News stories

NZ Herald websiteOn this page are news stories that I have written for the NZ Herald website and newspaper and other news outlets.

Waisake Naholo’s so-called ‘miracle cure’ no surprise to those familiar with traditional medicine

By Jim Tucker; published by Fairfax media in 12 newspapers, October 9, 2015: Stuff

“Miracle” All Black Waisake Naholo’s rapid comeback from a broken leg is no surprise to those who know anything about traditional Maori healing in New Zealand.

The leaves used by Naholo’s uncle, the village doctor, to mend the star rugby winger’s fractured fibula are from a plant called kawakawarau, a version of which – kawakawa – grows abundantly in the New Zealand bush and is still used by Maori healers to treat ailments ranging from rheumatism to gonorrhoea.

Naholo recognised the plant in New Zealand when he arrived here in 2009 as a 17-year-old: “It grows much bigger here than back home,” he says. “In fact, it’s getting quite rare round our village (Nadroumai), to the point where anyone finding it in the bush is asked not to touch it.”

Naholo returned to Fiji for the eight-day treatment on August 5, after his uncle Isei Naiova, rang him and said he had better come home and get it done if he wanted to make the All Blacks team for the Rugby World Cup.

He didn’t hesitate. He’d already had two previous leg injuries – one to a knee and the other a “popped” hip – fixed by Naiova, and had complete faith in the doctor’s methods. It involved his uncle re-setting the break and then binding it with the leaves.

The injury, suffered during Naholo’s sole test match for the All Blacks, against Argentina on July 7, was originally thought by the New Zealand Rugby Union’s doctors to spell the end of the player’s chances of making the world cup.

Now – after conventional medical tests (including X-rays) following his return home on August 14 – he has been selected in the team of 31 that leaves New Zealand on September 10. He is expected to play in the All Blacks’ third preliminary round match against Georgia on October 2.

While scepticism about the healing began emerging from mainstream medical sources in New Zealand only hours after the All Blacks team announcement on August 30, there is Western-based scientific evidence to support claims the kawakawarau leaf treatment helped shorten Naholo’s healing time.

At least half a dozen plants known to have anti-inflammatory and other benefits are listed in medical publications like the World Health Organisation’s Western Pacific Series Number 19, and a book called Fijian Medicinal Plants by R C Cambie and J Ash.

In New Zealand, kawakawa is used in traditional Maori medicine to this day. Early settlers reported that Maori brought the plant with them when they migrated here from the Pacific more than 1000 years ago.

One of the first references to kawakawa’s many therapeutic uses was made by Thomas Kirk in 1848 in a paper called “Plants indigenous to New Zealand available for food, medicine and other economic purposes”.

Maori use it to relieve toothache, and it is listed in various scientific sources as a remedy for bruises, rheumatism and arthritis, stomach pains, cuts, wounds, skin disorders, intestinal worms, boils, blood impurities, eczema, chest troubles and venereal disease.

Maori All Black coach Colin Cooper – who is Waisake Naholo’s provincial rugby coach in New Plymouth – says he is not surprised by his player’s rapid recovery. “It kind of demonstrates the power of the mind, in combination with medical treatment.”

He has seen it before, particularly with knee injuries. He says in some cases, players take the “standard” medical period to heal, but in a few sheer determination seems to enhance other treatment, and the recovery is rapid.

Former All Blacks doctor John ‘Doc’ Mayhew has also been reported saying the recovery was “not a surprise”, but for different reasons.

He told the NZ Herald the All Blacks medical team over-estimated Naholo’s recovery time when they virtually ruled him out of the world cup. In his experience, only six to eight weeks are needed for a cracked fibula (Naholo was injured 10 weeks before the start of the cup).

“He is just coming back at the appropriate time for the injury he has had,” said Dr Mayhew, who is team doctor for the Vodafone Warriors rugby league team in New Zealand.

He was not aware of any herbal remedies that help fractures to heal. Sports medicine was “littered with miracle cures or miracle supplements”, although placebo treatments did sometimes help patients recover. Often some of these Polynesian players have belief in traditional remedies, which is fine, but certainly I hope we don’t see an influx of broken legs flying to Fiji.”

Such responses worry alternative medicine authorities in New Zealand, like Dr Debbie Ryan, the Ministry of Health’s former Pacific health chief advisor, who in 2008 helped put together a literature review called Pacific Cultural Competencies.

She says collaborative and partnership models of care require deeper understanding and respect for the health beliefs and use of alternative therapies for treatment of illness and injury.

“This can contribute to empowerment approaches which can bridge the gap between the biomedical views of health professionals and alternative belief systems.”

Studies had found many Pacific people continued to use traditional healing, including massage, plants and spiritual processes, either alongside or instead of conventional medical care.

The cultural clash that sometimes arises can be much more serious than whether a rugby player gets healed in time to make his national team.

To illustrate the point, Dr Ryan refers to a fatal 1998 case in New Zealand where the parents of a Samoan boy, Tovia Laufau, were prosecuted for accepting his insistence on prayer and traditional healing rather than the conventional treatment offered in hospital.

They were acquitted of manslaughter, but found guilty of failing to “provide the necessaries of life”, for which they got a suspended sentence.

Later analysis of the case in a 2014 academic paper found a monumental gulf between Western medical opinion and that of Pacific Islanders.

It’s an abyss which ignores the findings of researchers like Cambie and Ash (published in 1994), who wrote that the leaves of a plant called kalolo were used as a dressing for broken bones.

They could also be mixed with oil and used as a massage, used as a remedy for boils, combined with the fronds of a fern to treat the early stages of dysentery and blood in the faeces, or pressed to produce a liquid for easing diarrhoea.

Other Fijian plants used for broken bones and fractures include a tree called vesiwai (pongamia pinnata pierre); a creeping vine named drautolu (vigna marina fabaceae – common English name the beach bean); a weed with anti-inflammatory qualities called totowiwi (oxalis corniculata oxalidaceae – English name wood sorrel); the beach hibiscus called vauleka or vau in Fiji (tiliaceus malvaceae); and the indian pennywort creeper called totodro (centella asiatica urban apiaceae).

One of New Zealand’s prominent Pacific Island leaders, Fa’amatuainu Tino Pereira, Wellington, says from “time immemorial, Samoans and many peoples of the Pacific have used plants as medicine, hence the use of herbal medicine is still very much part of their cultures.

“In almost every village in Samoa and in the islands, traditional healers are very much part of the landscape, providing care for all manner of ailments, injuries and cuts.

“When I was growing up, going to the ‘fofo’ (healer) to cure injury was a norm, so I’m not surprised that even here in New Zealand Pacific traditional healers are still engaged in health care for many Pacific people.

“I know there’s extremely high levels of scepticism about traditional healing and the use of traditional herbal medicine in this country, but it’s an issue that deserves some degree of helpful scrutiny. I guess the Naholo factor may give such alternative treatment a nudge.”

Mihi Henry, a Maori woman who has been practising traditional Maori medicine in New Plymouth (the city where Naholo is based in New Zealand) for 20 years, says what Fijians call kawakawarau is the same as the kawakawa she uses.

“We call it the pharmacy of the forest, because it has so many uses.”

Called Tumu Pourewa Matangi Rongoa (co-ordinator of traditional healing) at Tui Ora, the city’s Maori medical centre, she says kawakawa’s anti-inflammatory properties are only one remedy in her armoury of treatments. There is a constant demand for her services, which are used by Maori and Pakeha (non-Maori) alike.

