to run over us or anything.

But I think that was good planning because it made you realise you could keep going rather than being arrested for breaking the law you worked out that whole tactic of slowing down the ships so it had to stop.

That was those cunning fellows whoíd been sailing boats since they were out of the cradle really they knew it all and they just figured out the tactics especially three or four of them who had big sailing boats.
Just back to you in terms of leadership or non-leadership this is just another to read to you this is what John says he say that you offered intelligent leadership at a time in Auckland when there were few people able to take such a strong initiative you blended a prophetic absolutist religious position with a conventional political call for resistance against the militarization of the South Pacific that you attempted to decentralise decision making and that generally you created a friendly and informal organisation this was particularly successful and the Squadron developed a feeling of group solidarity from early on.

Yeah thatís right and my whole instinct blended in with what they wanted my instinct was for communal thing in fact I knew there was no power in it unless it was a communal thing and none of those people would have accepted a leader who tried to push them around anyway they knew far more about sailing than I did I didnít know a damn thing about it really the assumption of a lot of people is that I was a good sailor you know and experienced thatís not true at all.

But did you have your own boat?

Oh yes yes but I was just a novice really and it was a motorboat which people who sail boats donít think much of anyway you rather look down on those things yeah we had some superb sailors there people with a long history of doing all sorts of amazing things like sailing their own little tiny boat out from England to migrate here a guy whoíd been building nuclear submarines did that.

And there were also people who did quite whacky things or risky things like people that went out on surfboards and then in the newspaper cuttings there were two students who made a raft just out of packing cases.

Yeah there was quite a lot of that that was what the ingenuity of people and we regarded people as responsible for their own safety and that was it we werenít going to be policing anybody.

Do you want to just talk about a sense of solidarity amongst all these people?

It was sort of loose we didnít know everybody who was out there what we did well we had after a couple of events anyway we had a picnic tea afterwards or picnic together and people brought along a bottle or something to eat and we were up in the College here and we sat together and debriefed a bit and people didnít know one another personally and we didnít have an organisational land base of any sort the only kind of meeting place was out there in the water which wasnít the most ideal place to fraternize but there was loyalty people would watch out for one another I think thatís certainly there and everybody was immensely proud and chuffed by what was going on we seemed to be so successful.

And being out there on the water it must have been quite exhilarating?

Oh it was and it was all over in a moment and it hardly lasted and you didnít have time to get scared or anything and then when it was all over we could just come home and have a beer or have picnic what a delightful way of protesting youíd go out there and do yourself and create an image and make a fuss and then come home again I think a bit like Dunkirk only much much much easier youíd go over and get people and bring them back and then thatís it youíre back home by your fire that night

And it was all on the news?

Yeah well it was thatís right it was but we often did a lot of very hard work with the media I knew that.

What do you mean by hard work?

Like press releases like making sure we were first for the news if we had a conference with the police weíd get out there before the police and tell the reporters what went on or with the harbourmaster weíd get out there and tell him what happened at the meeting

Did you find that you had reporters that were really sympathetic?

Oh yeah they liked it the media liked it the television just delighted in it they werenít at all sceptical or cynical not in those days theyíd probably be a lot tougher now o now this was the early days of this sort of stuff the Maori participation is the big thing as the decade went on and not so much the Maori participation but the joining the making of common cause between Maori and Pakeha on the issue of the nuclear that was one of the big issues so nuclear free Pacific and Independent Pacific which was in a sense the word Independent is code word for sovereignty or equity or bicultural honouring of the treaty that sort of thing all of that was also in a sense it was foreshadowed already in that the Bastion Point protest was going on when the first of the ships came in and I knew from some of the Maori that told me afterwards that we were up there watching them and boy we felt good about what we saw that was great they recognised a certain kindred spirit but also the Maori had a saying and deep feeling about the nuclear and deep sort of dread of that the import of this thing and Titewhai Harawira had that too and she in a sense put herself out on a limb by taking on the nuclear issue because the other a lot of the other Maoris said what are you on about weíre on about independence we donít want to go and do things about the nuclear but she felt it deep and so that added a whole new dimension to things but that takes us on to 1980 when we really started to organize hard really solid organizing on a Pacific regional basis and on a New Zealand wide peace movement basis you know to renew the national Peace Movement and all sort of things came into play then and that was really solid organising which I didnít want to I wanted to support both of those things strongly but I didnít want any leadership role in them there would be no point in being a leader in the nuclear free independent movement because really the leadership really belonged to the Maori and to indigenous people thatís what I felt strongly at the time and I still probably feel that way about anything like that but the leadership of the Peace movement as well required a certain degree of bureaucracy and continuance which Iím not very keen or good at but it has to happen and also the Peace Movement as it developed was not able to be a bi-cultural movement

