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...

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…?

Go! Go! Go! – a review

Just over a year ago, I reviewed the movie Six Days. I was excited to find Go! Go! Go! – The Definitive Inside Story of the Iranian Embassy Siege at our annual St John Ambulance book sale in Taumarunui. This was about six months ago when I was still living in at the old Roy Turners in National Park Village.

I didn’t start it until we had moved into our latest forever home in Owhango. To be honest, having seen how Rusty Firmin’s input was translated into the quite excellent Six Days, I was savouring Go! Go! Go! for a time when I could sit back and really enjoy it…you know THE definitive inside story…

I need to learn to brace myself for disappointment.

Go! Go! Go! really disappointed me. It reads more like the type of account published before the smoke clears to make the most of a current news story. The only names on the cover are Rusty Firmin who led one of the assault teams on the day and Will Pearson who is cited on the back cover as the author of Tornado Down. I enjoyed Tornado Down but on checking, the authors are listed, as per my recollection, as Flight Lieutenants John Nicol and John Peters (the crew of the ill-fated Tornado ZD791): no mention of any Will Pearson.

Similarly, the name Gillian Stern does not appear on either cover but is listed with Rusty Firmin and Will Pearson under the acknowledgements. A quick Google finds an English ghost writer named Gillian Stern with this extract from the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2019:

So no problem per se with ghost writers. I think they are a great way for someone to tell their story when perhaps they lack the skills to impart a great story to a general audience. I just have a feeling that, in this case, the ghost writers outnumber the subject matter expert. I was eagerly awaiting the inside story from an SAS team leaders perspective but instead it felt like a Sunday News serial story.

Go! Go! Go! does cover the siege and its background but it always feels quite false and superficial. It feels like it has been written by people who don’t really have a good handle on the subject matter and just just regurgitating what they have been told, without any real value add. I could go on but I’d rather just say that anyone interested in this story should watch Six Days and read the relevant section from a recent version of Tony Geraghty’s excellent Who Dares Wins: The Story of the SAS.

Victor Two – a review

Recently I had to drive over to Stratford for a four day course. I knew there would be nights off and dropped into Books and Toys in Whanganui to see if I could find some new reading material (most of my library is still all packed up after our moves this year). Victor 2 Looked like a good read, a different take on DESERT STORM from Bravo Two Zero and The One That Got Away

You really have to wonder how the British SAS achieved anything in Iraq during DESERT STORM. We’ve had at least four books on the disastrous Bravo Two Zero mission – the better of the four being the ones by Mike Coburn and Michael Asher, the ones by Chris Ryan and Andy McNab seem better consigned to works of fiction.

Victor Two is the story of a more successful SAS patrol deep into Iraq. The story follows a cycle of got lost in the desert, more internal scrapping, shot up some Iraqis. I found it really underwhelming and more of an opportunity for the author to do some regimental score-settling than any credible recounting of DESERT STORM special operations.

Not really recommended as anything but light reading on a slow day, a slow wet day…

Solo – A Star Wars Story

Image result for solo star wars

Getting back online after my stay away, it seems that my last year of posts was pretty much dominated by our successful battle for our rescue helicopters and my not so successful battle with ANZ. Well past time to restore some balance so I’m working to complete some draft posts and mix in new material to get back on tracj and get the writing gene kicked in again…

I was on a weekend course in Palmerston North with a night to spare…Solo has just released and beckoned…

Post-Star Wars, I soaked up the early development of the Star Wars ‘verse through books like Alan Dean Fosters Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (how Kaiburr crystals really fit in, sorry Rogue One!) and Brian Daley’s Han Solo prequels:

Daley’s novels, albeit short and aimed at the younger end of the market were consistent with the slightly worn Han Solo we first meet in a cantina in Mos Eisley.

A flaw in all the Star Wars movies after the Original Trilogy is an annoying trend towards cuteness (which probably started in Return of the Jedi with the cursed Ewoks) and convenient coincidences ladled on thick for an audience apparently too thick to draw its own conclusions or recognise linkages between the movies within having them bludgeoned into them.