Waisake Naholo’s traditional cure pays dividends with All Black selection

By Jim Tucker; NZ Herald, August 30, 2015:

Taranaki’s Colleen Coplestone reckons she’s the “proudest PDM in the world”.

PDM? That’s professional development manager. And the pride comes from having two of her young charges make the All Black team to go to the Rugby World Cup.

One of them is Waisake Naholo. There’s All Black first five eight and fullback Beaudy Barrett, too, of course, but Naholo is special.

“I’m very, very happy,” the bubbly 51-year-old said shortly after the team was announced.

It’s just weeks since Ms Coplestone sat in an office in New Plymouth and watched Naholo speak confidently about the trip he was about to make back to his home village in Fiji to undertake what has since been dubbed a “miracle cure” for the hairline fracture in his lower leg.

This morning Naholo rang her and asked if she would drive him to the New Plymouth airport to fly to Wellington. He didn’t say why – but she knew it could only mean the flying Taranaki and Otago winger had beaten all the odds and made it into the All Blacks: “When I asked, he laughed.”

Did she have any doubts about the traditional medicine treatment? “I just didn’t know. Bear in mind, it was not a bad break. He was never in plaster or a moonboot or anything. He was on crutches for a short time and told to rest.”

She says the leg has healed well. She’s not sure if Naholo – she calls him “Wais” – has been running on it, but knows he has kept up with his gym work.

Naholo has been one of Colleen’s boys for all of the five years she has held the PDM job at the Taranaki Rugby Union.

She has 56 to look after, guiding them in life skills, including employment (for those not yet on contract), budgeting, adult education, getting a driver’s licence, and preparing for life after rugby.

“Showing them how to wash tomato sauce out of a shirt – had to do that once.”

Employed by the players’ union, she worked for many years as a veterinary nurse, but then decided to change her life and train in adult education and teaching literacy skills, which she does two days a week at the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki polytech.

The other three days, she’s at the rugby union headquarters beneath the eastern stand at Yarrow Stadium

Naholo undertook his treatment in early August at the hands of the Isei Naiova, the doctor at Nadroumai (his remote village 6km inland from the south-western coast of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu).

Lasting eight days, it involved the village doctor binding the injury with leaves (whose exact nature has not been revealed). Naholo had a broken knee and a popped hip successfully treated with the same method in past seasons.

The natural anti-inflammatory qualities of at least half a dozen Pacific plants are the subject of research by scientists, who have been recording their impacts on local medicine for more than a century.

One called kalolo is a possible candidate for Naholo’s treatment. Other plants used in Fiji on broken bones and fractures include shrubs, vines, creepers and weeds.

Although he was more or less written off as a chance for the World Cup – after suffering the break to his fibula in his sole test for the All Blacks against Argentina in Christchurch on July 17 – after his return from Fiji on August 14 the rugby union put him under wraps for tests.

Not long afterwards, coach Steve Hansen began to hint that there might be a chance of him making the team for the third match of the preliminary round of the World Cup.

Taranaki coach Colin Cooper is not entirely surprised at Naholo’s remarkable recovery.
“I have seen this sort of thing before in my coaching career – it kind of demonstrates the power of the mind, in combination with medical treatment.”

Cooper has seen seeming “miracles” (although he doesn’t use that word) with players suffering knee injuries. “Some with particular knee injuries can’t play without a long recovery time; others with the same can get back on the field in a shorter time.”

He was delighted for Naholo – and his other All Black, Barrett – who he said came to Taranaki after indifferent experiences with the Blues and the Sevens.

“He and Seta (Tamanivalu, the Taranaki centre) weren’t allowed to work, so they put in a lot of extra time when they came here working in the gym and on their strength and skills. They did a lot of work with skills coach Willie Rickards last year.”

He said Naholo got more and more confident as last season progressed, and with the extra training the result came: “We’re excited for him, and very proud.”

All Black seeks miracle cure

NZ Herald: By Jim Tucker; photos Rob Tucker, 5am, Saturday, August 8, 2015 (also page one lead story in Herald Weekender).Waisake p1 lead

New All Black wing sensation Waisake Naholo has gone home to Fiji for herbal treatment to fix his broken leg in a last-ditch attempt to be ready for next month’s Rugby World Cup.

He believes the procedure – using leaves from a common South Pacific plant – will take eight days to restore the fibula snapped during his sensational first test against Argentina in Christchurch on July 17.

Naholo told the Weekend Herald that he had been urged to return for the traditional medicine by the doctor at Nadroumai, his remote village 6km inland from the southwestern coast of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu.

He said the doctor, Isei Naiova, had used the leaves to cure his rugby injuries twice before, taking eight days each time to fix a broken knee and a popped hip. “He very carefully resets the breaks, then applies the leaves. It works.”

One of his young cousins in the village had his broken arm sorted out in eight days, using the same treatment.

Dr Naiova declined to tell the Weekend Herald what leaves he uses, and Naholo said he couldn’t recall the name of the plant, although he had seen something similar growing in New Zealand.

“It smells the same, although it grows much bigger here [in New Zealand]. It’s quite scarce at Nadroumai these days because of the demand. If anyone finds one growing in the bush they’re asked to keep quiet about it.”

The natural anti-inflammatory qualities of at least half a dozen Pacific plants are the subject of research by scientists, who have been recording their impacts on local medicine for more than a century.

One called kalolo is a possible candidate for Naholo’s treatment, although it’s not clear whether it grows in New Zealand. Other plants used in Fiji on broken bones and fractures include shrubs, vines, creepers and weeds.

Professor Geoffrey Horne, an orthopaedic surgeon in Wellington, said natural healing was not based on any known Western medical practices but people believed in it.

“I don’t know of any cases where it’s made a difference in healing of the bone. But if patients believe it will help, it often will. You could call it psychological faith.

“If someone says to you, ‘You look better’, you think, ‘Gosh, that’s great’. And usually you wake up in the morning feeling better.”

Waisake & Mosko

Naholo, 24 (pictured above with his dog, Mosko), had standard treatment for the broken leg in New Zealand, but was told therewas only an outside chance he would make it back to the rugby field in time for the Cup, which starts in Britain on September 18 – six weeks away.

He says the All Black coaches have left the door open for a return, and are staying in touch with him.

He was able to dispense with crutches at the beginning of this month and now walks easily, his healing leg protected only by a compression sock. He continues with upper-body work in the gym, but is not allowed to run.

Many All Black fans would be keen to see Naholo back early but All Black coach Steve Hansen has suggested the best-case scenario is he could be fit again just in time for the quarter-finals.

“There is a very fine crack in [the bone],” he said at the time of the injury. “It just means three months out. If we get him right and we do need an outside back replacement, he will be fit and ready to go in the middle of October.”

Yesterday, the All Blacks management would not comment on whether the treatment in Fiji would make any difference to Naholo’s recovery or prospects of playing in the World Cup.

Naholo scored 13 tries for the Highlanders in their first title-winning season and made several scorching breaks in his debut test.


Village doctor #1Isei Naiova (right) is a busy man, judging from the number of times his cellphone rings.

“It’s people ringing up for appointments,” says a relative at the village doctor’s house in Nadroumai, the remote home village of All Black Waisake Naholo.

