About SJPONeill

Retired(ish) and living on the side of a mountain. I love reading and writing, pottering around with DIY in the garden and the kitchen, watching movies and building models from plastic and paper...I have two awesome daughters, two awesome grand-daughters and two awesome big dogs...lots of awesomeness around me...

National Park Village housing crisis

This is the general area of the National Park ward, part of the Ruaepehu district. Most of the population is rural, with the main population centres all being small with permanent populations of around 200 each in National Prk, Raurimu and Owhango. The ward is unusual in the it also represents the interests of the population of Whakapapa Village at the base of Mt Ruapehu.

National Park Village is the major population and business centre in the National Park ward. It has a permanent population of around 200 but commercial beds for over 1000 visitors and a disproportionately large number of businesses for its size. It enjoys the distintinction of being New Zealand’s highest town @825 metres above sea level.

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

National Park Village is the gateway to Tongariro National Park, including:

  • the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of New Zealand’s best day walks.
  • The Northern Circuit, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, that skirts Mt Tongariro and circumnavigates Mt Ngauruhoe.
  • The Round the Mountain trail, around Mt Ruapehu.
  • Whakapapa Skifield, one of the most popular, if not the most popular, snow tourism attractions in New Zealand.
  • A range of shorter day walks including Tama Lakes, Taranaki Falls, Silica Rapids and Tupapakurua Falls.
  • Nodes on the Te Aroroa Trail and National Cycle Way that run the length of New Zealand.

While COVID-19 is having an obviously effect on tourism around New Zealand, smaller centres like National Park are more likely to come out of this crisis better than larger tourism-oriented centres like Queenstown and Rotorua.Things will change but most businesses here will endure and will still need staff in numbers greater than the local supply.

National Park Village has a crisis, a housing crisis. A large number of businesses mean staff numbers out of proportion to the village’s size and permanent population. It’s alpine environment means that winter commuting from other centres like Turangi, Taumarunui, Raetihi or Ohakune (each 40-50km away) can be problematic assuming that staff have vehicles in the first place.

Staff may or may not have their own vehicle and those that do not have no public transport service to rely on for daily travel to/from work or even for shopping/life support/sanity. It is understood – and has been for a long time – that staff working in National Park businesses need accommodation in the Village.

The rise of Bookabach and AirBnB over the last decade mean that there are no incentives for local home owners to offer long term accommodation that can be used by staff. The rewards and flexibility of short term rentals simply outweigh any perceived advantages of longer term relationships:

  • Short term rental rates approximate weekly rates for lon term rental.
  • Properties remain availbale for owner’s use.
  • High turnover and rewards mean less incentives to invest in healthy homes compliance for heating and insulation.
  • Short term rentals offer less perceived risk of dodgy tenants.

The Department of Conservation maintains its own staff accommodation estates in Whakapapa and National Park Village. Traditionally, surplus accommodation in these estates has been available to staff from other local businesses. However, the primary purpose of that accommodation is for DOC staff and as local Treaty resolutions firm up, there is a possibility that these estates were be part of the resolutiuon package.

Whakapapa Village

The work around for many businesses in National Park and Whakapapa Villages is simply to provide accommodation for its staff. The four major employers in Whakapapa Village all provide staff accommodation as do the larger proportion of businesses in National Park Village. This is usually in the form of a house or houses owned by the business and available to staff as a flatting environment; or accommodation providers putting aside for staff a proportion of what would otherwise be income earning accommodation. Either way, this is a considerable overhead cost for each of these businesses.

In the last three years there has been increasing pressure on seasonal accommodation for winter ski field staff. That has been mitigated to some extent this year with borders being closed and RAL et al having to depend more on locals for staff. As economic recovery continues, so will the need for full-time and seasonal staff drawn from outside the ward and the district.To its credit, RAL provides transport for its staff: ultimately though, this overhead will cap out as staff are forced to live further and further afield.

These issues are not new nor are they unknown. Last year, community leaders expreseed their concerns at the detrimental effects of the lack of long term rental accommodation in the National Park ward, especially National Park and Raurimu Villages. Not only does the lack of accommodation directly affect local businesses but it also ripples out into reduced school rolls; smaller recruiting pools for local emergency services and reduced coverage where members may be forced to live out of reasonable response times; and reduced domestic business.