Solo starts with young Han in Correllia, skips his flight training and ends with him heading to Tatooine for a ‘deal of a lifetime’. He’s already met Chewie and Lando, and acquired the Falcon – what’s left for any sequels…? It’s all a little convenient and cramped, enjoyable but no classic…

Solo has fallen victim to the malaise as DC’s Justice League movies: sometimes less (story lines) is more (classic). The Justice League movies managed to squeeze the whole Death of Superman plot into about 30 minutes: they are three inch-thick novels, each a movie in its own right…check out the animated versions Death of Superman, and Reign of the Supermen: not quite the production values of the live action movies by better stories…

Overall, I’m pretty underwhelmed by the latest crop of Star Wars movies. Yes, I know I said nice things about The Force Awakens but the more I watch it, the more contrived it seems to be…I’m much happy in the Star Wars ‘verse of Alan Dean Foster, Brian Daley and Timothy Zahn…the written word that works my imagination…

Feet on the ground

Serendipitously I have found some fully fenced accommodation in National Park Village, it even has mountain views!

I’ve been here about a month now and am finally getting settled in, resuming my duties as the commandant of Colditz Castle as Louie tries to find ways out.

Louie and Kala seem to be adjusting to the sights and sounds of urban life, although Louie clearly misses being able to slope off into the bush for a couple of hours at a time.

The neighbours two down have Corgis and a visiting puppy and Louie spends a lot of time checking the neighbours out from the second story lounge.

This isn’t our permanent home but it gives us some breathing space to hunt around and stay together – if this opportunity hadn’t come up, I would have been making some tough decisions in March after getting back from the EMA course.

It’s getting colder now and we have the fire on most days. Without tbe elevated ceiling of the Lodge, heating the lounge when I get home from work each night only takes about the same amount of time as it takes to feed the dogs so we now have a fixed routine in the evenings.

It’s not worth trying to build here over winter, so hopefully this place will keep us going til spring when we hope to acquire some land to build on…

Watch this space…

Moving on…

Well, it’s been a month or so since the big move…am settled for now in National Park Village and the dogs are happy in their respective foster homes…

I’m sure she misses me…

…and him too @K9 Heaven in Auckland…

Just about everything is in storage and I’m slowly starting the big downsize…in the end I left a lot of stuff behind as I realised I didn’t really want or need it, nor the hassle of trying to unload it through Trademe or the buy and sell boards…

Looking pretty empty

Didn’t finish the final move until 4AM on the settlement day but by then I just wanted to be well shot of the place. No final pix as I accidentally packed my phone in one of the last loads…

National Park at night, walking home from work…

I’m liking living in the Village for now, being able to walk to and from work each day, meeting people, having occasional chats on the roadside, getting a feel for the Village vibe, not being last on the truck when the siren sounds…but…I miss the dogs and that’s my main motivation to find a new home.

Renting in the Village is not really an option as no one has heard of fences and dogs just run free, so it’s really a choice between buying an existing home or a block of land to put something on. The pickings are pretty slim in the Village, or even in Raurimu where we moved from but there are possibly some options in and around Owhango, although that would be the end of the walk to work thing…

Worse case scenario is opting to rehome Louie and Kala which opens up my own rehoming timeline but a a big cost…I’m away on course the next two weeks and will have to start sizing that option up on my return…

So, Thursday last…

So what went down on Thursday last week…?

ANZ at its very worst conduct…

Red Crater on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Thursday was the day for hearings into the granting of concessions (licenses) for commercial guiding operations on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. These have potentially great implications for our small local business community, especially the smaller members. I had made a submission on the concessions and needed to be at the hearing to speak to my submission and hear the other speakers. Community stuff.

I was under the understanding that the final decision on the tender for my home would not be until the following day so felt secure heading away for the day. 

