Interviews: Looking Back Fifty Years

New Zealand By Experience is a series of interviews conducted by our team members with family and friends. The goal of this project was to listen to New Zealanders who have lived through significant changes that New Zealand has seen in order to gain the kind of insight that only comes from ‘being there’. We wanted to look backwards in order to gauge the extent of change over the last fifty years and thus explore the potential for change in the next fifty. Our target was to interview, using a questionnaire, a select group of individuals who lived through this period of change (now in their 60s and 70s). This has helped us develop the Conversations (see our June 2008 Newsletter) and forms part of the background for our scenario work. Many thanks to those who participated:

  • Geoff Bradshaw
  • Yvonne Curtis
  • Peter Jackson
  • Ted Watson
  • Rex White

Questionnaire

  • 
Name:
  • Age/birth year:
  • What is your background?
  • Are you happy for us to use these answers in our report?
  • What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that you believe significantly influenced New Zealand?
  • What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that you believe significantly influenced you as a person and your decisions?
  • What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that may have not had large national impact, but stand out in your memory? Why do they stand out?
  • What technological advancements stand out as particularly significant and why?
  • What have been the most destructive events over your lifetime, be it natural disasters, violent events etc? Why?
  • Over your lifetime what have been significant social concerns and how have they manifested themselves?
  • Are there any periods of social concern or fear that in hindsight were unwarranted? (for instance the Y2K Bug or fear of alien invasion)
  • What New Zealand political speeches, stances or actions stand out as having an impact on you or our country and why?
  • In what way have the characteristics which shape and define New Zealand’s culture changed in your lifetime?
  • What are your biggest concerns for the future of New Zealand and why?
  • Is there anything you feel that has been left out of this interview that you would like to mention?

Introducing Geoff Bradshawgeoff-bradshaw

Date of Birth: 7 March 1926

Background
I left school aged 13 years to work as money was short, so work has been continuous ever since. Would have really enjoyed going to high school. First few years were very lonely so when I found the army in 1946 it was a real wake up call. Getting married in 1949 was the biggest wake up call! Lea and I are still together having three great offspring, 2 girls, 1 boy, 5 grandchildren.

What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that you believe significantly influenced New Zealand?

What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that may have not had large national impact, but stand out in your memory? Why do they stand out?

What technological advancements stand out as particularly significant and why?

What have been the most destructive events over your lifetime, be it natural disasters, violent events etc? Why?

Over your lifetime what have been significant social concerns and how have they manifested themselves?

Are there any periods of social concern or fear that in hindsight were unwarranted? (for instance the Y2K Bug or fear of alien invasion)

The majority of people do not agree with the anti-smacking bill – what about kids who hit their parents? The kids rule the household these days. Not so long ago there was a murder every month and now there is one every day – it’s very scary. The fear of alien invasion is also very scary.

What New Zealand political speeches, stances or actions stand out as having an impact on you or our country and why?

David Lange’s speech at Oxford University was brilliant.

In what way have the characteristics which shape and define New Zealand’s culture changed in your lifetime?

What are your biggest concerns for the future of New Zealand and why?

It is still the best country in the world! We have done a lot of travelling in our time and it’s always good to get home. The number of different cultures coming into New Zealand is scary.

Introducing Yvonne Curtisyvonne-curtis

Age: 68

Background
Amateur futurist, educator and scientist.
Church connections – an Anglican upbringing and Presbyterian since marriage. Born and raised in Gisborne.

What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that you believe significantly influenced New Zealand?

What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that you believe significantly influenced you as a person and your decisions?

What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that may have not had large national impact, but stand out in your memory? Why do they stand out?

What technological advancements stand out as particularly significant and why?

What have been the most destructive events over your lifetime, be it natural disasters, violent events? Why?

Over your lifetime what have been significant social concerns and how have they manifested themselves?

Are there any periods of social concern or fear that in hindsight were unwarranted? (for instance the Y2K Bug, fear of alien invasion) 

What New Zealand political speeches, stances or actions stand out as having an impact on you or our country and why?

In what way have the characteristics which shape and define New Zealand’s culture changed in your lifetime?

