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No. 35 (June 1961)
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A TRIP OUTSIDE

KI HEI! MAURI ORA!

Tena no koutou, e nga hapu karanga maha o te motu. Ko te reo irirangi tenei o Waikune e mihi atu nei ki a koutou. Kua riro nga karanga, me nga haka i tangihia e nga tipuna. Engari kua whakatau matou te taitamariki, ki te kapo mai i nga ahuatanga i whakatakotongia i roto i nga kaupapa a nga tipuna kua wehe atu ki te po.

Slowly the curtains drew apart to the sound of spontaneous applause, and from our position in the second line of our haka party, I stole a glance out front to a packed hall of beaming faces, looking towards us. Our leader Dick steps forward, the audience is hushed, only the rustle of his piupiu breaks the silence, then continuing in his rich deep baritone voice that echoes out through the hall:

Gone are the stirring cries of the warriors
Forgotten the plaintive laments
The Pakeha has come
Softly the whispering voices steal
over our valleys and hills
Lamenting that which is no more
Hushed they sigh
The warriors are here
Once more the hakas and chants ring out again
Echoing once more across the bush clad slopes
Tonight we bid you welcome to Taumarunui
Dwelling place of our forbears.

Kia Rite

Precision-like, our feet come together, hands resting on waists, heads held erect, conscious of the crowd before us. And the bright stage lights that make us all stand out.

Haere mai Haere mai Koutou katoa

Our voices burst forth in harmony, the click click swish of piupius as they swing to the sway of bodies, then flowingly as each gathers confidence. As the crowd break into prolonged applause, the tense look of first night nerves on the faces of the back-stage workers and Duty Officers disappears and they smile.

“Ah. at last the crowd is with us; I'm sure tonight's going to be a smash hit,” I say to myself thankfully. The whole party seems to vibrate up up and down our lines.

A feature of modern prisons is that they encourage many prisoners to develop their talents. This lively and amusing story shows a wonderful response on the part of the ‘inmates’; undoubtedly an action song party such as the one described here will help them to face the future with some confidence.

Our next item is a bright and gay one and everyone seems to sing with a new burst of radiance. At the conclusion of this number we all dash away to the dressing rooms to change for other acts. Everyone in the Maori Group is now in a happy mood. Gone are the first night jitters and petty ways that somehow always seem to be part of opening nights everywhere. I grin to myself as I look around the dressing room, watching some of the chaps, busily wiping tattoo marks off their faces. A few are taking it easy, smoking and talking excitedly; had an outsider chanced to look in he would have seen a happy group of males, doing exactly what hundreds of other performers do at any other concerts; wandering off alone downstairs listening back-stage to the fits of laughter and gaiety of the amused audience as they warmed to the antics of Bodgie, our comedian. This was sweet music to my ears, for having taken part in many shows elsewhere I have always loved the stage and mixing with the artists and excitement that goes with it. From where I stand behind the thick green curtains, my mind wanders back to events that happened last year. I had the honour of welcoming Sabrina, and of arranging the Maori welcome for Winifred Atwell at When-uapai Airport. A Maori reception for Mattiwilda Dobbs, The Platters, Tommy Sands, and various other visiting overseas artists to this grand land of Aotearoa. Now as I watch the members of our cast file on and off I think of the few minutes just

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before the night's show had commenced. Out front, our Superintendent was addressing the crowd; behind the curtains on a completely bare stage stood a group of sixteen Maoris of all colours and shades with Shorty, the one lone Pakeha in our midst, chattering, softly laughing, while one or two were engaged in seeing that their piupius were securely tied. I gazed down the line from where I stood, amused at the expressions on the faces of different ones. Directly in front of me in the first line stood Jack, the son of a well-known local family, a very talented and gifted performer. It takes more than courage to stand before an audience of people, who know that he is a person paying his debt to society. I hope the old saying of “Birds of a feather” comforted him to night. For each and everyone of us in this show were Boobheads (prison inmates). Thoughts raced around in my mind, I suppose this is how animals at the zoo feel, and like the circus clowns, put on a show to hide their own feelings. Are they paying to see us? Or are they here to enjoy our talents? Don't be silly, you fool, it's a bit late to back out and ask these questions now.

THE CROWD EASY TO PLEASE

“Gee, boy,” said one chap, “look at those nice looking sheilas at the end of the front row.”

I chuckled to myself, and the voice of the Stage Manager brought my thoughts to a halt.

“Half a minute to go, you blokes!”

“How do you feel, Jack?” I said bringing myself back to reality.