The Ruapehu District Council has recently received approval for Government seed funding for housing projects in the Ruapehu district. This has been the result of various internal studies looking at both district needs and the potential for the district to benefit from COVID recovery initiatives. I’ve attended a number of those internal council workshops and community board meetings and raised these concerns. It was quite clear from the most recent workshop that having received this approval, the council didn’t actually have the faintest idea what to do wit it or where to apply it.

In an attempt to remedy this, the Council has conducted housing huis in Taumarunui, Raetihi and Ohakune – nothing in the National Park ward. The Council’s response to challenges on this is that residents of the ward can submit directly to the council if they want to make their views known.

National Park Community Board meeting 13 October 2020

From the brief to the Community Board on Tuesday evening, it would appear that the Ruapehu District Counmcil has decided that its contribution to the housing initiaive will be land ie land that it owns. That’s not much good to National Park where the council doesn’t own any significant land but where arguably the need is greatest – if anyone is serious about maintaining and fostering economic development in the district.

The council has been clear that it is looking for a low risk options for its housing initiative. Investing in long term rental accommodation in National Park IS LOW RISK. These are tenants that don’t need assistance or subsidisation: they are all in jobs and receiving wages. Further, most if not all of them, bring skills and experience to the district. Historically, many of them put down roots here and eventually buy their own home, start families and contribute to the community in many ways. They are assets.

They are also assets that are declining jobs here because they can not find accommodation, especially for couples and families. One family spent a year living in a single room accommodation in one of the lodges until they were able to secure a rental home; there are couples sharing a room in flalting arrangements because long term rental accommodation is so hard to find.

Privately run rental accommodation offers little security to individuals, couples or families because the incentives for owners to sell are so great. I ended up buying a head of my schedule when my rented home was sold last last – ironically, its new owners contacted me this week after I raised this issue on local Facebook pages and they confirmed their intention to make it availbale for mlong temr rentals once the current refurbishment is complete.

There is a clear need for DOC-style estate in National Park Village. By this I mean a mix of one or two bedroom apartments and three bedroom houses similar to the current DOC estate. To avoid the attractions of short term commercail rentals, this estate needs to be run by central or local government – or in partnership with business agencies where the provision of long-term rental accommodation is protected.

If the Ruapehu District Council’s contribution is to be land only, there is land suitable for such an estate on the market in National Park Village as I write. It won’t be there for long.

The need in National Park Village has been articulated to the Council on many occasions, from both perspectives of welfare and economic development. What this requires is that the Council move with speed that is greater then that which it is accustomed to. Not just wisely-nodding heads that then go off and do whatever they want to to do.

I’m proposing that that Ruapehu District Council:

  • acqiure land in or close to National Park Village specifically for the development of a housing estate for staff employed in local businesses (including agencies like National Park Primary School).
  • Independently or in partnership with a government or private agency construct a rental housing estate for couples and families employed with the ward.
  • Consider opportunities to boost availbale renayl accommodation during peak seasons pending the outcome of COVID recovery. This may include establishing transport conenctions to housing in Owhango, and other centres north of National Park (south of the Village may be challenging in winter).
  • Adopt a strategy and polciies to ensure that accommodation remains available to meet the need in National Park i.e. to restrain the temptation for greater ROI through short term rentals.

This is the low risk option for the Ruapehu District Council.

It contributes to economic development in the district.

It addresses social and welfare issues arising from the lack of long term rental accommodation in National Park Village.

It operates at market rates, reducing risk and outlay for the Council.

Ruapehu District Council Social and Affordable Housing


Airfix Gnat – the original…

I couldn’t resist this when it appeared on Trademe (our national equivalent of Ebay) just as our COVID-19 lockdown period ended and normal(-ish) services resumed… Airfix has more recently (in the last decade or so) released a complete new tool of this classic little British aircraft – perhaps more recognisable from Hotshots? – that meets […]

Airfix Gnat – the original…

Rambo: Last Blood

A movie that should never had been made…and that didn’t need to be…

To be honest, I probably only bought this because a. it is too damn easy to buy stuff through Mighty Ape and b. because it completes the John Rambo collection (hopefully not until another one!). Last Blood adds nothing to the Rambo saga: , the characters are two dimensional and the plot is non-existent, serving only to enables reprises of ‘John Rambo has 100 ways of killing – and they all work‘… (apologies to Charles Bronson’s The Mechanic).

The saga never needed a final movie for closure: Rambo did that well, as did each of the movie prior, from First Blood, through Rambo: Part 2 and then Part 3. Each movies allows the watcher to walk away satisfied leaving no heavy issues for later pondering.

