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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Although Spring officially started September 1, the weather has still been mostly cool, windy and rainy, with some very pleasant days interspersed. As you can see, we are encouraged to use wind energy around the house. I have planted some peas and we had another nice hike up to the Botanical Gardens to look at the tulips – no photos however, as we forgot the camera that day. It has, however, been another month with lots of learning.

You may remember that in June I wrote about going to an alternative currency workshop in the nearby town of Carterton. Since then I have gone to a couple of meetings in Wellington trying to revitalize their local trading network, but it hasn’t gotten very far yet. So Living Economies sponsored a similar workshop in Wellington at the end of August, and it looks like we might finally have a consistent working group here for what is now called Wellington Independent Trading System (WITS). We are still dealing with some of the basics, like a philosophy statement, but one of the new people has offered to be a membership coordinator, because there is still a group of traders left over from the previous incarnation of the group. I am really interested in seeing this take form and begin to work, because I think people working together outside the regular money system is really necessary, but I am actually not particularly interested in getting involved with trading myself. Partly, I am leaving soon, and partly I don’t really have anything I want to sell or buy.

I have been educating myself more about money by reading various books. The funniest one, if you like the author, is Making Money, by Terry Pratchett, whose stories are based in a fantasy world. But it is a good exposition about paper money versus a gold standard. We visited the Reserve Bank Museum in Wellington, which had an example of a really interesting machine called a MONIAC, invented by a NZ economist working at the London School of Economics in 1946. The MOnetary National Income Analogue Computer is a visual demonstration of the way money flows through the economy by using water flowing through clear pipes in and out of various tanks representing households, business, government, etc. You can change the flow by raising taxes or increasing savings or whatever and observe the effects on the system. It seems to me to be a concept which is ripe to be converted into a computer model, but as far as I can tell, no one has done so yet. A similar machine is featured in Terry Pratchett’s book. The Museum also has a replica of a giant moa. If they hadn’t already been hunted to extinction by the Maori, it would certainly make camping in NZ a different experience!

Another area for activism I rediscovered is vegetarianism. I went to a lecture about diet and climate change which rekindled my enthusiasm. Certainly the ecological effects of meat eating on water, land use and poverty were some of the reasons why I stopped eating meat forty years ago, but this lecture also linked it to carbon emissions. One of the quickest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to eat less meat and dairy. Meat eating uses about twice the carbon as a vegetarian diet, but being vegan cuts your use to about a quarter of that of vegetarians. So I am trying to reduce the amount of milk, cheese and butter I use. It is hard, so I sympathize with meat eaters who are cutting back. There has been a lot of debate in NZ about their carbon goals to take to the Copenhagen conference in December. Part of their problem is that a lot of their emissions come from their dairy and meat cattle, and no one knows how to reduce that yet. Agriculture is also one of the key constituencies of the new government.

Peace activities have also suddenly started happening this week; maybe it is because it is Spring. This week I went to a lecture about the Genuine Progress Index by Canadian Ron Coleman. The GPI is an alternative to the Gross National Product, whose inventor even said it (GNP) should not be used to measure the health of economies because it makes no distinction between positive and negative economic activity. The GPI also looks at net income, so it is not necessarily a good thing if farming income is increasing, if farming expenses are increasing faster. The GPI also takes into account the value of natural resources, so if you are depleting your fishery stock, that is a negative. If you are building your forest reserves, that is a positive. I feel that this is peace related because anything that helps you improve the human condition will promote peace.

Next, we went to a lecture about the Global Peace Index by Kevin Clements, Director of the newly formed National Peace and Conflict Studies Centre and a Quaker. Recently developed in collaboration with the Economist Intelligence Unit, it has been ranking 141 states on levels of internal and external peacefulness for the last 3 years. This year New Zealand ended up number one. Somewhat to my surprise, the USA is actually in the middle. He also pointed out that none of the 5 permanent members of the Security Council are in the top fifth, and Russia ranks quite low.

Today there is a forum on nuclear disarmament and tomorrow there is a peace march in honor of Ghandi’s birthday. It is one of the beginning steps for a World March For Peace And Nonviolence which will travel around the world over the next ninety days, ending in South America. We will be helping carry some Quaker banners. One of them looks like an antique from the days of demonstrating for a nuclear free NZ.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Note: This being the approximate halfway point of our time in New Zealand, Alex’ sidekick and unofficial photographer decided to take a little walkabout (as they say on the West Island) and visit Nelson, the earliest colonial settlement on the South Island. He humbly offers the following guest posting.

p.s.: In Mozilla and some other browsers, to see a larger version of a photo, double click on it.

Nelson is full of history. Tasman, D’Urville, and Cook sailed the nearby waters. The city was founded in 1841 by Arthur Wakefield, the most respected member of the tarnished Wakefield family, and was home to the first Anglican bishop and the first Quaker Meeting House.

Above all, Nelson is the Centre of New Zealand, and the Centre is accessible by means of a short hike. The hike begins at the footbridge over the Maitai River at the end of Hardy Street, and the sign points to a playing ground in front of a large hill.