What are your biggest concerns for the future of New Zealand and why?

Is there anything you feel that has been left out of the interview that you would like to mention?

The spectacular event that was the 1990 commonwealth games in Auckland.

Introducing Peter Jacksonpeter-jackson

Age: 78

Background
My name is Peter Jackson and I am age 78. I was born in England and came to New Zealand under contract to the New Zealand Navy when I was age 22 and finished up staying here. During that time I have been engaged in many activities from farming to working in prisons and creating a number of manufacturing industries.

What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that you believe significantly influenced New Zealand?

What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that you believe significantly influenced you as a person and your decisions?

What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that may have not had large national impact, but stand out in your memory? Why do they stand out?

What technological advancements stand out as particularly significant and why?

What have been the most destructive events over your lifetime, be it natural disasters, violent events etc? Why?

Numerous wars and international conflicts I have been involved in because of the nature of my military career.

Over your lifetime what have been significant social concerns and how have they manifested themselves?

The breakdown of the family unit resulting in children being deprived of normal parent interaction and 2-parent interaction with themselves. It’s vital for children to experience simple family activities like picnics at the beach, camping, evening walks, theatre, orchestral concerts, various sports activities etc. etc. I firmly believe if that situation was improved, then many of the social problems we face today would disappear.

Are there any periods of social concern or fear that in hindsight were unwarranted? (For instance the Y2K Bug or fear of alien invasion)

What New Zealand political speeches, stances or actions stand out as having an impact on you or our country and why?

In what way have the characteristics which shape and define New Zealand’s culture changed in your lifetime?

1) The lack of accountability.

2) The breakdown of the rule of law.

3) The inability of government departments to get to grips with many shortcomings in the various departments such as health, law and order, early childhood education and police.

What are your biggest concerns for the future of New Zealand and why?

My biggest concern would be to see a continuation of the above traits though I cannot suggest ways to improve the situation. That would require a massive change in political thinking which is very unlikely to happen and even if it did, would take years to come to fruition. That is sad because in many ways, New Zealand IS “the Lucky Country” (Australia on a smaller scale) with a potential future far outstripping its size. Given the right incentives, there is nothing our country cannot achieve.

My best wishes go to anyone that can preserve what is left of our New Zealand way of life.

Signed,

Peter Jackson, Auckland 16-01-2008

Introducing Ted Watson

Date of Birth: 15th December 1927

Background
Born in Dunedin. Early years were spent in a rural setting (Ranfurly, Central Otago) and Pahiatua (Northern Wairarapa). Primary education was at Pahiatua District High School and Secondary Education was at Wanganui Collegiate School. Tertiary Education was at Otago University in 1946 and this coincided with our family of five moving to Palmerston North. Our family was made up of our parents, two boys and a girl. Dunedin took up my full attention at the Medical School and was a particularly stimulating and happy time. The conclusion of my studies in Dunedin was accompanied by the early death of my mother in 1951 from breast cancer. My father remarried eight years later. Early years were spent at Palmerston North hospital and there I met Margaret Black, a nurse, whom I married in 1955. We left Palmerston North for the United Kingdom that same year to pursue postgraduate surgical studies at Edinburgh and London. In 1960 when the studies were completed, I returned to New Zealand and Wellington Hospital and resumed surgical practice until retirement in 1992. Over our first eight years of married life we had five children, four girls and a boy, all of whom are happy and well.

What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that you believe significantly influenced New Zealand?

The aftermath of the two world wars ushered in the post colonial period and upon such appalling cataclysms, the whole tenure of NZ changed in its stature within the world community, and its own increasing self belief and confidence in itself as a nation. The First World War allowed the world to see the character and maturity of its people, but for New Zealand the sacrifice of so many of its young men and women in such a tiny country, would be an everlasting arrest of its development and progress. The Second World War, barely ten years on, while resulting in similar losses of its young men and women, allowed greater questioning of its role in the Empire and later the Commonwealth. The destruction of so much intrinsic wealth was fortunately accompanied by a government strong and able to lead the country through such adverse times. Thus the Labour governments of Savage, Fraser and Nash turned to Socialist principles and transformed very significantly the management of health and welfare, together with education and improved working conditions for men and women in many fields, through the newly created Ministry of Works. Recognition of Union Power supported by the Government added to these major changes and so began the most significant changes seen to lifestyle in New Zealand.