At 11AM, just after the hearing started my lawyer messaged me to read my email. ANZ through its lawyers, Bell Gully, has given us til 3PM to accept another $2.5k in exchange for for a pre-Christmas settlement. ANZ has failed again and again to keep us informed on the progress of the forced sale of my home let alone any of the details. It has largely dumped this off on the young local real estate agent – to me, an act of total and abject cowardice on ANZ’s part. 

Most else that i know of the process I learned from the tenderer.

It was difficult to make a decision when we didn’t know what the original settlement date was. Neither did Bell Gully (yes, really!). We discussed options and advised ANZ that we could beat the tender offer and that there was other interest in the property. We thought this other interest was really as they seemed comfortable with the $380k ballpark figure that Harcourts gave them.

Typically – in our experience  – the Bell Gully letter was full of errors, no doubt due to the source of the information in ANZ.

(a) The Property was marketed for four weeks prior to the auction, and this has been followed by a further two week marketing campaign prior to the tender date. Since the auction, the agent contacted all previously interested parties to ensure they had the opportunity to submit a tender.

“…a further two week marketing campaign …” Not quite. The tender was not listed online until I had Harcourts head office on about the lack of marketing. Signage did not go up until halfway through the tender period. Prospective buyers making general inquiries about the district at Harcourts were not told of the property.

Following the marketing of the Property prior to the auction, Harcourts estimated the sale price of the Property would likely be between $250,000 and $280,000. ANZ also obtained a valuation from an independent registered valuer which put the forced sale range at between $262,500 and $300,000. The Tender price is within these ranges.

The tender price is conveniently at the bottom of ANZ’s assessed range. These figures beg the question “Why was Harcourts telling prospective buyer that the ballpark price for the property was $380k?”

ANZ’s reason for adopting the tender process was due to concerns that, in light of events leading up to the auction (including your client’s social media posts), proceeding with the auction at that time may not have resulted in the best sale price reasonably obtainable for the Property.

Blatantly false. If that statement held the slightest drop of water, why did ANZ wait until the morning of the auction, when people were already assembling for it, to cancel it? Surely it had nothing to lose in running the auction and then opting for a tender if the auction did not bring the result it wanted? ANZ was under no compulsion to accept any offer made in the auction and could have passed it in if it was not getting the bids it wanted. Certainly a tender was unlikely to achieve a better return than an auction.


Credit:Shutterstock / Patricia A. Phillips

The reference “…in light of events leading up to the auction…” can only refer to the questions asked by 1 News the previous day. Questions about it’s dirty laundry obviously make ANZ uncomfortable. Ditto for “…your client’s social media posts…”  I checked regularly and was not informed of any adverse effects. Once again, it seems the only issue here is ANZ’s sensitivity to dirty washing and sunlight…

Potential purchasers have been nervous whether they will be able to get vacant possession of the property on the settlement date due to Mr O’Neill’s posts on social media.

Possibly however, again, this was not ever raised in regular checks with Harcourts. There were however discussions re my willingness to remain as a tenant.

There is a risk that buyers may begin to worry why the house is not selling if the sale is further delayed and moved to an 8 week campaign after the holiday period.

Right back at you, ANZ…surely this was the greater risk in the last-minute cancellation of the auction? That was hardly a confidence-engendering action, was it?

The location of the Property and its history have limited the number of buyers attracted to the Property.

“…The location…”? Situated on the volcanic plateau, five minutes drive from National Park Village, on the periphery of Tongariro National Park, directly overlooking the Raurimu Spiral Scenic reserve, twenty minutes drive from the biggest ski field in New Zealand and the one currently undergoing the biggest development in its history.

This location..?

“…its history…” For those who don’t know, here is ‘its history‘.- actually not much more than a piece of muck-raking from the NZ Herald. The truth is that, when this happened the house was barely ten years old…it has spent a greater period as a happy family homes with kids and dogs running around it…and goats and sheep and chickens…and the odd cat..