Why was that?

It was too early for that o I think we were almost too early for anything to be bi-cultural I mean the College up here tries to be bi-cultural but its almost too early for it we donít realise it took two hundred years to get us into this mess and itís going to take two hundred to get out of it you know into some more human itís something like that that weíre trying to unravel skeins of violence itís like putting uranium back in the ground you know take a while.

So that makes me also think that when you started with the Peace Squadron did you think, Oh this is something Iím going to be doing for a few years yet.

Yeah I thought hard and long about it but that was before the Peace Squadron that was after I saw a film one day the film was produced by an English producer but I donít think it was ever shown on the BBC it was too powerful it showed the social break up following the dropping of a nuclear bomb on Britain and it was so powerfully done it was the social consequences of it rather than the destruction the sheer destruction and seeing looters being shot on the spot by the police or the military and the padre saying the Lordís prayer over them before they were shot it was sort of stuff like that that was so powerful and it was shown a lot and I still remember seeing it down in the Lido here one day one afternoon there was not many in the audience and I went out afterwards and I thought I donít care if it takes my whole life to make some contribution to making sure that doesnít happen but thatís what Iím going to do and I remember thinking am I just being melodramatic you know having seen this thing or am I but I so that was and Iím not even sure what year that was but was a moment which I didnít go back on in a way because I felt that the nuclear really had that potential to absolutely destroy to what weíd laboured patiently to build up for generations in terms of social any sort of social confidence in one another.

Tape three Side one.

George I just wanted to read to you a few things that came from the newspaper articles about how you had described what it was like to be involved to participate in the peace squadron and to be out there at sea in particular these quotes came from when the Long Beach Boat came ship came in 1976. You were quoted as saying that the Long Beach was a death ship in the harbour full of life.

Yes that was the basic ideology that was driving me that Auckland harbour was so full of life and activity of a good kind and a life giving kind whether it was people there for pleasure or for commerce or for other purposes in getting from one place to another it was so full of all that life there was no room in it for a ship that was with such a monstrous capacity to deliver death as that ship and thatís the message I kept hammering that this is a harbour of life and there is not room here for a ship of death as simple as that I tried to keep on and on with that message and Mat Rata symbolised it because when he went out on Rangi Walkerís boat he took a fishing line with him so he went fishing while he was out there so that was it.

One thing that I also found was really interesting that you had done was that you had written a letter to the captain of that ship and in the newspaper article you are also quoted as saying that this is not about anger or taking an attitude towards the captain or the sailors but it was about what the nuclear ship symbolised would you like to explain more about that.

Yes we were at pains to try to express that to the military people the armed services and the same towards anybody employed in government service you know our own police and so on that we had no we saw ourselves as not involved in any personal entanglement with them this was not what this was about this was about a mutual struggle of against this way of trying to solve things this military this last dead end of military might as it were and this incensed the people operating the ships were not the issue it was the fact that the ships existed and that they were part of a strategic projection of power system and so on and we saw the operators of the vessels and stuff basically they were fellow human beings with us and we just had to work on it together I think one of my basic images which was very far fetched was that eventually the nuclear ship commander saying o well alright we canít come in here and we do agree that this stuff weíve got in here would be better off back in the ground you know but weíll need your help and maybe together we could dismantle it and put if all back again as long as you can find some mode of good employment for me and my shipís company and all that theyíd be quite a bit of employment in undoing all the bolts and nuts and things but this kind of line that we need to work at it together because the military people realise more than anybody else how bad that stuff is and how dangerous it is because theyíre the ones who suffer directly from it as well as all the citizens and the so-called collateral damage trying to retain that spirit and be disciplined by that sort of spirit of a common humanity thatís very thatís like the Buddhists saying about in Vietnam these are our brothers whom we are killing that sort of spirit which actually is a tactical thing as well because I think or not a tactical but itís a message that the people they might think that youíre being not being really sincere about that but they basically have some respect for it they certainly respect the message even if they think the messengers are trying to be rather clever or manipulative.