Health and especially more Public Health became a major plank for government and with it, the concept of free medical care for all, in hospitals and in the community. Education at all levels became free to all. All these measures were noted by many countries with astonishment and, for some, admiration.

Unions, established as legal entities, assumed responsibility for welfare and working conditions of its members and soon New Zealand began to flourish.

An issue that possibly has had the largest role in our relationship with the rest of the world and our own development was the decision of Britain the join the Common Market of Europe. This did seem very grave. In a matter of months New Zealand faced the loss of nearly 90% of its exports overseas. While the blow was softened a little by the phasing out slowly of some goods it was nevertheless a potentially crippling blow. New Zealand’s response provided further evidence of ongoing maturity, determination and independence to deflect the serious financial fallout. Other countries gladly assumed recipient status for our goods until we are now in a position of exporting less than 50% of goods to Britain and the EU with the maintenance of a good standard of living.

Sport has long been an integral part of international relations and has always been high on the list of priorities – particularly in the field of rugby through its famous All Blacks, but also cricket was part of the international scene as well as athletics, swimming and netball.

Racial relations through the Treaty of Waitangi have been viewed with much interest from those countries having indigenous populations and have been regarded with admiration by others. Accident Compensation, too, has been internationally viewed with interest although it must be said that few countries have followed our lead in regard to this cause. It is rare in any part of the world for an individual to be single out as a person meriting widespread respect and admiration, but there was one who has significantly influence New Zealand and the world at large. Sir Edmund Hillary has won not only world wide respect for the climbing of Everest but further world wide respect with his humanitarian work in Tibet.

What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that may have not had large national impact, but stand out in your memory? Why do they stand out?

It is an unfortunate quirk of my memory that the most immediate events that come to my mind so readily are the sudden and unnatural deaths of world notables. Four come to mind immediately: President Kennedy, Martin Luther King Junior, John Lennon and Princess Diana. I knew none of the above personally. All were shocking and somehow left a void that still remains. Furthermore, I can predict with confidence that Queen Elizabeth will leave the same void as the others when she dies. All had an extremely high profile worldwide and all were capable of doing generous and worthy things, also widely noted. In a catastrophe of its own and so readily recalled, is the calamity of the twin towers on 9/11/01. Much can be excused in the subsequent behaviour of its leaders and the perceived inappropriate response.

Finally it must be said that the most lasting memories are those associated with me wife and family. My wife has been so steadfast in the wellbeing of my family and we recall this support with much gratitude and love.

The need of us all to achieve the standards demanded of us has made us all better people.

What technological advancements stand out as particularly significant and why?

A special interest has allowed me to focus on the widespread trends that have occurred in medicine. These trends for the most part are associated with the betterment of health for those of us having first world status. Progress in third world countries is frighteningly slow, and is mainly geared around basic public health measures which advanced countries have successfully surmounted for the most part. However, they still require contending with the devastating effects of incurable AIDS and drug resistant bacterial / viral agents. Technology in medicine has certainly shown the way in simplifying procedures, once requiring management by major ablative operations leading to much pain and distress, and long convalescence. Nevertheless the procedures termed minimal surgical procedures as done with the various endoscopes achieve excellent results in benign and minor operations, but regrettably accomplish little in the way of treating a greater number of the common major cancers successfully in the long term. Cancers of the breast, colon and rectum, lung, prostate and ovary are all more prevalent and many can be dealt with by minimal surgical procedures and in some cases live longer with the aid of ancillary drugs, but regrettably and statistically there has been only a small range of increased cures. More shall be said later of public health needs in the third world.

Communications in computer, telephones, wireless and travel are most memorable for casting an influence on lifestyle. The world has undergone the most incredible changes mostly for the good with the advent of these agents. Both nationally and internationally education, knowledge and travel between countries has revolutionised education in schools, universities and homes. The entertainment industry has been transformed, and there have been no lives untouched by this medium. Travel, with the speed and comfort now possible, allows rapid interchange of ideas and increasing better knowledge of the peoples of those countries.