The constant calls are a measure of Naiova’s success using traditional Fijian medicine and tropical plants to treat the full range of human ailments. He may hold the key to Naholo’s chances of playing in the Rugby World Cup starting in Britain next month.

After Naholo broke his fibula (the smaller of two main bones in the lower leg) in the test match against Argentina on July 17, All Black head coach Steve Hansen said there was only a faint chance of him joining the team for the late stages of the cup.

Naiova says differently. At his urging, the young Fijian returned home on August 5, to undergo his third treatment at Naiova’s hands for broken or popped joints.

The doctor uses leaves from a common South Pacific plant, which he declined to name. Containing anti-inflammatory properties, it has twice fixed Waisake’s broken bones in eight days.

He may be using a plant Fijians call kalolo, kaulolo, dogosele or dredre (scientific name boehmeria virgate guillemin), a five metre-high shrub found in secondary forests up to 1200 metres above sea level.

At least half a dozen plants known to have anti-inflammatory and other benefits are listed in medical publications like the World Health Organisation’s Western Pacific Series Number 19, and a book called Fijian Medicinal Plants by R C Cambie and J Ash.

They wrote that kalolo leaves were reputed to have many medicinal uses. “They may be used as a dressing for broken bones.”

They could also be mixed with oil and used as a massage, used as a remedy for boils, combined with the fronds of a fern to treat the early stages of dysentery and blood in the faeces, or pressed to produce a liquid for easing diarrhoea.

Other Fijian plants used for broken bones and fractures include a tree called vesiwai (pongamia pinnata pierre); a creeping vine named drautolu (vigna marina fabaceae – common English name the beach bean); a weed with anti-inflammatory qualities called totowiwi (oxalis corniculata oxalidaceae – English name wood sorrel); the beach hibiscus called vauleka or vau in Fiji (tiliaceus malvaceae); and the indian pennywort creeper called totodro (centella asiatica urban apiaceae).

Whatever the cure, Waisake Naholo left New Plymouth this week hoping it will do the trick.

His journey home would have taken him south from the international airport at Fiji’s capital, Nadi, an hour’s drive on Queens Rd and then a loose metal affair heading inland from the coast for the last six kilometres. Into the bush. There’s sugar cane growing, and horses running loose on the road.road to village #2

There would have been about 200 eager souls waiting in Nadroumai for Waisake’s return, had he let them know he was coming home for a holiday…and the treatment. But he didn’t, not even his parents. “I hate a fuss. I’ll just walk in the door and surprise them,” he said in New Plymouth before he left.

They reckon at least 200 people, some from neighbouring villages, gather outside Aporosa Naholo’s house when his son is playing. Waisake shouted them a satellite aerial and a 32-inch TV. It’s the only one in the village, so everyone comes to sit outside and watch when there’s a big game.

Naholo Hse #5When not in use, the precious telly sits with a cover over it in the house. “I wanted to buy them a bigger one, but they said that was big enough.”

Of more urgent need is an extra rugby ball or three. The village usually has only one, and it has to be locked away for safe-keeping when the bigger players aren’t using it. The kids have to play with a soft-drink bottle wrapped in a teeshirt, or just a bundle of teeshirts wound up tightly.

That’s how Waisake started when he was five years old. These days, there’s a few round balls for the littlies to kick about, but nobody wants to play soccer. This is a rugby village.

It’s where the future All Black learned to duck and dive and outrun just about anyone, in games of touch and sevens. Fun stuff, but serious, too: the young players spend time doing proper warmup exercises before they hit the village field, with its single set of goalposts.

touch #7rugby field #1Seeing the passion with which all this is addressed, New Plymouth photographer Rob Tucker returned from a visit to the village while on holiday in Fiji with plans to send up a bunch of proper rugby balls.

When the Taranaki Rugby Football Union heard about it, they took it over as a project. After all, Waisake is one of their contracted players.

How he got there is a fairly typical story. After three years of high school in Fiji, at age 17 Waisake Naholo Ratunideuba (he dropped his surname back to Naholo a few years ago to make life easier for broadcasters and others) took up an offer from his uncle, Meli Nauga, to come over to Wanganui.

Meatworker Nauga had arrived there in the 1990s and played a few games on the wing for Wanganui in the middle of that decade.

Waisake attended Wanganui City College, and was almost immediately selected for Wanganui’s 2009 provincial rugby side, where he scored six tries in 11 matches.

He recalls during one game seeing a couple of Taranaki union people on the sideline giving him the once over. One was chief executive Mike Collins, who offered him a place in the province’s rugby academy.

That led to a year of working as a roofer in New Plymouth and playing club rugby and for the province’s the development squad. He landed his first contract in 2011, when he was also was selected for the national under-20s team that defended its world championship in Italy.

Unsurprisingly, he played sevens for Taranaki, too, catching the eye of national coach Gordon Tietjens, who included him in the New Zealand team at the 2012 world series tournament in Wellington.

Super Rugby beckoned, and after involvement in the Hurricanes wider training group in 2012, he was picked up by the Auckland Blues for 2013. The big city swallowed him up and he played only two games.

In 2014, he switched to the Highlanders, where his extraordinary form had a NZ Herald panel of rugby scribes and former players ranking him the Super Rugby competition’s third most valuable player, after Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith and Hurricanes veteran Ma’a Nonu.

Last year he was a key player in Taranaki’s first-ever ITM Cup title.

Taranaki-based coach and rugby commentator Ian Snook has a theory about what happened to the formerly shy young man. “It’s a confidence thing. When he had his first club season here in Taranaki for Spotswood United, our guys at Clifton tackled him no problem. But when he went to Dunedin, he grew immeasurably in stature.”

Waisake’s partner Moana Fotofili (below) agrees. A Dunedin rugby player herself, and from Fiji’s Lau Group island of Vanua Balavu, she puts it down to the support and mentoring he got from a senior Fijian player with the Highlanders.

Waisake Naholo will be 28 when the next World Rugby Cup rolls round. But he has no intention of waiting until then. Neither does the doctor of Nadroumai.Waisake & partner

Camper ban for whitebait fans

NZ Herald: By Jim Tucker; 3pm, Thursday, August 6, 2015

Stephen and Maureen Doy got a shock when they checked out their favourite whitebait possie in readiness for the opening of the season later this month.

There was a new sign banning the New Plymouth couple from freedom camping at the Awakino River in Waikato, just north of Taranaki.

The Doys have been staying in their campervan for short spells at the river – along with the nearby Mokau River, one of the North Island’s prime whitebaiting spots – every whitebait season for the past 20 years.

Now the west coast rivers have new signs from Waitomo District Council stating camping on council land is illegal. The daily fine is $175.

The council says freedom camping has always been against its bylaws, but complaints about the practice at Awakino and Mokau arose for the first time last season.

NZ Motor Caravan Association CEO Bruce Lochore heard about the ban when he visited Taranaki a few days ago to talk to New Plymouth District Council about the council achieving “motor home friendly” status with the association.

He said the association is now in discussions with Waitomo about the ban and wants the council to allow association members to freedom camp in places like Awakino for up to a fortnight.

The Tainui Whitebaiters Association, whose members frequent the two rivers, says the problem appears to have arisen because at least one whitebaiter camped out for the entire season, which this year runs from August 15 to November 30 in the North Island.