Further, we discussed ‘its history’ as part of the marketing plan. As that incident occurred over twenty years ago, the only reason that we decided to mention it was to cover any concerns arising not so much from the incident itself but the body of ignorance around it. But again, the reports from Harcourts were all positive, even though this was an issue that we were actively tracking…

The current Tender price may be “as good as it gets”.

Really…? When we said we would better the tender offer and when there had been other buyer interest in the property that had not been deterred by Harcourts’ $380k ‘value’… For perspective the rating value of the property is $425k..

So coming back to Thursday. It wasn’t til mid-afternoon that we were able to respond to the nonsense in ANZ’s latest – the 3PM deadline was never doable – but my lawyer was talking with them all afternoon. 

Early that evening, my mortgage broker, ironically the same one who got us into this property in 2004, said she was confident i could get finance to beat the tender…

Not longer after, this arrived…

This is what getting screwed by ANZ looks like…

It really looks like ANZ was more focused on doing harm that ever realising a realistic return from this sale – it loses as well but that’s how spite works – obviously wanting to send a message about the true cost of standing up to its reckless lending and predatory conduct…It seems to have dead set on blocking an opportunity for me to buy the property back – where it still would have gained more than it got from the successful tender – than ever doing right by its shareholders and seeking the best possible result, which would have been the best result for all concerned…

The ethical divide

…or, as we locals know it, the Tasman Sea, that large wild body of water that separates Australia from New Zealand. The big blue thing that keeps everything known to mankind that can kill you in Australia, and keeps New Zealand clean and green…

…except for banking where the process is reversed and the bad practices now being exposed by Rebecca Orr and the Australian Banking Royal Commission propagate across the Tasman into our fair land… Conversely, it would seem that remedial action, however slow, in Australia, doesn’t swim…

These principles are from ANZ’s 2017 Corporate Sustainability Review. It is largely focussed on ANZ operations in Australia but its scope includes ANZ New Zealand. Sadly, as you can see below, such initiatives by ANZ seem to be only limited to ANZ Australia – where is ANZ New Zealand’s Customer Fairness Advisor?

The former Australian Commonwealth Ombudsman, Colin Neave, was appointed as ANZ’s Customer Fairness Advisor. The Customer Fairness Advisor role is focussed on minimising reputational risk, and the risk of regulatory intervention, which may arise from:

• the retention or development of products which have an unfair impact on our retail and small business customers;

• shortcomings in the way in which we manage customers in financial difficulty and assess suitability for lending; and

• broader stakeholder concerns about the culture and values of large financial institutions.

During the year, Colin Neave developed customer remediation principles to assure our customers that ANZ will acknowledge and compensate for any failures quickly

ANZ corporate sustainability review 2017 p21

It’s not that bold a statement to suggest that ANZ New Zealand’s only awareness of the concept of reputational risk comes from the highly-critical Financial Markets Authority and Reserve Bank’s reports last month on banks’ culture and conduct in New Zealand. They are both worth a read: Culture and Conduct and Bank Incentive Structures.

ANZ New Zealand is:

  • a bank that loaned vast amounts to a borrower recovering from a serious head injury; 
  • a bank that failed to determine if the loans were repayable. When I first found out about them in 2013, the accrued debt was just over $400k, with a company that had assets scarcely half that amount.
  • a bank that failed to to disclose this lending to me as the guarantor of that lending, even though by every standard of conduct, it should have.
  • a bank that, when challenged about this debt, lied about being authorised to disclose this information to me as the guarantor.
  • a bank that continued to lie by claiming that the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act prevented that disclosure to me.
  • a bank that kept on lying when it made up information from the Code of Banking Practice to support its argument that disclosure obligations for guarantees and security are different. (they may be for some banks but for ANZ, by its own definitions, guarantees are part of security.)
  • a bank that, even when we said we could beat the sole tender offer and when there was other interest in the property, still accepted that single low tender offer.

So…ANZ New Zealand, where is your Customer Fairness Advisor? God knows you need one (at least)…