What have been the most destructive events over your lifetime, be it natural disasters, violent events etc? Why?

The United Nations and other world bodies have been of scant help to those in the third world. The twentieth and twenty first century have seen some of the most horrifying massacres of civilians that the world has seen. The appalling loss of life in the two world wars of civilians and armed forces has continued into the new century, the Jewish holocaust as the yardstick that will forever remain as a testimony of infamy, as will the loss of civilians in two world wars. The United Nations for whatever reason has been powerless in preventing conflict in the Middle East and throughout Africa, and while faithfully attempting to restore some semblance of peace and harmony among states, little has been achieved. Starvation and disease add to the misery. Education must never be forgotten as a necessity for the huge mass of deprived people but aspirations to improve the health of the deprived are a long way off. While optimists may be able to point to the control of pestilence and disease of the Middle Ages, other disease are virtually out of control in third world countries, AIDS, a resurgence of malaria, tuberculosis and other drug resistant diseases, all against a background of starvation, have surged in, more than replacing the plagues of the Middle Ages. Callous, ignorant military dictators have only added to the privation of the African states. Western leaders have sought to direct these defended nations into the gold standard of Western style democracy. Such hopes are devoid of merit in the face of more pressing needs of starvation, disease and the calumny of leaders. Leaders of the western world have scarcely fared better than their African counterparts, as witnessed in the global fallout in Iraq, an event squarely laid at the feet of the American administration, and then nationally the lack of action and concern for the people of New Orleans and the disastrous floods and hurricanes of earlier this century.

Over your lifetime what have been significant social concerns and how have they manifested themselves?

National issues require analysis within the framework of a small country, geographically isolated with a small, racially diverse population, and having much of its social state for ever seems deeply embedded in the past. The Treaty of Waitangi has been the dominant force used to mould our thoughts on Māori / Pakeha relations. Interpretations of the various clauses of the treaty are capable of wide interpretation by the parties concerned, and there is further confusion that Māori issues important in pre treaty days are dependant on memory, and not the written word.

The most negative aspect of the sole use of the treaty is our inability to imagine that resolution will eventually occur. Despite soothing words from politicians, no one really believes that matters related to the Treaty of Waitangi will be concluded in the foreseeable future. Thus there appears to be little chance of improved relations and amicable agreements in Māori / Pakeha relations, which from time to time are very disturbing.

Meantime, albeit very slowly, immigration is changing the mix within our population, with the increase in arrival of Pacific Islanders, people from Asia, India and others within the Commonwealth of Nations, many of whom will have their own grievances which demand attention. ‘Racial relations’ is certainly an issue that will be to the forefront of future generations.

The debt we owe to our forebears consists of many well established social principles, and has its expensive drawbacks, in a country that has unemployment benefits which rival the wages of lower socio-economic groups and where taxes outpace other OECD, in many cases. High taxes are a grave disincentive for those hoping to broaden the base for exports, and play a significant role in the failure to attract business from overseas. The revenue taken from the people to fulfil accident compensation has merit, in that compensation is now paid for injuries preventing work or enjoyment of life. Accident Compensation is expensive and has undergone little revision. It should be noted that, having been in operation for more than twenty five years, no country has followed our lead, although Canada has its own form of accident compensation.

Crime and punishment are a scourge to many nations, and New Zealand does not escape. More prisons are repeatedly required to be built; perceived unequal punishment within various groups, accompanied by an ever rising incidence of offending and re-offending particularly by Maori is a serious reflection, on the social ills of this country, with little solution offered. Finally, education is for ever it seems in the forefront of the country’s woes. While it can be demonstrated that our decile 10 (the best) schools are able to perform with the best overseas, there is much to be concerned about in lower decile schools, where high absenteeism and inadequate numbers of teachers is most evident. Total immersion schools have their critics. Our own system of assessment by NCEA is under much scrutiny in a country already beset by geographic isolation and a small population, with little chance of expanding a practical knowledge of foreign languages that would be designed to increase our appeal overseas, and provide knowledge of languages which would add depth of knowledge for those seeking overseas study.