“Nobody minds people staying two or three days at a time, but staying for long periods is not on,” said association secretary Molly George, of New Plymouth. “People, including the campgrounds, were getting up in arms about it.”

Waitomo District Council spokeswoman Kelly Marriott said the council received a small number of complaints about freedom camping over the past two years.

“Our informal conversations indicate that freedom camping can be a problem at Awakino/Mokau area during the whitebait season,” she said. A nuisance was caused when campers stayed for extended periods and left behind rubbish and waste.

Camping on council land was regulated by the council’s public places bylaw, which was adopted in 2009 and reviewed in 2014. It bans camping outside camp grounds.

The council decided last November to monitor the situation for 12 months, before considering whether to develop a freedom camping bylaw.

As an interim measure, signs were posted at Kiritehere, Waikawau, Marokopa, Awakino and Mokau in an effort to increase public awareness and to control the activity, she said.

“We feel that further discussion with our local community and campers is required to ensure our position is correct.”

She confirmed the council was also working with the NZ Motor Caravan Association to find ways that worked for people who wanted to freedom camp responsibly.

The Tainui Wetere Domain in Mokau has a dump facility for motorhomes available for a fee. Seaview Holiday Park in Mokau is a camping ground with a dump station and access to power.

She asked people with a view on freedom camping to contact the council on

Surfer saves drowning man with skills he learned from TV fishing show

NZ Herald: By Jim Tucker: 5:00 AM Friday Jul 31, 2015

Waitara bar

Dave Haskell 2Above: The Waitara River mouth and bar. Right: Dave Haskell at the poolroom and bar he manages in New Plymouth.

A fishing programme Dave Haskell once saw on TV may have been the difference between life and death yesterday.

Mr Haskell arrived at one of his favourite surfing spots at the mouth of the Waitara River in Taranaki just before midday to check out what the off-shore sou’easter might be doing to his secret break.

As the 58-year-old pulled up at the river mouth carpark, there were people looking out to sea, concerned at what appeared to be a driverless boat drifting around, with a couple of heads bobbing nearby.

There were other surfers out there, but they were too far away to see what was going on, he said.

“I was the only one with a board. I said to someone, ‘what do you reckon? Should I get out there?’ They said I’d better. I put my wetsuit on and was heading down when the cops arrived. I got out there surprisingly fast, helped by the river and the outgoing tide,” he said.

When the New Plymouth surfer clambered aboard the small unmanned inflatable boat drifting in big waves off the mouth of the river, the final thing between him and rescuing its drowning crew was whether he could work out how to drive it.

His mind raced back to the programme and it came back to him. He tried the throttle control. It worked. Then he was able to swing the boat round in the fierce surf and get it to the first of two men who had been flung out after the boat was hit by a wave as it tried to cross the river mouth bar.

He got to the first man, the boat’s owner, and hauled him aboard. “He was a big fellah. Must have weighed 18 stone (114kg) at least. I had a helluva time getting him on board,” Mr Haskell said.

The pair then raced to save the second fisherman, who was floating face-down nearby. “The skipper jumped right in and grabbed him. Then I had to get them both back on board again,” he said.

They were too late. The second man was too far gone, despite 40 minutes of CPR administered by ambulance crew back on the beach.

But Mr Haskell had other dramas even before they got there. “On the way back in, the big fellah took the wheel. He insisted on taking over as we headed back in. Trouble was, he started to get us side-on to a wave again. In the end, I just grabbed the wheel and got us straightened up.”

When he’s not managing the Eight Ball snooker bar in downtown New Plymouth Mr Haskell is often to be found catching the breaks at Waitara.

He has been surfing Waitara since 1970. He reckons a recent storm and big flood in Taranaki’s biggest river has built up the river bar by a metre, making it the surf break of a lifetime. “It’s supposed to be our secret. I guess that’s shot now.”

He’s seen a few boats come to grief from the treachery of the bar, but this was his first rescue.

Senior Sergeant Matt Prendergast said he understood from boaties in the know that changes to the bar have made it more treacherous to cross.

The boat owner, a Waitara man, had gone out fishing yesterday morning with a visitor from the town, a Chinese national. Neither wore life jackets, he said.

They got a bit seasick in the conditions, so decided to return. They were seen by witnesses making several manoeuvres around the bar trying to get back in, then got side-on to a wave.

Mr Prendergast said the boat broached and the men were thrown out, although it appeared the boat itself did not capsize.

He was full of praise for Mr Haskell: “He’s done a sterling effort. Good initiative. We didn’t ask him. We’re always a bit conscious that we don’t want to force people to go out there and put themselves at risk.

“I’ve got little doubt that if he hadn’t acted when he did it is very questionable whether the other guy would have stayed afloat long enough for the rescue helicopter to get there.”

The surviving man, aged in his 60s, suffered minor hypothermia and was treated by ambulance staff. The Taranaki Rescue helicopter was deployed along with Surf Life Saving and the Coastguard. Police will not release the name of the deceased man until his next of kin have been informed.

Mr Haskell said he felt for the family of the deceased man: “It was sad. Bloody sad that that guy won’t be sitting down to dinner with his family tonight.”

He was back at work at Eight Ball last night. He wouldn’t stand in front of the big screen for his photo to be taken as it played surfing scenes. “That’d be way too cheesy,” he said.

Shiny new Len Lye Centre opens its doors

NZ Herald: By Jim Tucker:

Blg opening lo res

The dates weren’t exactly right, but being born on nearly the same day as kinetic artist Len Lye was enough to land two New Plymouth children a special role today.

Zavier Rangiwananga (6) and Emerson Martin (9) got to help Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce officially open the new Len Lye Centre because their birthdays were similar to Lye’s, who was born on July 6, and that of gallery benefactor Monica Brewster.

Ripping the cover off the doors to the spectacular stainless steel-clad centre, Joyce told a crowd of several hundred at today’s launch of the $17.5 million combined Len Lye Centre-Govett-Brewster Art Gallery that the man who brought Lye’s art to the city, engineer John Matthews met the definition of someone with a magnificent obsession.

It was Matthews’ work building Lye’s kinetic sculpture over the past 46 years that underpinned the realisation of the centre.

Joyce paid tribute to the city, his home town, for becoming a magnificent centre of creativity ever since it decided during his school days to get the railway shunting yards away from the coastline and reclaim its relationship with the sea.

He acknowledged there had been some public opposition to the project over its long gestation, but predicted that within five years 100 percent of the local populace would declare themselves in favour of it. Such was the nature of public arts controversies.

Minister of Recreation Arts and Heritage Maggie Barry said the impact the new centre would have on New Plymouth would be compared with that of the Eiffel Tower on Paris and the Opera House on Sydney.

The doors were opened to the public in mid-morning and dozens finally got to see what lies behind the shiny façade.

The centre is showing four versions of Lye’s Fountain kinetic works, one called Grass and another named Universe, as well as numerous paintings, designs and films. Display of a well-known sculpture called Trilogy: Flip and Two Twisters was postponed because of technical problems.

Photos from the opening:

First three – Len Lye Foundation chairman John Matthews prepares then delivers his welcoming address to Friends of the Gallery. Then, the official party arrives to open the gallery. Fountains on display in the Great Gallery. Bottom: Len Lye’s niece, Jill Dando, has her photograph taken after arriving from Australia for the opening on July 25.