Last Blood could have a been a totally different – and better movie – without resurrecting the spectre of the bitter angry out-of-control veteran. It’s not worth your money…if you must watch it, watch for it to turn up on your streaming service of choice.

If it doesn’t though, no great loss…

Ski road access facts 2020

Why skiing is like religion

Here are some facts:

My rights are being violated.

Unless you have a Platinum Pass, your season or life pass provides you no more guarantee of access of parking than it has any other year. Your Fair Trading or Consumer Guarantee rights have not been violated. Perceived inconvenience due to change is not a violation.

While we’re on the subject, your season or life pass doesn’t give you any special rights at all. Further you’re not contributing nearly as usefully as your average casual snow tourist.

Be nice

The rights that you are guaranteed are in the NZ Bill of Rights. In essence, they say be nice to other people.

The staff at the ski fields, working on the roads, in the I-Sites and the Visitors’ Centre, in other local businesses and on social media are just doing their jobs. 17 generations of skiing on Ruapehu, season/life pass ownership, and/or an enhanced sense of entitlement do not give you any right or privilege to be rude, abusive or threatening.

It’s a public road – you can’t stop us.

The Bruce Road is not a public road. It is a special purpose road, managed under law by DOC, sub-delegated to TPP for operational management. Like Mangatepopo Road, it can be closed or otherwise controlled for any number of reasons, safety concerns are the most common reason.

We’ll walk up then

Attempting to walk up the Bruce Road from the barrier would probably deemed a safety issue when the snow berms obstructs the shoulder and vehicles are driving on ice and snow. Darwin will appreciate the validation though…

There’s no real problem

Everyone who has been saying there’s not really a problem is either in lala land or is a first time visitor. Since at least 2014, traffic congestion on SH48 and the Bruce Road has blocked access for visitors, commercial traffic and emergency services.

The ‘first in’ approach to parking has become less and less effective over the same period. As a result, more and more visitors have been departing overnight locations earlier and earlier to try to get a park. This means increasing number of vehicles on the roads above 900 metres where ice is most common and at the times it is most likely…just trying to get in for a park.

The sightseers are spoiling it for everyone.

The sightseers are now representative of ‘everyone’. The market has changed since Happy Valley was upgraded and the Snow Factory commissioned in 2017, and the Sky Waka was launched in 2019. Snow tourism and snow play are now more significant parts of the market – they are also better behaved and less rude.

We pay for parking already

Not yet you don’t. It costs DOC and RAL to maintain the car parks and the Bruce Road for non-commercial visitor traffic. Visitors to the ski fields only contribute to this indirectly via tax and passes.

Introducing a car park booking system was not the only option. It would have been as easy to close the Bruce Road to all but commercial vehicles and rerole the car parks for more profitable purposes eg skating, and require all visitors to catch commercial transport. This would have the side effect of reducing transport costs due to economies of bulk – when you bitch about the costs of transport services, be careful what you wish for.

You can’t stop us parking on the roadside.

Neither SH48 nor the Bruce Road have a road reserve. if you park off the road, you are technically parking inside the Park outside a designated parking area. DOC can and has enforced this in the past. For bonus points, if parking off the road, and if you are too tight to put your pets into a motel you will get zapped twice.

Tukino, here we come

How long do you think it will be before the management at Tukino starts to adopt similar practices to control numbers..? For the same reasons…

RAL is blocking access to the Park for hikers (and swimmers)

Access to Scoria Flat is not being blocked. However, such access has been abused by elements of the ski community previously. You do get that license plate numbers are being tracked this year? It’s not a big leap that vehicles that abuse this access will be restricted.

This will hurt locals

Most locals and local businesses favour the changes. I work and live here and yesterday’s statement from our Mayor Don Cameron sums up local sentiment:

Ruapehu Mayor Don Cameron said that the new Whakapapa and Turoa ski area car park booking system is part of the commitment to giving visitors the best possible experience while helping to manage other critical issues such as road safety, the environment and maintaining Kaitiakitanga (guardianship) and Manaakitanga (host) responsibilities.

If you’re going to claim that these changes will adversely affect local communities and businesses, be specific. State your sources. Identify which businesses you claim to be representing. I speak to dozens of locals and visitors every day. Your views are not the majority view, not by a good country kilometre…

Just book out all the parks, then don’t use them

You can free your booked parked if for some reason you cannot use it. There will probably be those that try to sabotage the system with false bookings. The Crimes Act covers this kind of offence. Abuse may lead to a requirement for a credit card to be register for purposes of identification. RAL hasn’t made any statement one way or another but it would be a reasonable assumption that frequent no-show offenders may be subject to some form of restriction.