Are there any periods of social concern or fear that in hindsight were unwarranted? (For instance the Y2K Bug or fear of alien invasion)

It does seem appropriate that, in the section devoted to unwarranted social concerns, that the question of global warming should be raised. It seems appropriate to discuss this subject in two aspects: firstly, is there firm evidence that global warming is an established entity? Secondly, is man responsible and further perpetuating this state?

The first premise has two aspects to it. Global warming has occurred cyclically over many thousands of years from natural disasters when man was not even around. Such past changes are natural phenomena. One example has been the melting polar ice caps thought to be due to man and his interference with the atmosphere and more. Today, it is possible to ascribe to this the title of a natural event, hitherto regarded as global warming – there are significant underwater volcanoes presently in action that may well contribute to the meltdown of the ice caps. There are many inconsistencies in CO2 levels and the role of the so-called ozone holes is baffling many. Lomberg, a Swedish scientist of renown and once a prominent advocate of green house gases and the green coalition, has continued to refute the claims for greenhouse gases and global warming and is now a powerful member of the sceptics.

A summary of this serious if as yet still very open issue is as follows: The serious desire to lower world pollution has lead to a steadily evolving concentration of minds towards energy sources having minimal contamination of the atmosphere. Nuclear power has become increasingly attractive with the reduction in expense and its presentation as clean and green. Disposal of waste is a problem. There still requires to be solved much prejudice against this sort of energy.

The world is turning now to wind and tide power with some enthusiasm, and together with solar power there is much merit in pursuing all three goals at the expense of coal power. Our small population and adequate hydroelectric power for the present allows less urgency in the search for new sources but time will soon determine a move to alternatives.

What New Zealand political speeches, stances or actions stand out as having an impact on you or our country and why?

Words from our political masters have been particularly unedifying. Such speeches have been construed as funny though often irrelevant (Lange) or dangerous because of their destruction of important international commitments (also Lange). They are occasionally startling for their potential far reaching effects (Brash at a past Orewa New Year speech). Memorable political speeches are usually unexpected, brief, and occasionally offer the real possibility of significant change as in Doug Graham’s pronouncements of his desire to see Treaty matters urgently underway. As in an earlier question on national and international events as recalled from memory, I cannot recall the quality of a prominent woman’s speech except where it was inappropriate and unhelpful, such as the speech by Dame Silvia Cartwright when she sought to lecture medical students at their capping ceremony in Dunedin about the cervical screening controversy which she chaired, and how this was an example of how newly fledged doctors were not to behave. I believe I must turn to the Reith lectures for quality of presentation and substance but that is not the brief.

In what way have the characteristics which shape and define New Zealand’s culture changed in your lifetime?

Two outstanding events immediately come to mind in regard to significantly and permanently changing New Zealand’s culture. The first is the modification of the drinking hours. Ten o clock closing, as it was commonly known, while not allowing for a reduction in the all too common evils of alcohol changed forever the social fabric of the country, allowing the participation of women to improve a much more friendly and encompassing atmosphere to occur within the family circle.

The second and much wider effect was the widespread acceptance of women in the workplace. This has not only allowed the capabilities of women to now emerge, and lead to increased wealth and satisfaction in many families, but this change of culture for women has shown a startling fact that they do not compete on an equal footing with men, but surpass them, in the competitive professions of medicine, dentistry and law. Business too has allowed a striking number of women to show their true worth.

Improved standards of practice in all fields are reported as having occurred, and the only aspect that has yet to be assessed is a possible negative effect on some nuclear families. However, one aspect of living remains under scrutiny, and that aspect is sport. Women now indulge in sporting events, covering all fields that men once held sway but are unable to achieve higher standards than their male counterparts. This has been tried both in tennis and golf with little success for the female competitor. Contract bridge is classified in many texts as a sport and here women are certainly equal if not superior to men – perhaps because bridge is a predominantly mental exercise in which it has been noted many women are extremely successful.

What are your biggest concerns for the future of New Zealand and why?