John above entrance lo res John prepares lo res John speech to Friends lo res Opening 1 lo res Fountains lo res

Dando lo res

Blind faith in art

NZ Herald: Story and photo by Jim Tucker: 

Lance & Andrew Patterson lo res

Len Lye Centre architect Andrew Patterson (left) and Lance Girling-Butcher feel the shiny surface of the centre building in New Plymouth.

When Lance Girling-Butcher took on the job of steering the Len Lye Centre project through for New Plymouth’s district council he was well aware of an impending irony — he would never get to see the outcome.

Girling-Butcher was going blind when, as a new councillor in 2007, he was asked to take charge of the Len Lye Committee.

“Looking back now, I can see it was a cunning move by [then-mayor] Peter Tennent,” he said as the centre opened this week. “My eyesight was pretty bad then, so nobody could accuse me of self-indulgence.”

Glaucoma-induced blindness had already forced him to retire early from his job as editor of the Taranaki Daily News in 2006, but didn’t deter him from standing successfully for council.

With a lifetime interest in the arts, he embraced the Len Lye Centre project, applying a steady hand to get the building through a political minefield of ratepayer resistance, design controversies and fund-raising.

A good number of the mines involved a growing feeling in conservative New Plymouth that the council was living beyond its means, and a flash new arts centre was the last thing it could afford.

By the 2013 local body elections, that feeling was so strong that Girling-Butcher and many of his fellow councillors were dumped. He puts his demise down to his association with the centre.

Which leads to another irony: building the Len Lye Centre didn’t actually cost the ratepayers a cent. All $11.5 million for the project came from corporate and community sponsorship.

The naysayers said it would cost the city an extra $650,000 a year to run, but that was wrong, too.

In its first full year, the centre and the joined-at-the-hip Govett-Brewster Art Gallery will cost $3.2 million to operate (some of that offset by income from various initiatives — which is about $200,000 more than if the gallery had continued without change.

Girling-Butcher felt he already knew what it looked like when he had his first tour of the nearly completed centre and renovated gallery, which opens to the public today.

“I mightn’t be able to see it — but I can experience it. The sounds, the feel of the great polished concrete ramps, the ambience, the noise of people enjoying it. It has a terrific atmosphere, and you can appreciate it almost as much from all your other senses.”

In fact he does know what some of Lye’s kinetic sculptures look like. He was chief reporter of the local evening paper, the Taranaki Herald, in 1977 when Lye came to the Govett-Brewster for the opening of his first exhibition.

“I took my family along, and I’ll never forget the reaction from my three-year-old son, Tim, when he saw Trilogy play. He was transfixed. It may have led to his future career — Tim is now a technical director at the Museum of Sydney.”

He was helped by a vivid description of the centre by the architect, Andrew Patterson, and by running his hands over an architectural model.

He believes the outcome is a triumph not only for art but for New Zealand’s engineering community, which used first-time techniques and much ingenuity to make the building a success.

He’s delighted gallery staff have already shown through a group of 40 people with a variety of disabilities to test the building’s utility. The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery had already won national awards for arts access and he predicted the Len Lye Centre would achieve something similar.

Gallery staff say the centre’s disability aids include wide walkways and ramps, flat surfaces, scarcity of stairs, a hearing loop that accommodates hearing aids, safe spaces, special days when trained people will offer assistance, and wheelchair-friendly lifts and toilets.

They got positive feedback from the test group, with only a few minor issues to do with visibility of steps. It helped staff develop safe pathways that will be used in future.


LL Centre 6 lo resTaranaki’s Len Lye Centre opening

RIGHT: The contractors from Clelands Construction and their stainless steel creation.

A bitter saga that has lasted more than four decades, cost about $20 million and divided a city will reach some kind of climax in New Plymouth over the weekend.

Arts writers, politicians national and local, sponsors, donors, friends of the gallery and ratepayers will mingle at a series of functions at the Len Lye Centre and adjoining Govett-Brewster Art Gallery from today until Sunday to celebrate the launch of New Zealand’s only gallery devoted to a single artist.

The Len Lye Centre’s massive galleries and a 62-seat theatre will show off various original and duplicated versions of Lye’s kinetic sculptures, and his unique films made by scratching designs by hand on film stock.

The whole shebang has cost $17.5 million to build over the last two years, if you include $6 million spent by the New Plymouth District Council to renovate and quake-proof the Govett-Brewster.

There’s a few million more if you count the time and resources devoted to building gigantic versions of Lye’s creations by New Plymouth engineering industrialist John Matthews.

He won’t say how much it’s cost him since he ventured to New York in 1974 to meet ex-patriate Lye and bringing back some of his designs to experiment with and build.

Lye was so thrilled by Matthews’ efforts he bequeathed much of his life’s work to New Plymouth.

Matthews has continued to make and sponsor the making of 19 of Lye’s 30-odd steel sculptures, often through his alma mater, the Canterbury University College of Engineering, which is about to confer on him an honorary doctorate for his efforts.

Building the Len Lye Centre has been Matthews’ dream since the time Lye talked to him of the need for a “temple” to house giant versions of his motorised sculptures.

Although the $11.5 million needed to build the centre has come entirely from the fund-raising efforts of Matthews, the Len Lye Foundation and the associated Len Lye Centre Trust, the 2013 local body elections saw many district councillors turfed out because of what a determined bunch of ratepayers saw as over-spending, especially on things like the Len Lye Centre.

One to lose his seat was the chairman of the council’s Len Lye committee, Lance Girling-Butcher. A particular gripe was the decision not to charge an entry fee.

Since then, local residents have complained to the council about what turns out to have been someone’s misguided calculation — that the Len Lye would add $650,000 a year to the adjoining Govett-Brewster Art Gallery’s annual running costs.

In fact, the council now believes the additional cost will be less than $200,000, a small price to pay for what it believes will be an international attraction for arts trail tourists.

A recent report by Business and Economic Research reckons the Govett-Brewster’s pre-Len Lye Centre visitor tally of 70,000 a year (most of them to see Lye’s works) will jump to 100,000, 60 per cent of them from out of town.

The opening exhibition will feature four versions of the sculpture Fountain, the largest and newest of which spans nine metres and dominates the first great gallery of the centre.

This space is reached via a polished concrete ramp that rises gently alongside the inside of the building’s columns, whose exterior carry the 32 tonnes of stainless steel cladding already made famous by photographers chronicling their gradual unveiling from behind the scaffolding.

Another ramp takes viewers to a second vast gallery, where other Lye sculptures will be set up, including Grass, Universe, and Roundhead, a work that incorporates Lye’s wife Ann’s wedding ring.

A new version of Trilogy: Flip and Two Twisters will be hung in the Govett-Brewster in an eight-metre tall gallery where a previous incarnation startled visitors with its deafening crescendos.

At this stage there are no plans to show Blade, a sculpture that is notorious – according to Matthews – for inducing orgasms in female viewers.

Meantime, Brian Hannam, an Auckland playwright and producer, is talking of reviving a long-lost play about Lye, a sole-performer production that he researched and wrote more than a decade ago but which has never been performed publicly.

The centre will be opened on Saturday July 25, by Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage Maggie Barry and Economics Development Minister Steven Joyce, who in a past life began a radio empire with a start-up station in New Plymouth.

There will be performances from members of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra accompanying Lye’s cinematic and kinetic sculpture works.