“Real cool, man,” came his reply, with a glint of mischief flashing in his dark eyes. But with many others of our race, it is almost impossible at times to read their thoughts and feelings. Last night we had also played to a packed house back in Waikune, to an audience consisting mostly of the Officers and their wives, outside visitors, and those of the inmates not taking part in the show. Our common-room had been decorated with greenery, and cut-outs, and gay streamers. And a stage had been built at one end. I myself have come to the conclusion that prison audiences are the most critical of any, if not the hardest to please. But now everything was going well, the crowd easy to please, and certainly one of the most responsive I've ever heard. Stepping over wire leads and a hundred other little things and props, I walked over to where the Chief Officer sat looking pleased and amused. Rather like the “country Squire” tonight in his walking out civvies, a filter tipped cigarette in one hand, and a look that had “Jolly Good Show!” written all over it. On stage Ron and his Hawaiians were “Hollywooding it” (playing up) to the crowd. Ron's steel guitar playing was perfect, the music was simply terrific, but not one of them was smiling; they were all deadpan.

“Why don't one of them smile?”, says the Chief.

“Hey, Lizzard,” I call softly to the Maori guitarist of the group nearest me, and wave to attract his attention. At last he hears, and gives me a sideward look.

“Smile, man, smile,” I say, and his face bursts into a happy grin.

“That's more like it,” we all chorus at once.

“Go out there and do a hula or something,” the Chief says to me. “Come on!”

“What, and have Ron throw a warbly? (fit),” I reply. “we'll all end up in the digger.” (detention cell).

PUTTING ON NEW PERSONALITIES

This must be one of the rare times that he is rewarded with some enjoyment out of his work, I think, as he is called away by one of the Duty Officers. Around me the hustle and bustle of preparations go on, as artists prepare for acts with costumes and props made by the inmates themselves. Hill Billy outfits, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Nigger Minstrels, Comedy Scenes, Maori Haka Party, which included poi dances, action songs, and stick games. A Pacific Island group, complete with leis, lava-lava's and a hula dancer in coloured skirt and long black hair, singing genuine Tahitian songs, with vocalists who catered for the tastes of young and old. We kept the crowd of 700 pleased and happy for 3 ½ hours in a bright and breezy nonstop variety show. Much of that credit must go to the Superintendent, our Chief Officer, and all the other officers, for all the assistance and help given us during our practice periods. For all this entails extra labour for them. This Variety Show was held in Taumarunui last year in aid of funds for the Taumarunui Police Boys' Club, and raised £110 towards their building fund. I and the rest of the concert party were more than glad of this opportunity to be of some help towards such a worthwhile cause. Taumarunui is about 30 miles from Waikune. And that night as we climbed into the bus which was to take us there, everybody was in a good mood. The atmosphere was a gay one. As soon as the bus pulled away, out came the odd guitar or two, and in a little while, nearly everyone was singing. Glad to be away from Waikune for a change. Some of the chaps had changed into their civilian clothes, and seemed to put on new personalities, while others like myself wore what we call leisure blues, blue trousers, grey shirts, and long sleeved jerseys, black socks and shoes. As the miles sped by, we were no longer prison inmates, but a group of happy males on a bus excursion. Gone are the worries and little incidents that crop up, whenever a show is planned. Here it is harder still for the producer. For men come and go, and it is not always so easy to find replacements, which, more often than not, means changing a whole act. A shout of rowdiness, and choruses of “Let's stop,

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and get a couple of crates,” come all at once, as I catch a glimpse of a hotel.

“What's this place?”

“Owhango.” “Not much further to go now, mate,” says a friend.

“Look, that's where the Maori Youth Club meets,” says another as we pass a meeting house on a well lit marae. These are just some of the incidents that helped to make our trip real. We were given a splendid supper by the police and members of the Boys' Club. One of the local Maori clergyman, addressed the Maori members on how pleased he was to see us, and how much he had enjoyed the shows, but I could not help wishing that it had been a Maori organization to sponsor this concert.

NOT ACCUSTOMED TO LATE NIGHTS

Our trip home was a pleasant one, what with being the performers of a successful show, and our stomachs contented with the tasty dishes presented at supper time. For many it was the first time they had stayed up late for a long time, especially at this hour of the night. At first our bus was filled with the sound of rich singing, then gradually here and there heads began to nod, until only the throbbing strum of the guitar and the melodious voices of the few gay sparks were left, broken now and then by the odd snore. Later as the bright lights of Waikune shone out of the early morning mist, my tired body felt nothing but gladness, the one people associate with homecoming. Afterwards, curled up in my blankets, half asleep, my thoughts drifted back to the last few hours, mostly to the hall in Taumarunui. What impressed me most? The prolonged applause of the audience at the close, the sad feeling that seemed to cloak my whole being, as the crowd and we sang, Po Atarau, shrouding me into a state of sadness. Or the reply to a statement by one of my fellow mates to another.

“Did you see that beautiful young woman about three rows back?”

“Listen here, mate,” came the reply, “I've been so long here, they all look like Marilyn Monroe.”

But this is what I remembered most of all. Directly in front of us sat a very noted and learned Maori identity, skilled in the art of carving, tukutuku work and Maori culture. My heart cried out silently, that one day Waikune and other institutions, out in country areas, would have men such as this, to visit and teach the knowledge of our ancestors to Maori inmates such as I and the many others, who struggle to keep in time with the march of progress, yet wherever we are, strive to retain our Maoritanga.