Can you also tell me because I read that at the end of the morning protest as being out on the harbour then later on in the day there was something about ringing dial a sailor? What was dial a sailor about?

That was some of the people had that idea and did it the dial a sailor idea was something run by the city someone in the city that if you want to dial for hospitality to any visiting service people you could ring up a number and say you know weíd be glad to have someone out for dinner or something like that.

That was amusing.

I never heard any reports on how that went.

You were also with regard to that visit of the Long Beach Ship this is from the news paper you were quoted as describing the sense of being of there and being a part of this number of people out there in boats and you said it was a depth of commitment a willingness to follow through the warmth of friendship and a sense of right spirit. Do you remember saying that?

Well not all that all together like four different things but that certainly describes what Iíve just described in a way I think yeah and we did try for all of those things and largely achieved them I think because the sailors themselves were a brilliant lot I mean the peace squadron sailors you got them all together and you got a wonderful variety and they gradually reminded one another of what we were on about so you got a pretty good spirit in it occasionally youíd get a flare up and they certainly werenít very good on bicultural matters to put it mildly when they came up but however those were the days.

And how was it when it came to religion because how did people respond to obviously thatís what you were bringing to it and those of the peace squadron involved who didnít go to church or didnít consider themselves religious how did they respond to that?

I think some of them who hadnít been to church for ages told me that they slipped into a church to have a prayer before the peace squadron event a lot of them one way or another said to me well Iím not usually religious but I feel pretty religious about this thatís basically what they were saying and from that point of view I felt this is better than being vicar of a parish this is what I really this is what my job is Iím quite happy to be doing this I donít feel thereís anything different about this than being a kind of parish priest of some sort even sort of without all the fanfare and high liturgy and all of that but there was plenty of liturgy in it and there was plenty of explanatory stuff that had to be done to the media you had to have a theology you had to have worship to me it all seemed like that and to me thatís what the church it is it in a sense stating the obvious but people donít see it that way largely because theyíve had a bad experience of the church perhaps o theyíre just pigheaded about it you know I mean some people just but I donít think that was true of the peace squadron I think some people can get on very well theyíre self made people and thatís end of it thereís no mystery in life you know itís all worked out and we all know everything about everything there are people a bit like that very secular people but or I donít know New Zealand is a very secular country so but I think they were very happy with the association with the church a lot of them certainly to start with I think they felt a bit uncomfortable about having things on church premises after a while but so we had things in other places but not much.

Youíd meet in other places?

I donít think the peace squadron was the sort of outfit that wanted to become a permanent committee of some sort they just didnít want that I used to try to get them together and say well how do we organise ourselves but one way or another they were saying thank you very much we donít want to be organised we want to go sailing (laughs) and so the organisation had to come somewhere else and thatís why I think the revival of the national peace movement and all the creation of a national peace movement and the development of the Nuclear Free Independent Pacific Movement and this whole idea of nuclear free zones your know declare your house and your dog and your cat and your school desk all that all of that came from that and that was tremendously successful sort of organisation stuff that came from 1980 on and we put a lot of energy into that and there were a lot ingenuity went into it too and it took off in a big way once you linked all those zones together whether they were people or city councils or borough councils or harbour boards or whatever you kind of youíve built up the level of support for a government that was willing to put through some legislation which what eventually happened so all of that and Helen Caldicottís visit helped with that enormously she came and stirred everybody to the depths about 200 people there in the YMCA one night and she stirred them to the depths but Iíd known Iíd said to the organisers what are you going to do with all that emotion you know whereís it going to go and they said o we havenít thought about that I said well you better think about it so letís have and organisational meeting three nights later and weíll work it and blow me down 400 people turned up to the organisational meeting some superb people so we split up into groups on education religion and stuff and how we would do this how we would sort of accomplish this things to follow up from Helenís visit and that was tremendous.

