In 2012 I retired again and we are traveling in Europe. In 2009 Ron and I retired and we volunteered at Quaker Meeting House in Wellington, New Zealand for a year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Yearly Meeting

New Zealand Yearly Meeting Annual Gathering was held here in Wellington from Thursday July 9 through Sunday July 12. It is the centennial of the first Annual Gathering of New Zealand Quakers, also in Wellington. Of course, at that time NZ was a Meeting under the care of London Yearly Meeting; it became independent in 1964. The first Meeting for Worship was in Auckland in 1885. Because the Gathering is held in the winter, it is mostly business; there is a summer gathering with workshops and family activities. Wellington Meeting has been working on this conference for about two years. They are very glad that it is now successfully concluded!

Ron and I went mostly to help and to meet people; we figured that most of the business did not need our input. Ron helped particularly at registration the first day, and we went to lunch Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We enjoyed meeting people from Auckland, Christchurch, and all over NZ. About 110 people attended. I worked mostly on Saturday, helping in the book store. I found that as soon as business meeting started, I could close up and join it. The sessions I heard were the tail end of a report on their Quaker Ethical Investment Trust, a report from Young Adult Friends, and one from the Treaty Relations (Indigenous Rights) Committee. None of the reports seemed to lead to any decision making, which perhaps goes with an observation that about half of each monthly business meeting is taken up with work for the yearly meeting. Many decisions seem to come through this process, but I also haven’t observed enough to be sure.

The Young Adult Friends seem to be approaching getting the status of their own monthly meeting. They get together physically once a year at Easter for a long weekend, and have Skype conferences monthly. A couple of them traveled to the Triennial of the Asian section of FWCC in Bhopal, and found that very interesting and different. There was a Young Adult weekend after the main conference, where they met many more young Indian Friends, most of whom are on the more biblical, conservative end of the Quaker spectrum.

The Treaty group deals with Maori relations and issues, and is working on a position paper to give to the government about some of the issues currently at the forefront. In their report to the Meeting, they emphasized the constitutional issues for New Zealanders. The problem may be that, as with Great Britain, there is no Constitution. There is a Bill of Rights, and the Treaty of Waitangi sets out Maori rights, but it is relatively easy to override them. The High Court can only interpret legislation, it cannot not overrule it as unconstitutional. The committee’s opinion was that this means that minority rights have fewer protections, and that it might be a good idea for NZ to look at this issue. New Zealand, along with Australia, Canada and the USA, has not yet ratified the UN Treaty on Indigenous Rights; although all 4 countries seem to be moving towards signing that treaty under their new governments.

Thursday night there was a public lecture in the Town Hall auditorium, which might become the first of an annual Quaker lecture series wherever the Yearly Meeting session is held. This lecture was about the Chinese immigrant experience in New Zealand, and was given by Bill Willmott of Christchurch. At first that seemed to us a strange topic for a Quaker lecture, but in fact it made sense, since he was quite frank about issues of discrimination and assimilation. I believe that Christchurch, which came up with the idea for this lecture, and hopes for an annual lecture series, sees it as an opportunity to present issues of interest to the wider community.
Howard and Rosalind Zuses arrived on Saturday with their daughter Elizabeth and her friend Bill. Rosalind came for Yearly Meeting, but Ron was able to act as tour guide for Howard, Elizabeth and Bill. It was very nice to visit with them. They are also really enjoying their NZ experience as Resident Friends in Auckland.

After a celebratory dinner on Saturday at Yearly Meeting, there was a slide show and talk about the Quaker School in Wanganui, which operated from 1921 to 1969. Then there was a film about the civil rights movement in Kentucky, made by a former resident friend, Betsy Brinson. It is always fascinating to be reminded of those times and the courage of the people fighting for their rights.

Sunday morning everyone was bussed over here for Meeting for Worship, so we had approximately 120 people in the main room and out in the corridor and library. Afterwards, we had our flat and the guest quarters open for people to be able to see all the renovations that have occurred over the last year or two. Yearly Meeting business officially ended Sunday evening. The Zuses left by ferry early Monday morning to tour around the South Island. Many people came and left their bags at the Quaker Centre during the day, so they could tour Wellington until needing to go to the airport, so we continued to be quite occupied all day.

I confess that I have now attended more of NZ Yearly Meeting than I have of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, so I am not able to compare the two. However, I did enjoy meeting this wider fellowship of Quakers and found many are thinking and working on a broad range of topics that need addressing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

New Plymouth

On July 2 we had a few days free without any guests, so we took a car ride over to New Plymouth on the west coast. Its particular scenic attraction is Mount Taranaki. As with many place names, general usage has shifted back to the Maori name from the British Mt. Egmont. Taranaki is a nearly perfect volcanic cone mountain rising to 8200 feet. It was a stand-in for Mt. Fuji in the movie “The Last Samurai”. The area is also one of the prime farming areas of the North Island, and had some of the bloodiest history from the Maori land wars in the nineteenth century. The weather was very mixed over the three days, so we never got a really clear view of the mountain, but we have lots of photos anyway.