The film show will launch with a screening of Lye’s first film, Tusalava (1929) and a film by Leon Narbey, documenting his own exhibition, Real Time, at the 1970 opening of the Govett-Brewster.

The doors will open to the public from 10am tomorrow.

Conman jailed for defrauding elderly

NZ Herald: By Jim Tucker:

Steven Younger. Photo / Greg Bowker
Steven Younger. Photo / Greg Bowker

A conman has been sentenced to two years and four months’ jail on 12 charges of defrauding a total of $260,850 from three elderly people.

Steven Francis Younger, 45, used proceeds from his latest frauds to repay previous victims, an action “so offensive it nearly defies description”, Judge Gerard Lynch told the New Plymouth District Court today.

Judge Lynch described the case as incredibly sad. The defendant befriended and took advantage of older people.

Professing to be a family man and a church man, he was in fact a dishonest man through and through who weaved a plausible story and built on it, layer upon layer, to engender trust before bleeding his victims of their hard-earned life savings.

The victims described stress at the loss of their savings, distrust of others, sleepless nights and feelings of paranoia about their security.

One man said he had always been a good judge of character, but he got it wrong with Younger.

“You didn’t show a lot of finesse,” the judge said to the defendant, who sat in the dock with his head in his hands for much of the hearing, “but not a lot was needed.”

The court heard that at various times between 2010 and 2013, Younger befriended the victims and borrowed from them or told them he could get a higher return for their money, in two cases by claiming a fictitious sister worked for a bank and had access to better interest rates for short-term and foreign investments.

The latest charges followed convictions last June for similar offences. On that occasion, he was sentenced to 250 hours’ community work and four months’ community detention and was ordered to finish repaying an elderly people he targeted.

The court heard today that in one of the new cases he befriended a widow in her mid-70s he met through a church group in his home town of Stratford and persuaded her to part with a total of $97,000, which she never saw again.

After moving to Parakai to work as a sharemilker in 2012, Younger targeted a 73-year-old neighbour, who he eventually conned out of $101,050.

Rather than investing the money, Younger used some to pay reparation to a previous victim and gambled a percentage away.

Then he befriended a third victim and relieved him of $62,800.

A story in the Weekend Herald in August about Younger’s convictions finally alerted the second victim, who contacted police.Younger spent the money on personal entertainment, gambling, air travel and fine dining.

Records showed he lost $60,000 on the horses. He made a few small repayments to the last two victims.

Judge Lynch ordered full reparation, but expressed doubts about Younger’s claims he was owed sufficient money to pay it: “We need to remember we are dealing with a convicted fraudster.”

He said the judge in Younger’s previous trial last year probably allowed him to stay out of jail because there was a chance he would make reparations if allowed to work.

Given what had transpired, that decision was now likely to be revisited by the earlier judge.

The final sentence was far from enough for the victims’ supporters who spoke outside court after today’s hearing today.”

Disgusting, absolutely disgusting,” said Shona How Gatenby of Huntly, a cousin of Younger’s wife. “I can’t believe how low the judge’s starting point was.”

She said she and her husband loaned Younger $50,000 for a sharemilking venture, money yet to be repaid.Stratford motel owner Grant Johnson said he had Younger and his wife managing his hotel for a year to 2009, until the defendant was discovered forging cheques, which was one of the offences he faced in court last year.”

People spoke very highly of them, actually,” Mr Johnson said. “He was a very slick talker. On one occasion I got a call from an Australian checking him out after he [Younger] told him he owned our motel.”

At one point Younger put money into his son’s account and made several internet transfers to the account of a previous victim, paying $19,000 in reparation.

Surveillance footage of Younger and his wife showed them withdrawing large amounts of cash using a credit card.

The judge gave Younger several months’ discount from a starting point of three years and three months because one of his victims found the restorative justice process productive, and a report from the conference facilitator described the degree of remorse shown, although “it is difficult to accept from someone as dishonest as you”.

A further reduction was granted for Younger’s guilty pleas, which saved the elderly victims the stress of a full trial.

Killer of jogger ‘left a void that will never be filled’

NZ Herald: By Jim Tucker:

Matthew Kinghorn ripped the heart out of a family “and created a void that can never be filled” when he ran down a woman jogger with the intention of sexually assaulting her, a judge said today.

Anne Elizabeth McCullough, 45, was run over by Kinghorn on October 20 last year and died on the back seat of his car before he could do anything to her.

That was one reason he didn’t get the maximum non-parole life sentence of 17 to 25 years when he appeared for sentencing in the High Court at New Plymouth today for murder.

He did receive a warning under the three-strikes law.

Although the Crown tried for the toughest penalty, Kinghorn, 28 – who pleaded guilty in October – was given a life sentence with a minimum period of 13 years before he can be considered for parole.

Justice Rodney Hansen decided that grievous though Kinghorn’s crime was, it did not meet the requirements of Section 104 of the Sentencing Act pertaining to maximum non-parole periods.

The Crown had argued Kinghorn killed Mrs McCullough in the course of another serious offence, forcing sex on her. But Justice Hansen said while Kinghorn’s intentions may have been clear, the fact he did not actually touch the victim in a sexual way ruled out the use of that remedy.

He settled on 15 years as the minimum period of jail to be served, but discounted that by two years to recognise Kinghorn guilty plea, his remorse and other factors.

Earlier, the court heard victim impact reports from Mrs McCullough’s family, including two sisters, 17-year-old son Ollie and husband Jeff.

Mrs McCullough was a devoted wife and mother, much loved by her family and friends, the judge said.

“Your actions have ripped the heart out of this family and left a void that will never be filled,” he told Kinghorn.

“The reports speak for themselves. The words of the victims are the most eloquent testimony to the pain and the loss they have suffered.

“The terrible shock of her death and the abiding pain of her loss permeates every page of the reports.”

Justice Hansen said Kinghorn’s actions followed a night of drinking.

Around 1pm, he was driving on Frankley Rd when he saw Mrs McCullough walking on the grass verge.

He turned the car around and headed back towards her, at the last second swerving onto the verge at a speed between 27km/h and 36km/h, initially striking her on her legs.

He stopped the car, picked her up and placed her on the back seat.

Mrs McCullough was unconscious and suffered injuries to her head and brain, spine, chest wall and limbs. She died between three minutes and an hour after the impact, the judge said.

After driving his purple Holden Commodore along various country roads outside New Plymouth, Kinghorn eventually abandoned the vehicle to go to a nearby house to ask the occupant to phone police and his mother.

Fluoride court case continues

NZ Herald: By Jim Tucker:

In legal terms, there is no practical difference between putting chlorine or fluoride into public water supplies, the High Court in New Plymouth heard today.

In each case, the purpose is the improvement or maintenance of public health, senior Crown counsel Austin Powell told a judicial review into the rights of local councils to fluoridate water supplies.

It involved introducing a chemical to water that inevitably found its way into the body of someone who drank it, and in the minutest degree altered the composition of that body.

Representing the Attorney-General in what is a test case on fluoridation, Mr Powell was commenting on an earlier claim by anti-fluoridation group New Health NZ that chlorination to remove bacteria was quite different from fluoridation, which amounted to mass medical treatment violating individual rights.

Referring to numerous legal cases worldwide that dealt with fluoridation, mass medication and an individual’s rights to refuse treatment, Mr Powell said while there were generally recognised rights to freedom from the state, a natural boundary was reached where the individual must engage with society.