And you kept going in that way for several years?

Yeah oh that started off a whole raft of things that looked after themselves we only needed the one organisational meeting four hundred people I was staggered because these were people who actually wanted to organise and usually people donít want to organise like the peace squadron didnít want to organise they do a little bit of organising but they didnít want to organise a movement or an or a programme or a project or but these people did four hundred people and when we gathered for the NZ wide peace movement Maori came along to that too so we got something going and I didnít keep up with that that particular thing but a whole group of excellent people came up from Dunedin and of course out of all of that came Kate Dewes and that kind of initiative that sheís taken since then and Kateís probably the most spectacular of a whole number of people who pick things up and ran with them Kateís just kept on going and built it up to an institutional level thatís utterly global and one of these days that will be fully recognised too that tremendous achievement there be recognised here the way Iím sure it is internationally.

Would you like to just tell me a little something about the Home base Peace Pilgrimage?

Well we had the idea that people had said itís all very well to stop nuclear warships coming here but theyíll just go somewhere else and where are they coming from anyway so we developed the idea of a Pacific Pilgrimage which would trace the nuclear warship track the nuclear warships back to their lairs as it were go after the dragon you might say and so a bunch of Australian picked that idea up and they sailed the Pacific Peace maker over there and it came through New Zealand and it caused quite a stir and went up there when they home quartered the first nuclear submarine in Puget Sound in Seattle Washington up in the Northwest of the United States and Terry Wall went and participated in that for us and some of our people went on the boat on the Pacific Peacemaker but so that was Pacific Pilgrimage we had an idea of going back out across the Pacific our but the home base one was declaring your own immediate outfit nuclear free and if you had to go through a process of decision making to do that that was all to the better because education would be involved in that because if youíve got your local community committee or if youíve got getting St Johnís College to declare itself nuclear free if you wanted the Board of Governors or the Board of Trustees you get to go through a whole process of education and political action and strategic formulation for that so the home base was that and we put out a magazine and stuff and we got it going and Andrew Byre and Elaine sheís dead now wonderful woman Elaine and one or two others too they were tremendous people and they did a tremendous job Celine Curney and there was another wonderful woman who did a lot of work on that and we all we were all set to keep going hard with that but in the middle of that Andrew Byre who I was working very closely with heís a very artistic chap excellent guy he said look Iím not going to be able to continue because they want me to be convenor of the Auckland organizing for the Springbok Tour 1981 Tour I said well youíve go to choose what youíre going to do gee I didnít envy him that job terrible because we were on the edge of the 1981 tour by then so all of that lay ahead that was just about civil war really and I knew it would be.

And thatís another place where you were quite an example.

And I didnít want to be and if thereís anywhere Iíd rather have been than there that was just terrible that was back to worse than the anti-Vietnam war I mean I war between nations is something but civil war within a country where youíre divided horrible but fortunately that sort of worked itís way out anyway.

I think you were quite courageous there just in terms of those images of you going on to the field with the loudhailer speaker and offering a prayer and trying to talk to the police I can remember seeing you trying to talk to the police and the protestors to try and prevent the violence you could see that would ensue.

I hadnít realised it until the very moment but of course the real danger of the violence came from the spectators especially if anyíd been drinking and were a bit young and stupid and violent those were the ones who were going to cause the trouble and they did too they really knocked people about horribly some of the police might have been very badly behaved very badly indeed they certainly were on some of the other protest paths.

I was wondering in terms of the protests against the Springbok Tour was it a matter of time did it feel quite scary that you had to just keep putting yourself out there to be a presence and be a voice?