Your choice

RAL had a less than stellar 2019. The Sky Waka construction prevented summer 18/19 being business as usual, a five week weather system caused an unusually long close period, and various issues and teething problems affected the later part of the season. Planning for the winter season was underway in February and March, just in time for all of the to be knocked back by COVID-19 and the lockdown. It’s a fair assumption that RAL is currently heavily influenced by its financiers, hindering its ability to make experience-based decisions.

COVID has affected all of us here on the Volcanic Plateau and we don’t really know what the future will bring. Visitor numbers in levels 3 and 4 have probably been better than expected but with no indication whether this is the new normal or just a slowly deflating bubble as new financial realities hit home.

The constant carping from the entitled and ignorant minority only undermines what we are doing in Ruapehu. If you don’t like it and feel that strongly, then don’t come…a small bitter minority will not be missed…

Midway 1976

The original Midway movie has been on my mind since I was underwhelmed by the 2019 version. Tonight I made the effort to watch it again.

Either I have grown up somewhat or I was too harsh in my original judgement of it – which is probably why I have avoided it for years – but it is not as bad as I remember it.

It has a similarly contemporary stellar cast to Midway 2019 so it’s not like the quality of the actors is a factor in the failure of 2019; certainly the quality of the acting is though. I feel that the modern attempt simply lacks an awareness of basic storytelling and instead falls back on a series of cliches and one-liners that totally fail to impart any sense of urgency or drama to the story.

Watching Midway 1976 tonight, I really felt the gravity of a battle on which both sides depended for strategic survival. Ultimately for the US, Midway was the end of the beginning; for Japan it was the beginning of the end…that sense of urgency, of great issues at stake, comes through so much better in the 1976 version.

Even though it relies on live footage for most of its combat scenes, the earlier version acknowledges it in the opening credits. Even though some of the scenes cut JAG-like between aircraft types…what was a Vindicator is now a Dauntless is now a Hellcat…it is remarkable effective, more so when one remembers that this footage is of actual young men in combat, where an aircraft explodes in flame or smashes into the ocean, there are actual people aboard…It’s a lot smoother than the incredibly-detailed but chaotically-edited digital imagery of the latter version.

The earlier production also relies heavily on surviving aircraft from the era: the J2F Duck parked outside HQ CINCPAC (fond memories of the Airfix Duck that I finished in a night and painted with Mum’s oil colours – which took a year to cure!); stubby F4F Wildcats on the deck of one of the carriers (Dad brought me one back from one of his trips to Wellington – finished in a day but used the right(-ish) paints this time; and the Catalinas that spotted the Japanese fleet and rescued Ensign George Day, the sole survivor of Torpedo Squadron 8, who spent the day of the battle avoiding attention as he floated in the middle of the Japanese fleet.

1976 makes only scant mention of Pearl Harbor and starts with Jimmy Doolittle’s daring launch from the Hornet on 18 April 1982 with black and white footage from (I think, I’ve never seen the movie) Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. In the first 10-15 minutes, Midway The Earlier has established the Doolittle Raid as the chief catalyst for the Japanese drive on Midway, and established the Japanese objective “AF” as Midway. It does this without any smug smiles or glib one-liners: the characters of Nimitz, Fletcher, Rochefort, etc are well-played and feel authentic.

On the Japanese side, the characters are more Western than their portrayal in either Pearl Harbor or Midway 2019; we are spared the contemporary fascination with subtitles in favour of clear unaccented English. Even so, the characters feel less like caricatures than their modern equivalents, less 2D and more like real people. And Midway 1976 depicts the Japanese as people as well, not the brutal barbarians shown in Pearl Harbor and Midway 2019.

Midway was THE battle that changed the course of the Pacific War: Coral Sea stopped the Japanese advance south, Midway turned them around. After Midway everything was downhill for Japan. It’s a tale that deserves to be told well. Give the 1976 Midway a second chance and hunt down some of the excellent reading available on the battle…

Midway (2019)

Part of our growing up was the classic Kiwi crib (baches are for North Islanders). Ours was in Waikouaiiti, on the coast halfway between Oamaru and Dunedin.

