Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Random musings on family & New Zealand

Somewhat tired yesterday and still today. Not surprising, really. We got up to go to the airport yesterday at 4am NZ time, 2am Australian. Then for booking reasons we came via Melbourne, only to be caught in the security scare at Sydney airport, forcing the plane to sit on the tarmac at Sydney airport for an hour and a half. In the end, we didn't get back to home until around 4pm Australian time, making for a fourteen hour trip.

While in New Zealand I read Frank Walker's The Tiger Man of Vietnam. It's a good yarn, although I have some reservations about some of the analysis from an historical perspective.ghost platoon

Upon return, an excited youngest daughter showed me her autographed copy of Frank's new book, Ghost Platoon. Why excited?

It's not just the autograph, but there in the book is a map that Frank got Clare to draw as an illustration. There, too, in small print is an acknowledgement of Clare as the artist!

Frank was a senior journalist at the Sun-Herald in Sydney who took retrenchment and then decided to become a full time writer. He is now working on his first novel.

I was thinking this morning as I was writing this week's Armidale Express column, this one on the Rugby, that I really must get Clare to do some illustrations for me. I can't afford to pay her at the moment, so will have to rely on charm!

I was thinking the other day that my three girls, while all very different, are frighteningly competent modern women.

Apart from her other activities, Dee has just facilitated her first course for the Australian Institute of Company Directors, was interviewed as one of the talking heads on insolvency for the George Negus Show and is the official speaker this year at one of the Sydney University graduation ceremonies.

Helen took me to New Zealand for the Rugby, displaying her practical organisation skills. I really didn't have to do a thing. Helen is very like her Aunt Kay with a high degree of emotional intelligence, a calm demeanour in a crisis and a very, very, practical approach. I do stand a bit in awe of her and her gift for friendship.

Clare is different again, far more mercurial and over the place. Still firming up in some ways, she has quite high artistic talent, can be all over the place, but also has very high level organisational skills when she wishes to apply them. Like Helen, she is a natural leader.

All this may sound a bit like boasting, and perhaps it is. But I was also thinking of broader aspects.

One element is the need for me to change as my family changes, and that is not always easy. It's part of the challenge today when relationships are based less on traditional roles, more on individual negotiation.

A second element that has always interested me is the way in which varying personalities are formed through the combination of genetics, experience and personal interaction. This includes the way that gender works itself out, for boys and girls remain very different.

I listen to the sometimes very funny interaction between Helen and Clare and continue to be amazed at their memories for dialogue, for situation and for mimicry. Boys can do this too, but I think that the way that the girls do it is very much a girl thing.

In New Zealand we stayed with cousin Richard. Looking at Richard and his two boys, I was again struck by the variations in personality as well as the commonalities.

Vic Fisher Monteray In Auckland, we visited the Auckland museum because I wanted to show Helen and Dylan, Richard's youngest, the big Maori war canoe that brother David and I sat in when we were kids. You can't do this now, but Uncle Vic Fisher was curator of ethnography at the museum and took us there one day when the museum was closed.

The photo from the Museum collection shows Uncle Vic on the Monteray. 

I have written before of the way that attitudes, interests and approaches flow down through the generations. This is partly due to family contacts and traditions, but it also seems to occur independent of that.

On the Belshaw side, the interest in history, economics and anthropology is certainly due to proximity and family connection. But the way that this played out across countries and time also seems to reflect a little more, perhaps something in the blood, for people with common interests tend to marry.

My girls are generally patient with me when I get into didactic, introspective mode. I guess that they need to be, for they live in the present whereas I want to show them something about the depth and complexity of the Belshaw and Drummond past.

Introspection is crowding in as I write, as memories of the past come back.

As a child, Vic was simply someone married to my aunt, not an historical figure. He was someone whom I met many times on my visits to New Zealand, less often in Australia. A gentle somewhat gaunt man, he taught brother David and I to play chess. I remember on that museum visit how he showed us how the Maori lit fires, We experimented on the floor of his office at the museum.

Over the years that followed, I listened to his stories. On my last trips to New Zealand before his death he was fascinated by the similarities between the Maori and Elizabethan England. Travelling through the South Island, he yarned about the way that both societies as wood using societies had similar phrases. Tough as old oak had a direct Maori equivalent.

Walking through the Auckland Museum, I remembered those conversations and other family connections. It wasn't just that Vic helped build the Maori and Pacific Island collections. The collections also referred to trade in the pre-historic Pacific, to the ceremonial exchange cycle, something that cousin Cyril Belshaw had written on. Many years later I drew from Cyril's work in my own honours thesis.

Then there was the broader material on the Maori. Here Uncle Horace Belshaw played an early role in Maori advancement. As part of this, Horace organised a Maori Young Leaders Conference in 1939. More than seventy years later and in my own limited way, I campaign for Aboriginal advancement. In the meantime, cousin Cyril created a museum display at the University of British Columbia on the Canadian Indians.

As I write, my train reading is Cyril's book Choosing our Destiny: creating the utopian world in the 21st century, an attempt to apply the lessons from his studies of anthropology to create a better society. This type of approach has carried through several generations.

 BarPopuP026 I will write about Cyril's book later. For the moment, I just wanted to note that the views common among the Belshaws  means that as a family we have generally had a left of centre focus relative to the societies that we have lived in. This photo from Rachel Barrowman's A popular vision: the arts and the left in New Zealand 1930-1950 shows a gathering at Piha. Horace Belshaw is second on the left.

Looking across the family as a whole, we are not left wing in the conventional sense. However, we do have a social concern that carries through to today that does mark us a left of centre in conventional terms. However, formalised ideology has always played a secondary role to the simple objective of human improvement. 

As so often happens, this muse has taken me away from my original starting point. Here I want to finish with a comment I made to Helen as we drove into Auckland from the airport.

In the 1920s, Helen's great grandfather David Drummond visited New Zealand. He was then a backbencher in the NSW parliament. Coming from Northern NSW, New England, he was struck by the number of bigger urban centres with their own universities and other facilities. He contrasted this with New England. Why, he asked, is this so? Why can't New England do likewise?

As we drove into Auckland,I remarked that a country with a total population about the same as Sydney had five airports with international flights, more universities than NSW, sporting venues that took the Rugby World Cup across the country in a way unachievable in Australia.

I think that David Drummond's question remains valid. Still that's another post.

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