Yes and it was the worst possible experience of that and yet it was the thing in which the St Johnís College came together as never before in my experience solidly willing to stick its neck out really and in a sense it almost broke the Anglican Church I think when I look back on it because the Anglican constituency was so angry about what weíd done they gave the church leadership such a hard time over it that the church leadership came back on us a bit and wanted to be reassured that weíd done the right thing I wasnít quite sure it was as though the church leadership lost itís own nerve at that point and we were carrying the churchís leadership Iíve never thought about that before in saying this sort of thing but there was something like that but it was a kind of horrible time because it was just absolute black disagreement between the people of an impenetrable kind and there was no alternative but to be really disobedient and to a point that was incomprehensible to other people but of course it all eventually came right with Mandela and it was their struggle and we knew fairly quickly that it had succeeded beyond our dreams that the blacks saw it back in South Africa and were immensely heartened by it and of course the Maori here had then had all the leverage in the world for saying well okay what are you going to do about the thing here and the so and thereís something else too about that thing is that the people who paid the price in that Springbok tour paid a huge price I mean I was scared stiff I didnít feel it was my issue in a sense of offering leadership Iíd had to do leadership in several other things and I felt this is a time when I donít have to do it Iím not going to do it but I found that the Christians the Quakers in particular and the Christians wanted a lead and it wasnít going to come if I didnít give it which I donít like much perhaps thatís unfair to them I mean the students were magnificent from the College what they did was simply amazing itís not that they needed a lead in that sense.

What were they doing?

Like carrying the cross on you know (laughs) that in particular I think.

Do you think the students maybe had been quite influenced by you?

Itís possible well they certainly were in the peace squadron in the Springbok tour they really took the bit between their own teeth the Methodist students came through very well of course the Springbok Tour had a long historical build up there were people there whoíd made up their minds long ago about this and they saw this as the absolute end point of this game and it was clear that a huge section of the New Zealand population felt that too so it was a different order of magnitude altogether I still donít know what to think of it really but certainly from the point of view of what South Africa was I think thatís what New Zealand is and I think the population ratios are the other way around like eighty twenty percent you know in their case itís the black majority there in south Africa in our case itís the white majority so itís strange I think probably needs even longer time than this to figure it out something was going on in New Zealand you see from the eighties youíd have to think of 1984 Rogernomics or the end of Muldoon of course and of course the Muldoon issue was a big one I mean his behaviour on that one was a big factor in it in some ways I felt he bought out the worst in all of us his leadership not him himself personally but his style of leadership Iíd want to give him his due I suppose so there was the end of that Muldoon thing.

When you say his style of leadership bought out the worst in all of us but do you also think that it bought out the best in people in terms of that they channelled their energy through into action some of the Peace Squadron people some of their motivation might have been that not only anti-nuclear but anti-the Muldoon government at that time and that energized them and then with the Springbok tour again the combination of things it offers energy to then go and do something about it.

Yes itís quite possible I think itís like anger as an emotion needs to find an outlet and itís quite possible that anger can find a very positive outlet and youíve got all that energy there in fact Iíve seen that happen in most amusing ways in that the anger becomes positive but itís all too much in danger of going the other way but I think if you offer people an opportunity to fulfil what it is theyíre deeply concerned about that maybe thereís something in that I havenít thought too much about that by doing itís certainly true that one of the things that the protest people taught me the ones who were very experienced in it was that where you create all that energy in a march or in a protest action itís got to go somewhere youíve got have something for people to do and that usually means marching on an embassy or going round an delivering a letter somewhere or something that the people will feel has actually achieved some end that their emotions are being focussed on and I know thereís some quite wise sort of social psychiatrists amongst the protest movement know that thatís so and thatís part of the reason that was stirring me to you know figure out a follow on to the Caldicott visit because she was obviously going to stir people to the depths and there was a lot of excellent people there who needed an outlet and anyway we needed to organise.

Tape three side two.