Rajah, Shelley and Melanie with crib in background

This was home away from home on weekends and school holidays. One of the attractions was the local tip, just down the road. This was a primary source of income for us kids, in the good old days of cash deposits on glass bottles. We would harvest dozens of these from the tip and convert them into cold hard cash.

Something else that we rescued in large quantities was books, dozens and dozens of them and these formed the foundation of our holiday reading, mainly pulp fiction, Pan novels and Reader Digest monthly magazines. One of the Reader’s Digests, (December 1973??) had as its monthly condensed books, The Battle of Midway (I think it was the Richard Hough version). I read this story over and again over our baching years and become so familiar with this battle (of this version of it…

A real highlight was when Dad took me to see the 1976 epic Midway in Christchurch, must have been August school holidays that year. I was old enough to think it was really cool but also to pick up that a lot of the combat was rehashed combat footage or borrowed from Tora Tora Tora. Certainly, despite a cast that was epic in size and fame, Midway was not The Longest Day, Zulu or The Battle of Britain. A Bridge Too Far the following year also eclipsed Midway.

We’ve been pretty let down by serious historical war movies in the last two decades. Ridley Scott brought us Blackhawk Down, and at the end of last year, Australia decided it was finally time to tell the Long Tan story in Danger Close. Generally though, the pickings have been slim: Michael Bay inflicted Pearl Harbor on the world around the same time as Blackhawk Down was released; in all fairness the coverage of the actual attack is pretty good, it’s just the other two hours that are problematic. And what the hell was Dunkirk? That epic tale was covered far better in the light Their Finest Hours.

When I was teaching at the Air Power Development Centre, Midway was one of my popular case studies to demonstrate that air power can directly influence the outcome of the battle, a campaign or even a war without “boots on the ground”. It’s a battle that the US probably shouldn’t have won for a whole raft of reasons and so academic debate is still popular with fresh material still being regularly published.

So, yes, I was interested when word of the new movie first came out. Like many with an active interest in aviation and/or naval history, I was hoping for an epic like A Bridge Too Far or The Longest Day that would tell the story of THE pivotal battle of the Pacific War as it deserves to be told. The previews didn’t really give much away and I was keen enough to pre-order it from Mighty Ape so it’d arrive on its New Zealand release date.

Hmmmm….I should have done two things. Heeded the warnings on Neptunus Lex that it was badly flawed and waited until it appeared in the bargain bins or on special. I discounted the NepLex warnings as I took them as mainly targeting the unnatural viewing angles of the air combat enables by the digital imagery.

Yep. Midway 2019 is bad. Worse than the 1976 version and, assuming it’s possible, worse than Pearl Harbor. Michael bay’s notorious 2002 epic at delivers better than fair coverage of the actual attack on Pearl Harbor, it feels like a tragedy. Why Midway has to go all the way to Pearl Harbor to start its story is unclear: that attack is such a significant part of our history that we all get Bluto’s classic “Over? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor??!!

And then it blunders through the Doolittle Raid in a manner no less clumsy than Michael Bay’s depiction in Pearl Harbor. And it’s not necessary. While the Doolittle Raid was the catalyst that provoked the Japanese to move on Midway, it could be covered, Star Wars-style, in the introductory minutes of Midway. Instead, over half the movie (if you ignore the credits) is dedicated to the precursor attacks and that’s just not necessary. If these scenes were well-produced then there may have been some value in them but they’re not: Pearl Harbor is better in every way – and it pains me to say that…

Instead the coverage of the actual Battle of Midway is compressed, contorted and barely comprehensible. Scenes cut from one to another with barely time to absorb one before the next cut. Where the digital imagery could have provide new perspectives on the air combat, it just fails miserably. Clearly a lot of research has been done into aircraft types etc but then there are horrendous clangers: you would think from this movie that the US Navy or US Marine Corps had no fighters; the B-17s that bombed the Japanese fleet in the early phases of the battle are replaced by the B-26s that conducted low-level torpedo attacks on the fleet; the full magnitude of VT-8’s sacrifice is lost in the jumble of battle scenes.

A good plot and good acting can carry a movie over poor effects and stand in weapons. Midway lacks both. That’s beyond disappointing. The story has a lot of moving parts but is not that complex; the characters are all well-known and well-researched. Midway dishonours them.The screenplay and acting are all at the level of “Win one for the Gipper“, with smug one-liners and staunch chins substituting for a decent screenplay and even average acting.

Midway’s sole redeeming feature is that it’s not three hours long.

I hated it.