For example, Mr Powell said he lived in Wellington where he was exposed to higher levels of carbon monoxide than he would prefer.

“But that’s just one of the vicissitudes of living in an organised community,” he told Justice Hansen, who will deliver a judgement on whether South Taranaki District Council has the legal right to fluoridate the water in Patea and Waverley.

Regarding human rights and the power of the state, Mr Powell drew a parallel with inoculation: if the government decided compulsory immunisation was necessary to stop the spread of disease, then everyone would have to submit to it.

Fluoridation was not such a direct interference with an individual’s autonomy, since after water entered a property at the boundary it was up to the person living there whether or not to drink it.

The common finding of courts here and overseas was that for individual human rights to be violated, a minimum threshold must be crossed, the court heard.

Fluoridation was consistently found not to reach that threshold, Mr Powell said.

New Zealand’s Bill of Rights Act – in just 11 words in Section 11 – enshrined rights to refuse medical experimentation and treatment, but went no further in terms of protecting bodily integrity.

The courts had since recognised Parliament was being deliberately selective when enacting the legislation. The words “medical treatment”were included, but not defined, he said.

Yesterday, barrister Lisa Hansen, acting for New Health NZ, said New Zealand has no law allowing councils to introduce fluoride. She said the practice was merely a convention established by a court case half a century ago which went to appeal and eventually to the Privy Council in London, with the Lower Hutt City Council winning, thus establishing a general and implied power to councils.

She said fluoridation was a therapeutic action, unlike adding chlorine to make water safe, and its use denied people the right to choose whether they wanted to take a medication – one that was highly unlikely to benefit them.

Today, 48 per cent of New Zealanders lived in communities with fluoridation, put into water supplies by 22 of the country’s 67 local authorities. However, today’s context was quite different, legally, ethically and in terms of the science, she said.

Ms Hansen referred to research that showed fluoride taken via the water supply did nothing to prevent tooth decay because the method did not provide enough of the element to make an impact.

On the other hand, gels and toothpaste containing fluoride could have a beneficial effect. They provided “topical” (local) protection, rather than the “systemic”(ingested) approach used by fluoridation.

Excessive fluoride carried risks of dental fluorosis, which could leave teeth chalky and mottled. One research outcome showed fluoridation doubled the incidence of this complication, she said.

Nobody living in a community where water was fluoridated could escape it, unless they stayed at home and produced their own food, she told the court.

Where fluoridation was used overseas, it was done so under a statute, but New Zealand did not have that.

If fluoridation was ever to be lawful, there would need to be a specific provision to permit it and no other substances, such as lithium or contraceptives.


Councils have a ‘right’ to fluoridate, court told

New Zealand local councils have a clear legal power to fluoridate public water supplies, a right devolved to them by Parliament when it revised local government law in 2002, a court has been told.

That is the gist of arguments put to the High Court in New Plymouth today by South Taranaki District Council in defence of its decision to put fluoride into the water at two small towns in its region.

The power to fluoridate the Patea and Waverley water supplies was derived from both the Local Government Act 2002 and the Health Act 1956, barrister Duncan Laing told Justice Hansen, who is hearing a judicial review sought by anti-fluoridation group, New Health NZ, of Christchurch.

Revision of the Local Government Act shifted the legislation’s focus away from compliance with detailed legislative rules to a broader approach requiring councils to meet the needs of their communities, he said.

Local government was enabled to perform its role by a “general power of competence” conferred by Section 12 of the Local Government Act.

Councils had an obligation under the Health Act to promote public health.

“There is a view held by reputable public health authorities and scientific bodies that fluoridation is beneficial and safe.”

These included the Ministry of Health, the NZ Dental Association, the World Health Organisation, the NZ Maori Dental Association, the US Academy of Science, the British Medical Association and the Royal Society of NZ.

The ministry evaluated scientific studies on fluoridation and commissioned its own, and it advised local authorities and communities “in accordance with its function to improve, promote, and protect public health” under the Health Act.

The South Taranaki District Council made its decision to fluoridate after a thorough consultation process.

That began with people in Patea and Waverley as part of the council’s public submission process when writing its 2011/2012 annual plan.

It wrote to residents on September 26, 2012, to tell them of plans to introduce fluoride to their water supplies and invite them to attend information evenings in the two towns in October.

Two main presentations at the evenings dealt with each side of the fluoride debate.

Mr Laing said that in the month to November 9, 2012, the council got 508 written submissions from members of the communities, local dentists and doctors, various health and Maori organisations, and the Children’s Commissioner, as well as four anti-fluoridation groups.

On November 26, 42 people spoke at a hearing held by the council, with council officers later producing a report analysing the submissions and making “a neutral recommendation”.

A special meeting of the council on December 10 voted 10-3 in favour of fluoridating the two supplies.

He said it was common ground that the decision was an exercise of a statutory power of decision that fell within the ambit of the Judicature Amendment Act 1972.

He submitted the court should be slow to intervene in the council’s decision.

“Parliament has left the decision to fluoridate to the council as a democratically elected local body.

“It is this body that is best placed to weigh competing considerations.”

On the plaintiff’s claim that fluoridation amounted to mass medication and its use denied human rights under the Bill of Rights Act, Mr Laing said it all depended on how something with a medical purpose was delivered and who delivered it.

The council said three elements were necessary before something could be called a “medical treatment”- it must be provided to a patient, by a health professional, as part of professional treatment.

“If fluoridation has a medical purpose – which is not accepted by the council – this does not mean the council is providing `medical treatment’.

“The council is not a health professional and fluoridated drinking water is not ‘administered’ to patients.”

He used the analogy of salt manufacturers adding iodine which prevented goitre: they were not providing medical treatment, even though the addition of iodine might have a medical purpose.

“But a doctor prescribing a course of iodine supplements to a patient would be providing medical treatment.”

He said contrary to the plaintiff’s submissions, fluoridation did not treat tooth decay, but reduced the incidence and severity of decay.

A commission of inquiry in 1957 found fluoridation was not a medication (it was a food rather than a drug, and water remained materially unchanged with added fluoride) and while scientific knowledge had progressed since then, “the issues material to whether fluoridation is compulsory `mass medication’ have not changed”.

He reminded the court the Human Rights Commission looked at fluoridation in 1980 and found it was not a denial of human rights.

Mr Laing traversed various submissions made to the council at its hearing, including one from Dr Robyn Haisman-Welsh, who said the economic argument for fluoridation was strong, especially for communities with lower socio-economic status.

He said in 1999, a group of independent scientists and economists calculated fluoridation would prevent an estimated 74,200 cases of decay over 30 years. The cost of such prevention would be about $4.20 a case, compared to $117.25 a case if there was no fluoridation.

The hearing is expected to end today.

Brave rescuers battle harsh conditions in vain

NZ Herald: By Jim Tucker:

Vaughn Smith from the New Plymouth Police, SAR and Taranaki Alpine Cliff Rescue Team was in charge of the rescue attempt of 2 climbers on Mt Taranaki on Monday.
Right: Vaughn Smith from the New Plymouth Police, SAR and Taranaki Alpine Cliff Rescue Team was in charge of the rescue attempt of 2 climbers on Mt Taranaki on Monday.

Vaughan Smith’s GPS won’t work. It’s frozen. He no longer knows how high they are. Not to the metre.

