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No. 52 (September 1965)
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Introducing Ken Eru

It was the singing that began it all. He sang to himself as the spirit moved him, the melody and the harmony catching together and welling to the surface like a spring, or a season of the year. As I noticed him singing to himself, he noticed the noise that I make when I sing to myself, and he opened up a conversation about music. After five minutes, or a day or so, we were down to it.

‘Beautiful, beautiful,’ Ken said. ‘It was beautiful, BEAU-TI-FUL. You know that song ‘Grandfather Clock’. We sang it slowly and quietly. When the choir finished its singing some of the people in the audience were crying. Yes, crying, in the audience. I told the children when we were learning the song: Now this is a love song about an old man who loved a grandfather clock, and we have to let the audience know about this when we sing to them. ‘… and it stopped dead, never to go again …’ Ken's hands lived a little, and fell, as he murmured the song, and his face held the expression of his illustrating the song to the children in his choir.

It was not only that by this time I was caught up in his enthusiasm, but also that I agreed with his policies.

‘Grandfather Clock,’ I said.

‘Yes, “Grandfather Clock”,' he said. ‘It was beautiful, beautiful. Just a simple song, but it's got everything, and if it is sung properly, well …' I opined that this was the way of things always and that choral societies ought to appreciate this and sing ballads before they attempted Bach.

We did not talk about music and singing all the time. Ken's real interest was in land. I mentioned one day my reading about the Australian method of treating stock depastured on lands deficient in cobalt. ‘Instead of topdressing the land with “cobaltized” superphosphate you feed a “cobalt bullet”, a sort of pill, to the sheep. This “cobalt bullet” stays in the sheep's rumen for months, or indefinitely, and provides for the sheep the necessary trace element that cannot be obtained from the pasture.' Ken received this quietly as from a student rather than as from a farmer and the conversation turned over a few stones concerning science and farming. In private I considered the giving of ‘cobalt bullets’ to one or two persons of my acquaintance, as a favour.

But the talk was mostly about music and singing, except when Ken spoke of sea-foods. ‘It's beautiful,' said Ken, ‘simply beautiful. A lot of people don’t like seaweed because of the slippery skin, but I can tell you that it's just beautiful.'

‘Do you boil it, or something,’ I said.

‘No. You don’t boil it. Just wash it and eat it with salt and pepper and bread and butter. You can feel the iron grabbing as it goes down.'

I knew what he meant. I referred to Thomas Brunner the explorer almost starving to death in the Buller Gorge in 1846 and reaching the coast only to find that sealers had robbed the Ngai Tahu plantations in which he had expected to find potatoes. ‘He found and ate seaweed,’ I said, ‘and I have taken this as evidence of his having been in desperate straits.’ Ken glanced at me as if to say that apart from whatever he had just been saying, being nearly starved to death did not have anything to do with whether or not seaweed was good or bad to eat.

There were other times of course, when we made general conversation with other people on the job about the Ranfurly Shield, the new boss, promotions, the weekend, the size of ‘the double’, the second world war, Vietnam, family and friends, Bill Worker, and Don Jurist, and Jack Metaphysician reciting the secular Polynesian litany. There was a time shortly after I had bought a report about the district by the Ministry of Works during which we made some desultory enquiries about the commercial properties of the volcanic ignimbrite stone in the district, but the main topic of our conversation was music.

Ken invited me to hear his church choir at the time of his telling me about the stands of native timber in the district. ‘There must be

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a million feet of timber there,’ he said. ‘It's like wheat, like wheat,' I was flattered that my opinion should be solicited, and curious to hear the choir, and bigoted about the chances of my being amused. I kept my humours about the average church choir (worship without adventure, Alleluias without delight) to myself however, and I went to the church service as arranged. Ken took me to the service in his car. I stayed after the service to hear the choir rehearse.

It was, as Ken would say, beautiful, simply beautiful, BEAU-TI-FUL. I joined the choir and sang with it for about six months. Twice during that time the service was broadcast over the local radio station. Some weeks after I joined the choir I escorted three visitors from Timaru, basketball players, to the church. We went inside and they looked at the tuku-tuku work, and the carving. I said, ‘There's the choir loft. You can go up those stairs. I have been a member of this choir since a few weeks ago.'

One of the girls said, ‘Were you there in the choir on Sunday?’

I said, ‘Yes.’

She said, ‘I was at church here on Sunday. The music was simply beautiful, beautiful. I wrote to my mother yesterday and I told her about the beautiful music that I heard at church here.’

Several times, of course, we talked about race relations in New Zealand and the ‘colour bar’, and the sentiment that there is no ‘colour bar’ in New Zealand. Since then, however, it has become unnecessary to argue the point. The proposed amendments to the Property Law Act at present before Parliament admit that there is a ‘colour bar’ in New Zealand, and intend to diminish it as it affects housing anyway—and a good riddance.

One apprehends the subjective, impressionistic style of this ‘introduction’. Although the facts presented are true they are not parts of a narrative that refers objectively to past school days and present bank balance so much as attractions to your attention. But then I am not interested to proceed from any preliminary recitation of facts to a value-judgement about my friend. I want you to meet him. I intimate, suggest, introduce him to you. You can make up your own minds. Not that he needs any introduction to many hundreds, or thousands, of people throughout this Land of the Long White Cloud.

His favourite expression of approval is ‘Beautiful, beautiful, BEAU-TI-FUL’.

Last July the new dining hall at Kuku, Ohau (south of Levin) was officially opened. Built almost entirely by voluntary labour, the hall has a modern design and excellent facilities.

A Meeting of representatives of Wairarapa Maoris has approved plans for the complete restoration of historic Papawai Pa near Greytown.

Applications from persons of Maori descent are being invited by the Ngarimu V.C. and 28th (Maori) Battalion Memorial Scholarship Fund Board for secondary school scholarships, university scholarships and a postgraduate scholarship to be taken up in 1966. Full details are available from the Secretary of the Board, to whom enquiries should be addressed c/o Department of Education, Bursaries Section, Private Bag, Wellington.