Don’t buy it. Hunt down the 1976 Midway or rerun the last hour of Pearl Harbor.

Erebus

(c) nzhistory.govt.nz

On 28 November 1979, Air New Zealand flight TE901 crashed into Mt Erebus in Antarctica. All 257 passengers and crew on board were killed. It was the day of the School Certificate English exam and I was ironing my school uniform when the news broke. Erebus remains New Zealand’s single most deadly disaster.

This was a tragedy. What followed was a travesty as Government and the airline shirked responsibility and played the blame game, trying to pin responsibility on the flight crew. Today it is accepted that the cause of the accident were changes made by Air New Zealand to the navigation system that led the pilots to believe that they were well clear of Mt Erebus as they descended.

For many reasons, Erebus has been an injury hidden from sight, visible mainly to the friends and families of those who died, those who responded from Scott Base, McMurdo Sound and New Zealand, and staff from Air New Zealand. But you never know when Erebus will reach out and touch you.

In 2009, I was doing a knowledge management project for the New Zealand Army. The seminar we were attending finished a bit early and our hosts took us out to a local vineyard. It was a beautiful sunny day and drivers were provided so we were supporting the local economy as best we could. Someone commented that one of our hosts was hitting the reds pretty strongly and someone who knew said “Yes, he’s done that since Erebus.” We got it.

Erebus. Our single most deadly disaster and forty years on there is still no public memorial for those who died.

The Government committed earlier this year to build that public memorial. It’s a tricky task. Not only did the disaster occur outside New Zealand but it occurred in one of the most inhospitable and inaccessible areas of the planet. Those who died came from every part of New Zealand. TE901 had taken off from Auckland and thus Auckland appears a logical location for a memorial. Auckland International Airport is largely surrounded by industrial areas and even the airport look-out is probably not the best location for a memorial.

…the families sought a secluded location of grass, trees and other plants all with a natural aspect or view, with space to sit and reflect, reference to the Antarctic, and the memorial having an educational dimension…. located at an accessible site, attractive and appealing, and not be in a cemetery…

Richard Waugh: Why Parnell is the right place for an Erebus memorial NZ Herald 2 Dec 2019

The location selected for the memorial is a park in the suburb of Parnell, in the Auckland Central Business District. An area close to the roots of many early New Zealand aviation pioneers. On a hill overlooking the harbour. Quiet, peaceful, accessible.

An artist’s impression of the memorial in the proposed Parnell location.

A few days ago, this was all just background noise for me. Then my friend Rob posted on his Facebook page that his grandfather had died on TE901 and that the memorial was a very real issue for him and his family. Rob’s a solid guy, a former artilleryman (you know, the ones who fire off shells and hope they’ll eventually find their way back to earth somewhere near where they’re meant to be) and then he became one of the small group of pioneers who became the first qualified drone operators in the New Zealand Defence Force. He also builds paper models so he’s all right.

KAHU, the New Zealand Army’s homegrown drone

Rob was asking his friends to contact the Waitemata Community Board to support the memorial in the proposed location in Parnell. I’m happy to support friends’ causes but only so long as I’m satisfied that it’s a good thing to do. So I did some digging. I looked at the plans. I liked the plans.

All this is being held up by a (very) small group of locals, the aptly named nimbys (Not In My Back Yard). I read through their cause’s Facebook page. I read their many interviews. I read their objections and posters. They all support the memorial but not in their backyard. They don’t seem to have any real objections apart from possibly altering their dog walking route…slightly. They seem to have gone to some lengths to portray the memorial as cutting off one end of the Park but looking at the plans, that doesn’t appear to be the case – at all…

The online petition opposing the memorial got a whopping 587 signatures. For perspective, thousands of people live, work in and visit the Auckland CBD every day – and only 587 of them felt strongly enough to oppose the memorial with a simple mouse click. A similar paper petition may have garnered a few more signatures but one hardly gets the impression that central Auckland is about to erupt over this issue.

I support the plan to place the national Erebus memorial in Sir Dove-Meyer Robinson Park in Parnell Auckland. Just get on with it.

I received an email tonight from the Democracy Advisor for the Waitemata Community Board (what is a democracy advisor and how do other community boards get one?):

Thank you for your recent email regarding the proposed Erebus Memorial.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage (MCH) has, this afternoon, withdrawn their request for land owner approval to be considered.   Therefore, the decision on land owner approval cannot be made at the Waitematā Local Board meeting on 3 December 2019.