New Zealand will evolve as the world evolves but it will never be able to achieve global equity. The factors that mitigate this are many, some irremediable. Firstly is its geographical isolation. It is 3,400 kilometres from its nearest big neighbour, Australia. The nearest other countries in our vicinity are the Pacific Islands who will always have a dependency on this country and Australia. Australia has the wealth to cope with the demands readily. There is also dependency on primary products – lamb and dairy. This is like an individual who places all his investments in two or three portfolios, rewarding as they may be. Sooner or later these shares will retreat and there is little to fall back on. So it is with a small country like New Zealand. Sooner or later the demand for our major commodities will retreat and, although well versed in other expert commodities, communication, yachts, even wine, the world has its own expertise which for the most part will eclipse our own. However, the world because of the inexhaustible need will still pick up the outstanding scientists in this country, and make offers that cannot be refused, depressing further our small pool of the brightest and the best.

Immigration to an attractive, quieter country will have its appeal, and the so called ‘brain drain’ may undergo a reversal. Immigration is, however, small and irregular and for the most part we will be dependent on pacific nations to swell our number without ever equating our losses.

Such dire predictions when they occur can only be relieved by offering terms for urgent union with Australia, as its eighth state. In accepting such a premise one should always negotiate from strength, and that means negotiations should commence now. Internal relations are indeed a worry. The Treaty of Waitangi is to wander along indefinitely, draining our reserves and Gross National Product from allotted paths and a decline of our well being and wealth. A declining population follows and so that health and well being of our nation. This will not be short term, but it is wise to prepare now and so clever politicians must pool their resources, overlook their differences and do everything in their power to induce expatriate kiwis to return, and new citizens to come to this country where there will be not only a warm welcome, but a thriving communication and wine industry to great them.

Is there anything you feel that has been left out of this interview that you would like to mention?

Hope is still relative.

Introducing Rex Whiterex-white

Year of Birth: 1926

Background

What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that you believe significantly influenced New Zealand?

What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that you believe significantly influenced you as a person and your decisions?

What events have occurred (nationally or internationally) in your lifetime that may have not had large national impact, but stand out in your memory? Why do they stand out?

Primarily, in my personal life, environmental events (ever occurring but either good or bad) had effects on me and the closest people in my world. Such is my aged memory!

What technological advancements stand out as particularly significant and why?

What have been the most destructive events over your lifetime, be it natural disasters, violent events etc? Why?

World War II and worldwide human tragedies are ever with us. They have not been adequately recognised and nor have they been adequately addressed. This is not insignificantly resulting from the self interested agendas of nations and other groups. Examples include oppression, [ethnic] cleansing, genocide, drugs that result in horrible deaths, maiming, starvation (from a lack of food, water or both), acids and other chemicals. Then there are earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, and floods, among others, which are all caused by natural forces.

Over your lifetime what have been significant social concerns and how have they manifested themselves?

Recognition of equality or humans and the imbalance of individual /section / national access to resources and materials (such as oil), health (issues of malnutrition), the impact of others through terrorism and reoccurring climatic adversities.

Are there any periods of social concern or fear that in hindsight were unwarranted? (For instance the Y2K Bug or fear of alien invasion)

These points are of historical value to learn from when viewed generally, as people’s fears / concerns vary [within a society or community].

What New Zealand political speeches, stances or actions stand out as having an impact on you or our country and why?

The stances / actions that raised our country into nationhood and saw us “standing on our own feet” on the world scene. An example of this is the anti-nuclear stance.

In what way have the characteristics which shape and define New Zealand’s culture changed in your lifetime?

The ongoing transition from “natives” and “whites” to the assertive indigenous people versus the Pakeha. To eventually becoming “us” and “us”, in our own modern multicoloured, multilingual, multi-opinioned, multi-active and completely interwoven culture. This is the latest New Zealand. This can be illustrated by marriage / attire / cuisine / attitudes and exchange and acceptance of each other’s worlds / backgrounds. We have welcomed Pacific peoples into our more worldly land with a unique New Zealand heartbeat enveloping our people’s nation.

What are your biggest concerns for the future of New Zealand and why?

Animal life (sea life, whales, endangered species, forests, water purity, food additives etc).