On the drive the first day, we made one stop on the coast at the town of Patea to see the beach at the river’s mouth: black sand, fishermen, dunes and cliff, and a faint view of the South Island. Then we went up the east side of Mt. Taranaki through the towns of Stratford and Inglewood, but it was already starting to get dark, so we did not try any of the mountain visitor centers or ski fields on that side.

Much of Friday it felt like we were chasing the sun, or at least breaks in the cloud cover. So we headed up the coast first thing, but that turned out not to be terribly interesting, so we headed back to the mountain, where the view was clearing up some. We went through some nice forest to the North Egmont Visitors’ Center where we got some views. Then we headed back to town and a picnic lunch in Brooklands Park. They have a 2000 year old Puriri tree which is mostly impressive for all the hollows in the trunk and lots of epiphytes in the branches. There was also a nice small zoo with a walk through aviary and a troop of capuchin monkeys, among other things. We visited the old stone church of St. Mary and walked along the coast walkway. That part of New Plymouth, anyway, did not seem to have any beach. The town was the home of Len Lye, a famous NZ “kinetic” sculptor. That is, his sculptures move; I don’t know how hyper he may have been personally. So there is this really tall pole with an orange ball on the top on the water front. It actually looks like it would sway a lot, but its movement was pretty subtle even though there was a decent wind. It was fun to have a back drop of the waxing moon. We spent most of the afternoon in the Puke Arike Museum, which had good natural history and settler and Maori history. (You pronounce Puke with two syllables.) Dinner in a pleasant and reasonably fancy Indian restaurant was mostly notable because it was set up with two long tables against one wall. As we sat nearby, groups of 2 to 4 attractive young women kept arriving, until both tables were full to about 40. It kind of reminded us of sitting on the porch at Range Lights at sunset, watching an endless stream of seagulls flying past; you wonder where they all come from and if it will ever end. We did eventually ask the girls: they were having a farewell party for a French exchange student to their school.

The next day we headed home again, this time driving along the coast road, called the Surf Highway, on the west side of the mountain, which again was mostly hidden by clouds. We drove up and over a shoulder of the mountain to be back in the forest, and then back to the coast. We took a side road to the Cape Egmont lighthouse. (Actually, there were two a couple of miles apart.) We stopped in the pleasant little town of Hawera for lunch, and walked around the small city of Wanganui later in the afternoon. There is a Quaker settlement there, on the site of a defunct Quaker school, which we expect we will visit later. They do seminars about once a month, sort of the NZ version of Pendle Hill.
Although the weather was kind of typical maritime winter weather, we enjoyed the break and the chance to drive around a different part of the country.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Winter officially started in New Zealand on June 1. I have always thought that such a system matched the weather better than starting the seasons with the solstices/equinoxes. We are settling into a routine, but it still surprises me how much we find to do.
The photos are mostly of tapa (masi) cloth from Fiji. This first one is of a fern globe suspended over the civic square in Wellington.

I would say that the theme for this month has been economics, of all things. There is a Quaker settlement about 200 K from here in the town of Wanganui; they do a workshop about once a month. There was one in May about the book Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy. We didn’t go, but a group of five from here did go and reported back on a Sunday evening, and I read the book. The book is about the need to bring the world economy into balance with world ecology. In particular, it looks at world institutions that currently stand in the way of such balance, and new ones that might need to be set up to bring us into alignment. The task sounds quite daunting, and I am skeptical about trying to manage world systems; it doesn’t seem as if we know enough to do it well. On the other hand the current system seems to be leading towards disaster! I was frustrated however, by the lack of ideas of how to proceed locally and personally. I did discover a useful website called that tells you how much of the planet you are using up.

I then had a great opportunity to go to a workshop on local alternative economies in a nearby town. It presented 3 different systems. The first was time banking, where people in the community exchange time dollars representing hours of work. This gives credit for a lot of service exchanges and is particularly useful where people are time rich and cash poor. Often the motivation is more to increase interactions in the community than to bypass the money economy. The second system was more oriented to paying for goods with a non bank credit system. Some towns have actually set up an alternative currency, but these days one can use a virtual credit system. This kind of system was used during the Great Depression in towns like Yellow Springs, Ohio because bank credit was not available, but people still had produce and goods to trade. It is harder to set up because more trust is involved to believe that other people will accept the alternative currency. The third way talked about was a kind of savings and loan club for people who do not have access to bank credit for home building or repairs. The group discussed consisted of about ten Maori families on tribal land. Everyone starts off by saving, and then when some capital has accumulated, a family gets to start borrowing and building. If everyone can help with the building, there is that much more savings. Then as they repay their loan, and everyone is continuing to save, another family can start building. Eventually, everyone gets to build, and when the loans are paid off, they have their savings and never wasted half their money on interest. Apparently there is a large bank in Sweden – JAK Bank - based on this interest free lending and savings. Since the workshop, I have gotten notice of a meeting in Wellington to set up a local exchange, probably a time bank, but possibly also an alternative currency scheme.