We acknowledge the effort and emotion that went into the message you sent to the local board and will ensure these are circulated to board members and retained for any future discussion so that you will not have to write them again.

I hope that this means that this weighty and contentious decision has been lifted from the Board to decide on.

I don’t support issues like this being foisted onto the local community board to decide on whether the public land in question can be used for this purpose. Yes, the community board should be consulted, no question there. But Erebus has been a source of national pain for forty years. It’s not fair to ask board members who have to live within their community to make a crucial decision like this. The final decision on the location of the Erebus memorial should be one shared between the Auckland City Council and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

Please support the memorial by sharing your views with the Waitemata Community Board or posting on MP Louise Upston’s post seeking opinions on the topic.

For more in depth reading by better writers than I:

257 killed in Mt Erebus disaster

Prime Minster Delivers Erebus Apology

Richard Waugh: Why Parnell is the right place for an Erebus memorial

‘Nimbys’ oppose Erebus park memorial: ‘You don’t drink a glass of wine next to a grave’

Erebus disaster pilot’s widow says apology left her in ‘complete shock’

White Silence: ‘had to grit your teeth and go do it’ – Erebus recovery captain

Soldiers Without Guns – a review

Late in 1997, the New Zealand Defence Force led a peacekeeping mission to war-ravaged Bougainville. This wasn’t its first ride in the rodeo, following a couple of years after its three-rotation deployment of an armoured company to Bosnia in 1994/5 and building on its history of peace support operations in Rhodesia, the Sinai, Iraq, Cambodia, Angola, Mozambique and the former Yugoslavia to name a few…

This new operation had a unique point of difference: it would be unarmed, its weapons instead would be smiles and guitars…

To be blunt about it, the New Zealand Defence Force is pretty crap about telling its stories. That’s sad because it has so many great stories to tell. Thus is falls upon independent producers to seek out and tell these stories. Soldiers Without Guns is producer Will Watson’s take on the Operation BEL ISI story, building on an earlier documentary Hakas and Guitars.

Will Watson has assembled quite an ensemble to support this story. Lucy Lawless narrates and the soundtrack draws on such Kiwi talent as Fat Freddy’s Drop, The Black Seeds, Anika Moa, Tiki Taane and Kora. The military leads are Major (rtd) Fiona Cassidy who was, from memory the PRO for the initial deployment, and WO1 (rtd) Des Ratima, who was, from the same memory, Brigadier Mortlock’s key cultural advisor. There are interviews with key leaders like Roger Mortlock, Jerry Mateparae and Don McKinnon, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade at the time of the deployment.

Soldiers Without Guns is, though, very much the Fi and Des Show. That’s not a bad thing and more power to them for seizing this opportunity to tell their part of this unique mission. It does however skip over the scope and scale of the operation and doesn’t really impart the sense of nervousness that surrounded it until the initial lodgement was complete.

The coverage of the repairs to the airfield runway that were only completed just before the first C-130 landed is mildly dramatic in its own right but doesn’t really acknowledge the engineers that completed these repairs in an environment of some uncertainty. The operational coverage skimps over those soldiers who were deployed, unarmed, to remote team sites to engage the local population and defuse tensions. Nor does it do anything more than hint at the logistics (my minor part was procuring the bright yellow hats two weeks out form D Day) and sustainment challenges that had to be overcome for the mission to succeed. This especially applies to the roles of HMZNS Endeavour and 3 and 40 Squadrons RNZAF without which the whole hting probably would have fallen over.

An Iroquois from 3 Sqn RNZAF in its distinctive orange mission colour scheme

Operation BEL ISI’s success was undoubtedly due to its unique and innovative approach to peacekeeping, which was based itself on Roger Mortlock’s insights and analysis of the core issues underlying the conflict – it wasn’t just about copper – and his grasp of the matriarchal societal environment into which he would be deploying. In the mid-90s, the dual themes of female leads and unarmed forces were radical and unheard of – this was a time when the RNZN still thought that Larissa Turner just needed to get over herself, and the shooters were riding the wave of the post-DESERT STORM ‘revolution in military affairs’ – and there were many internal sceptics (but try to find one now).

I don’t remember much media comment at all at the time and certainly nothing along the lines of “… this radical idea of sending soldiers without guns was condemned by the  media because they felt the soldiers would be massacred given the first 14 peace attempts had failed …” If anything, I’m not sure that the media really cared that much about an area of the the South-West Pacific that no one knew or cared much about. Similarly, I think it is misleading to say that “… the first 14 peace attempts had failed …” BEL ISI was built on the foundation of peace initiatives stretching back to the late 80s. Like many things in irregular warfare, there are few quick fixes.