It hardly matters, because it’s not the only thing iced up. He’s iced up, and his fellow climbers are iced up. Some show signs of hypothermia. But their job’s done.

It’s 5.30am on Labour Day and Mr Smith, Police Liaison and team member of the Taranaki Alpine Cliff Rescue, and his team are about 2300 metres up the eastern side of Mt Taranaki. The sky is turning pink, replacing the dismally cold blackness his team have endured since midnight in the search for two climbers who have been trapped for two nights.

But, it’s time for the weary team to turn around.

Working in 100km/h wind gusts and on icy rime that demanded an ice axe in each hand and hard going on all fours, they have rigged anchor points and safety lines for team three, the next group of rescuers who are on their way up.

That team arrives in time to find Miss Sutton still alive in a waist-deep trench – hardly an ice cave – that she and Mr Ogawa have been huddling in since Saturday night.

At 2380m, the cave is close to The Lizard, a line of rock high up near the summit, near the entrance to the Crater Valley.

“It might have been adequate, for a short time and in better conditions …” Mr Smith says as his voice trails off.

The conditions have been atrocious. Mr Smith and some of his team, him grey with fatigue and his hands still not fully functioning, ponder at how she could have lasted so long.

“I have never been in worse conditions on the mountain,” says one of his colleagues, who won’t be named, and doesn’t really want to be quoted, because Smith’s their leader and it’s up to him to tell it.

The tough men, some sporting Hillary-like beards and that lean stance, are shocked when they look at themselves coming down the mountain in the half light to the search headquarters.

“Everyone was just covered in ice, it was hanging off us,” said Mr Smith.
He is exhausted as he tells his story yesterday afternoon in the sunny warmth of the North Egmont Visitor Centre.

He’s been up for days. He was halfway through a DVD, Terminator number something or other, unwinding from the previous all nighter, when he got the call. There’s been no real sleep since. More than 30 people were crammed into Tahurangi Lodge, 1520m up on a ridge, on Sunday night – climbers and alpine experts from all over the island, who came to help.

Smith and eight others, teams one and two combined, left the lodge at 12.30am yesterday, armed with headlights, crampons, ice axes – all the gear. They saw little: “Visibility was down to between three and five metres.”

They climbed up Hongi’s Track and up into Snow Valley, where the winds were gusting at “only” 80kmh.

At 2100 metres – Mr Smith’s GPS was still working – they traversed to the leeward side of The Lizard, its eastern flank, where there was a bit of shelter from the freezing westerly.

From there, they started to make it safe for team three, who would follow to try to make contact with the stranded pair.

Mr Smith and crew got 2200m up the side of the Lizard, then crossed over its top to 2272m, just 50 metres from the Crater Valley. There, they were hit by the full force of the wind, the 100kmh stuff, that started literally to freeze them.

The ground they were clinging to was covered in hard rime, which they described as ice laid over more ice, building in formations. Ice axe territory, one in each hand.
Sensing danger of the dreaded kind, Mr Smith turned them around.

On the way down, they met the next group, briefed them on what to expect.
The also meet Gerardo Cuervo. Mr Gerardo, from Spain, was climbing solo and heading for the top, when they met about 2000m up.

He was in the middle of telling them how they could safely get down when he was informed, politely, that perhaps it’s best if he turned back. He did, willingly: “Very bad conditions up there,” he said as he emerged from the summit track at midday.

He was not the only one to think the mountain is a pushover. On Sunday evening, as a police crew member headed away from the North Egmont carpark, he was met by a French couple in a van.

“We want to climb zer mountain,” said one. “Um, not a great idea tonight,” said the policeman. “But we are very experienced.” Policeman: “The forecast looks better for tomorrow.”

Mollified, they drove away. Perhaps put off by yesterday’s continued cloud cover, and maybe by news of the unfolding tragedy, they didn’t turn up again.

It’s something Darren Morris, a member of the Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation, said he was familiar with. One of Vaughan Smith’s advance team, Mr Morris said easy access to Mt Taranaki was no different from that at Mt Ruapehu and the other central North Island mountains, where people were often caught out by sudden changes in weather.

“That’s one of the problems, I guess. They promote the mountains as places where anyone can visit, so people just do it.”

His colleague, Stu Arnold, a 22-year veteran of alpine rescues who came from the Ruapehu area to help, said conditions on Mt Taranaki early yesterday were among the worst he had seen.

“Nil visibility, 100 kilometres an hour gusts, snow blowing off the summit. It wasn’t quite a blizzard, because it wasn’t snowing, but it was pretty tough going,” said Mr Arnold, one of 18 from the Ruapehu area who arrived to assist on Sunday.

Many of the rescuers -from RARO, the Ruapehu Ski Patrol, the Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre and the Department of Conservation – were all unpaid volunteers.

Why do they do it?

“I’d like to think someone would come out after me if I got into trouble. Simple as that, really,” said Darren Morris one of Mr Smith’s advance team members.
Not so simple was the realisation they all carried away from the mountain, that despite their extraordinary efforts, this was a mission without a happy ending.

Rock tragedy dad: Where’s the justice?

NZ Herald: By Jim Tucker:

For at least one family who lost a son in New Plymouth’s Paritutu Rock tragedy last year, yesterday’s court sentencing of the Taranaki Outdoor Pursuits and Education centre is well short of closure.

“Those people pay out $80,000-odd and then walk away and go back to work – where’s the justice in that,” said Bruce Gedye in the foyer of the city’s courthouse, after hearing what would happen to the organisation he holds responsible for the death of his son.

He was referring to members of the Topec Trust, who were outside in front of television cameras, reiterating their remorse over the incident that claimed three lives in August last year and repeating their public apology.

Topec instructor Bryce Jourdain, 42, and 17-year-old school students Stephen Kahukaka-Gedye of Spotswood College and Felipe Melo, on exchange from Brazil, were swept from the seaward side of 600m high Paritutu Rock after a traverse exercise that went wrong. The remaining 11 in the party were rescued.

In the District Court yesterday, Judge Gerard Lynch convicted Topec on three health and safety charges over the deaths and ordered reparation totalling $269,500.

The packed-out hearing gave families a chance to read victim impact reports. Rachel Bryan spoke on behalf of her family who hosted Felipe for six weeks, and Mr Jourdain’s wife, Robyn, expressed her feelings of loss for a husband she never expected would not return from work that day.

Mr Gedye delivered an emotional account of the tragedy’s effects, saying the loss of Stephen had split his family and left him with feelings of anger, rage and frustration.

He realised a couple of weeks ago when skeletons were found on a Taranaki beach that he and his family were never likely to find closure.

One of the worst things was that the “creators of this tragedy” had started up again.

He was particularly upset he was denied a meeting with Topec through the restorative justice process.

As the findings were discussed, Mr Gedye said they were appalled nobody would be losing their positions.

He and his family had expected Topec to be shut down so it could be re-established by different people and with a clean slate. “So what sort of justice do you call that?”

In court, Andrew Gane, counsel for the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, said the failures of Topec included not having enough information about the big swells forecast that day, leaving late for the trip and therefore going too close to high tide, not noting the sea conditions at the venue, and failing to ensure everyone was clipped to safety lines.

He called for a high band of fines – $100,000 on all three charges under the Employment Act – given that culpability was high.

After issuing a brief statement, Topec Trust members declined to comment further yesterday, saying they would go away to consider the organisation’s future.

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