You were just saying that with all that energy people needed something practical to do with it and then from doing something they have a sense of accomplishment maybe just to wind up this interview would you just like to maybe offer what your reflections are in terms of do you view that youíve had some accomplishments along the way from your involvement yeah I think Iíve had a lionís share of the sense of accomplishment that anybody could reasonably expect to have I mean having been part of a movement which far greater than I know about the anti-nuclear movement to have been part of that at a spectacular moment of achieving a nuclear free New Zealand and even a nuclear-free Pacific who could wish for anything more as great as that to have had a part in that and to have had a visible part in it in that people kind of congratulate you absurdly you know for your particular part in it I mean one or two people get that and theyíre very lucky perhaps if they like that sort of thing but it certainly makes you quite sure that youíve made a contribution so I feel that very much but itís like everybody says who has some visible achievement that you know really youíre part of a whole operation really I think the most marvellous thing about it is that we did seem in the last part of the last century to be moving towards quite a new sort of world I think whatís happened in the first part of this century is to sort of make us wonder whether we really are at all or whether weíre going backwards.

What do you think?

Well Iím never going to believe that when weíre going backwards I mean if there was such a thing but no I think already itís clear that making war is not working itís not working in Iraq and I canít see what other kind of war the major super-power could possibly wage than that one and they must know they will know that it hasnít worked in any way thatís really satisfactory so the kind of hardliners who manipulated the state of affairs of this absurd invasion they will loose their persuasiveness I think thatís just my intellectual playing with the idea though I hear a lot of commentators saying that one way or the other so probably will play itself out and maybe quite quickly its like rerunning the whole of the twentieth century in the first couple of years of the twenty-first and weíll find that a rerun will bring us to the same conclusions as in the twentieth you know that it just doesnít work already theyíve had a war that theyíve lost a minimum number of American lives and theyíve cause an awful lot of extra suffering in Iraq to add what was already there but in terms of figures somehow theyíve kept back from some of the most ghastly types of brutality and thatís not because of the virtue necessarily of those waging war it might have a lot to do with the restraint of those who are having war waged on them I donít know but it is surprising that the whole thing has somewhat ground to a halt very quickly and although economically you could say well the US is in a very advantageous position Iím not sure that it is economically we donít know yet you know I mean if itís going to pay to have done what they do well maybe theyíll think it was worth it but I donít think so but thatís just human logic and I have a some amount of faith in human logic but I feel that the way things work out in history are a lot more inscrutable than that and I donít think Iíll ever be persuaded that things are going in a bad direction ultimately maybe Iím wrong.
And just to know finish off with do you think what would you say in terms of sharing these stories with people of my generation do you place a value on the sharing of stories and of encouraging younger people in terms of how to stick with it?

Hugely and Iím sorry not to be in direct action on that right now but I think yeah finding ways of telling the stories I think the fact that you yourself are really interested in this is partly itís a history that explains your own history itís a story that explains your own history so that is thatís what I would hope would come from this sort of oral history or anything I manage to write or something like that or I was very pleased to be able to participate in that TV program on the Springbok tour even though it came out in the most strange way but you canít control that theyíre making their own programme and I can see that these stories need to be told because they get forgotten I mean a new generation comes along and maybe they want to react against what the previous crowd did and thatís fair enough they want to do something specifically their own but if the stories any good and the achievement was any good then theyíd be really interested in it really you know I think that my boys will be very interested to hear my account of what happened because it probably passed for them like a blur I donít know but for them they have a lot of faith in what I might write.

So what are you writing at the moment?

Well I think itís basically it has to be a straightforward history like Iíve given you Iíve written a couple of chapters for books in the last couple of years but thatís not been what I really want to write I think Iíve tried to have been a bit too clever in a way I think Iíve probably just got to write down whatís happened and like Iíve said some of whatís happened now and do it as well as I can and perhaps illustrate it with the information and get it as accurate as I can and put it in as an interesting way as I can.

So what were the clever things you were trying to do?