The soundtrack was one of the selling points for me (pre-purchase) and I was looking forward to some pumping Kiwi sounds. The much-touted soundtrack is very subdued to the point of ineffectiveness and it would have been nice to have just the tracks as an option.

It has screened and been well received overseas.

Soldiers Without Guns is definitely worth watching. It tells the story of the group of Kiwis who went off into the jungle and did something that had never been done before. It would be a mistake to think this approach can be cookie-cuttered into any environment but it worked in Bougainville – that’s what Soldiers Without Guns is about…

A Kiwi story told by Kiwis largely for Kiwis…but others will get it too…

You can pick up a copy at Mighty Ape…

Doing the business

This is part of my crew.

Doing the business.

At 3-23AM.

It wasn’t a fluke of the roster that saw these four ladies turn out for an early morning fire alarm.

They weren’t hanging around the watch room waiting for the ‘tones’.

When the siren and pagers went off at 3-23 on this Monday morning, these firefighters, like most firefighters in New Zealand, were at home with their partners, children and pets…most safely asleep in their beds…

They have to wake up and get dressed (not always in that order), navigate a darkened house, and (for three of these four) drive 6km to the station – and get changed again – and then navigate to the scene.

It could be just across the road or around the corner…or a gruelling 20 minute drive along dark narrow twisting country roads…sometimes the location is vague at best and critical information has to be filtered from calls from other responding brigades and the Police just to find the scene…

Once on scene, they have to deal with what they find. Another brigade or agency may already have the matter in hand and so it’s back to the station, home, and bed. If work needs to get done, it’s gets done – until the scene is safe or reinforcements arrive to takeover.

Back at the station after a job, there’s still work to be done…the truck needs to be good to go for the next call – that could be in two days…or two hours…hoses might need washing, consumed consumables replaced, batteries swapped, air cylinders replaced, contaminated gear packed for exchange…possibly another hour of work…

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker…the mum of four, the outdoor instructor, the mechanical engineer…the full-time FENZ support officer, the guy in the gas station, the chap who checked you into your accommodation…the cafe owner, the pint puller, the commercial pilot…the high school student, the council staff officer, the Army firefighter…these are Firefighting New Zealand…on call 24/7…

Broccoli fritters

This is a recipe that local MP, Louise Upston, posted a few months back, from the Love Food Hate Waste site. My first attempt was a little gooey and didn’t really fritter up: I was in a hurry and should have taken the time to add some more flour to balance out texture.

I was better prepared this time and, in addition to flour to suit, I also added a couple of tablespoons each of chia seed and almond/coconut meal (left-over from our own almond/coconut milk). I found that our cheese grater seems to have gone AWOL during one of our moves this year – or it is sitting in one of the many unpacked boxes dominating the smaller spare room. Instead I just diced up my guesstimate of how much cheese would equated to a 1/4 cup grated and dropped it in the blender with the broccoli.

Our frying pans also seem to have gone AWOL hence cooking in a wok, another deficiency to be soon rectified.

The recipe is quite simple:

  • 1/2 head of broccoli, stalk and florets
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 (ish) cup of flour use enough to make the mix quite firm
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup of grated cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of chia seed
  • 2 tablespoons of almond/coconut meal
  • Salt + pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil (to cook)
  • 1/4 cup of plain yoghurt
  • 1 tab|espoon of lemon juice

Blend the broccoli and then mix it in with the flour, seasoning, eggs and, in my case, chia seed and almond/coconut meal.

Fry until nicely brown on each side. This recipe made

Mix the yoghurt and lemon zest of the a sauce although this is pretty optional as there can be eaten on their own, as part of a meal or with any number of sauces or dips.

Next time I( think that I will dedairy this recipe and add something like dates or other dried fruit instead of the cheese. The cheese taste barely came through the dominant flavour of the broccoli and so, even a good sauce would probably do away with any need for the cheese at all…or maybe try some non-dairy cheese just because I can…

Just thinking further on next time, another way of keeping it healthy(er), would be to use a more absorbent flour like coconut flour, which would also tick off the gluten-free box (not so much because I care but because I can).

I could probably also eliminate the cooking in oil but using the oven or the air-fryer, and possibly also reconfiguring from fritters to maybe balls or fingers…?