Our predecessors as Resident Friends had started a tradition of evening supper and conversation for the Meeting members to meet some of the interesting guests that come thru the Quaker Centre. So we hosted such an evening in June with Esther Cowley-Malcolm from Auckland. She has been involved with a longitudinal study of Pacific Island families with babies born in 2000. There has only been one other longitudinal study in NZ, about 30 years ago in Dunedin, so the population was almost entirely Pakeha (British ancestry). She is now helping to set up a new study that will look at a population that includes Pakeha, Maori, Pacific, and Asian children. Anyway, I find these long term studies very interesting, so I enjoyed the evening, and I think it was a success.

We went to the Pataka Museum in the nearby town of Porirua which had an exhibit of masa (or tapa) cloth from Fiji. My mother had purchased a big piece in Tahiti years ago, which is up at her cabin in Canada. I enjoyed learning how the cloth is made by beating the inner bark of the mulberry tree. The designs are stenciled on, rather than painted. In the old days, they cut the stencil from banana leaves, but now they use plastic. I actually went back to the museum with a friend from Meeting, and we also saw an exhibit about nearby Mana Island, which used to have a Maori settlement, then was a sheep station, and is now being restored as a pest free refuge for native species.

Ron and I also went back to the Aratoi Museum in Masterton. We took a very pleasant train ride, which let us avoid the rather scary hairpin curves of the roadway. We met a friend from Meeting there who then chauffeured us around. They had an exhibit of art from the Seventies in Papua New Guinea. After independence, the country started an arts printing program at the technical college. So these works were an interesting blend of traditional designs within a western medium. It was also obvious that these people were thinking of themselves as artists, and not traditional craftsmen, and playing with the new images and technology. Sadly, after this first artistic flowering, funding dried up and the artistic movement mostly fizzled out.
Our theater experience for the month was going to see “A Polynesian Othello” with friends. The theater troupe is made up of Pacific Islanders. The play was billed as reverse castings, but in fact, it was hard for me, at least, to see any ethnic difference between Othello and the rest of the cast. That actually made it more focused on the domestic drama and Iago’s machinations. I always feel very sorry for Desdemona, who really has no way out of her fate, even though she tries.

We also went to two classical music productions. The first, Midwinter Mozart, was a simplified version of The Magic Flute, done by students. The songs were still quite captivating, and the singing quite acceptable. This was followed by another Mozart singspiel called Bastien and Bastienne, written when Mozart was all of twelve years old. The three singers were older and more professional. It was a cute story of two young lovers who quarrel and are reconciled by a sort of magician/huckster. The second music performance was by the Wellington Chamber Orchestra. They did two pieces by NZ composers John Psathas and Douglas Lilburn, Ralph Vaughn Williams’ London Symphony, and a brilliant Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #4. Having recently seen the movie “In Search of Beethoven”, I appreciated the piece even more.

We continue to go to the movies. We saw a NZ documentary called “Trouble is my Business” about a high school assistant principal. It was an interesting look at a South Auckland high school, although not very deep. The principal clearly cared for his students, and was making a big effort to reduce truancy, but he never seemed to try to delve into why the kids were skipping school. He would just track them down and haul them back. Another NZ based film which may get shown in the US is called “Bride Flight”. It was co-produced in Holland and is often in Dutch with subtitles. It is about 3 young women who come to NZ from Holland to join their husbands. Not all their lives proceed as planned, and in fact, the plot turns out quite differently than I expected. We also saw “Easy Virtue” and “Good”, both of which I can recommend, but since they are probably available in the States, I won’t bother to describe them.

We continue to take hikes on the beaches when the weather allows. Some friends from Meeting took us out to a very remote beach on the West coast called Makara, which is apparently quite popular in the summer because it is warm and sheltered. We also hiked out to a place called Red Rocks on the South Coast. I doubt that it is ever warm and sheltered, but it is dramatic and easy to reach from the city. Of course, we keep forgetting to take a camera with us!

Hopefully I will write soon about July. Wellington is hosting the centennial Yearly Meeting, and we also got away for a short trip to New Plymouth and Mount Taranaki.