I was trying to link it up with for example an epic New Zealandís epic sense of itself like that we do weíve got some sort of epic sense of ourselves and I was linking it up with the fact that Tolkien got produced here itís almost like Rogernomics its almost like the Americaís cup following the Peace Squadron you know ludicrous kind of parallels but not unconnected I believe so thereís a whole kind of desire to take an initiative that will lead the world an epic sort of feeling though for me the best kind of epic about that will be a kind of initiative that will regain a world that weíve lost rather than lead the world into some brand new spanking sign of success future thatís why I love the Whale Rider because itís the sort of succession that is being worked out there in the girl is quite brilliant itís a succession of history and it goes right back to the whales and they take it right out to the depths If you read the book thereís that dialogue between the whales which is a phenomenal and it reminds me a lot of Tolkienís writing and his other parts of his work where not his Lord of the Rings book but his Silmerian? Which is very hard to read but itís got the same sort of character about it as the whaleís conversation strangely enough and I think that epic sense and to me the Peace Squadron is part of that that epic sense here we are right on the crest of the wave of some sort but itís a wave of history itself and weíre hoping to preserve and protect and love something into persisting and thriving and becoming what it could become in fulfilment of the history thatís already gone before it so thereís that kind of thing. Iíve tried to write a straight out history of the peace Squadron but that didnít work too well but I think itís that epic sense that I was stuck with for a few months and I did write a chapter and send it off to Reeds but it Ďs not the book that I want to write I think itís a the other thing that I was stuck on was civilisations that what weíre dealing with is a clash of civilisations not a clash of civilisations actually thatís totally misleading dangerously misleading and itís a very popular scholarly idea thatís put abroad by this political scientist Huntingdon who writes text books for political science students but he has this idea of clash of civilisations and he talks about Islamís bloody borders and itís very clear where his thinking is going but heís not too explicit about it in a way but what Iím saying is that weíre actually moving towards a collaboration or cooperation of civilisations including the most antique civilisations which are indigenous civilisations I really wanted to bring that out and say well that Christian story is the story of one particular from of civilisation first of all the Hebrew one and then the Hebrew one sort of transmuting into mutating into a Christian movement with Paul going to Rome and stuff and Constantine becoming the Christian emperor and all that and all those rather funny sort of thing that have happened with Christendom and now with Liberation theology weíve kind of come full circle into something that looks a bit more like the first century stuff but with this curious sort of message and style that Jesus is commending and what heís doing in the New Testament itís not very clear what it means but it certainly isnít leading an armed struggle so Liberation theology although itís been very powerful and valuable and all that it doesnít quite fit the picture of Jesus so what he was on about that teaches us about something else perhaps armed struggle is appropriate I donít know and quite religious and Christian to some extent but thatís not the picture that weíre given in the New Testament.

It makes me draw a linkage back to when you were talking about Whale Rider because itís almost like in Whale Rider it spirals back to the ancient times of the myth of the first ancestor that came on the Whales and like the old stories the Old Testament and old civilisations but then bringing back into present context and the liberation of and the empowerment of the girl to come forward as the new carrier the new messenger the new leader and in a way thatís her liberation and thatís the new theology but itís tied in itís linked in I just got that from what you just said.

Thatís good because the theology might not look much like theology it might look more like a sort of super reading of history and myth and thatís good yeah we havenít talked at all about the secular for a while I was thoroughly starry eyed about the secular nature of human life partly following on some of Bonhoefferís magnificent writing during his imprisonment before he was executed by Hitler but Bonhoefferís writing was a celebration of the secular in a way but thatís been taken up in quite the wrong way I think in our context I mean secularity in New Zealand I think by and large has a lot to be said against it I think weíve perhaps lost as much as weíve gained by our secularity and weíre an extremely secular country and Iím not sure I find it easy to say what that is but I my theology was profoundly secular for quite a period my teaching but Iíve shifted really right away from that.

When did that shift happen?

Itís quite hard to fit it into what Iíve been saying already Honest to God was published in about the year I came to College and so I was following it avidly for a period but then once I realised that the Vietnam war was really kind of religious phenomenon and it somehow only religious solution would succeed with a religious phenomenon. When I realised Buddhism was at the heart and soul of the struggle in Vietnam for a better situation I sort of felt well itís ridiculous to follow this secular tack.

End of interview.