At the start of the “zigzag” up the hill, however, we learn that the centre is not really the actual centre, so the hike becomes instead a search for the psychic centre of the country. And the preliminary clue to this centre is right there on the same sign, pointing out that the first Rugby game in New Zealand was played on that very field. (see texts in footnotes below)

As we continue upward on the path, there is another clue, in the form of what appears to be a large wooden phallus. Why there is such emphasis on sports and masculinity in this society I wouldn’t venture to say.

It may have something to do with memories of the Empire, and Gallipoli, and ANZAC Day. These memories are revered by almost everyone.

After a further fifteen minute hike I reached the top, where there are survey markers and a sculpture. In the distance are more signs of New Zealand. The Cathedral, which was meant to have a peaked roof but for some reason has a flat one. The hilltop site of a former fortified Maori Pa, which did the inhabitants little good when Maori from the North Island, after obtaining muskets from the early European whalers and missionaries, came south and dispersed them.

Below the former Pa is the modernist and ugly Town Hall, with its clock tower. And in a different direction, sheep and logs.

In the distance is Abel Tasman National Park, the sort of place the foreign tourist associates with the true New Zealand. The day before, it was too rainy to hike, so I had taken a boat trip up the coast. One island, Adele, has by continued trapping and poison been made predator-free and has become a haven for birds. (The predators were all introduced pests, not native.) The boat turned off its engines for several minutes so we could listen to the birdsong.

Turning my attention back to the sculpture at the Centre of New Zealand, I notice that the heavenward-pointing lance has a bumper sticker on it. Is it true? Especially in secular New Zealand? As the Tui Beer commercials always say, “yeah… (snicker snicker), right!”

Like Split Apple Rock at Abel Tasman Park, New Zealand and most other countries are divided, formed from land stolen often more than once.

When you get deep enough into it you see the contradictions and the dark side.
In 1843, Arthur Wakefield and several others, including a Quaker surveyor, were killed by Maori in the Wairau District in a still-controversial land dispute. The outsider hesitates to make any judgments, since on the surface this is a successfully bicultural country, but old wounds, misunderstandings, bigotry and political correctness still seem to hover over most attempts at Maori/Pakeha resolution. While waiting for some future secular National Epiphany to occur on that hill at the sort-of-Centre of New Zealand, I will continue to work on my Kiwiana collection.

(Text of Marker -- "The top of Botanical Hill is reached by a moderately easy track, commonly referred to as the 'Zigzag', winding up the southwest face. The
monument at the top designates the geographical centre of New Zealand. It is suggested that the actual Geocentre is in the Spooner Range, about 55 kilometres southwest of here. Botanical Hill's claim probably arose from the fact that the trig station on the hill was the first survey point allotted in the South Island and the first surveys radiated out from this point. The plain table at the summit illustrates this point.")

(Re: First Game of Rugby: "Charles Monro was born at Waimea West on the 5th of April 1851 and entered Nelson College in 1861 where he remained until 1865. In 1867 he set out for England with
the intention of entering the Army. In preparation for this he attended Christ's College in London where he learnt the game of rugby. Returning to New Zealand, he brought the game with him and is considered the founder of rugby in New Zealand.")

Saturday, September 12, 2009


The main new thing for August has been that I have started volunteering in the primary school a block away from the Quaker Centre. It is Kindergarten through Grade 8, with about 240 students. Unlike many NZ schools, it does not have uniforms. Similar to most NZ schools, it does have combined classrooms, except K is on its own. Although I said I could do either reading or math, they have me working all in reading/writing. I arrive at 9:30 to one of the 5/6th grade rooms. They are just finishing up the circle time that they begin the day with. On Mondays I have a group of 4, one boy, 3 girls, I think all born in NZ but 3 Malaysian or Indian ethnicity and one Pakeha (New Zealand/European). On Wednesday I have a group of 6, 2 boys (both Pakeha) and 4 girls (one Irish, 3 Indian or Malay). They all can read; I am working on higher reasoning and deciphering skills. One of the boys is quite hyper – funny and sweet but distracting. At 10:30 we all get a tea break/recess. Most of the staff come to the staff lounge – I think 2 are on duty for recess. The kids seem to play together well; I haven’t observed any fights. Being an urban school, recess is in a large paved courtyard. The staff lounge is very nice with kitchen facilities and a large sitting area, and big enough for meetings, I am told. After tea I have 1-3 boys (self identified as Irish, Scottish, and NZ) that I work with on handwriting in the 3/4th grade for a half hour. One of them is the kind of stubborn kid that it is hard to get him to do anything that he doesn’t like to do. Finally at 11:30, I get my favorite group, 3 first graders – 2 twins from Oregon and a boy who says he was born in Chile. They are very enthusiastic about learning to read, and it is really interesting to listen to them sounding out words. They are doing well, but I guess they are somewhat behind the class as a whole. I think each term lasts 10 weeks, then there is a 2 week break, except that the summer break is 6 weeks. I asked about grading and report cards. They don’t use an A-F grade system; I think they may use a mastery report. They have parent conferences twice a year. Generally, children advance with their age cohort. They do not get a lot of extra support staff, so they appreciate the volunteers. I can definitely report that kids (and teachers) are very similar between our two countries.

Ron and I have both started taking evening language classes – Ron Dutch for his Statia research and me Spanish just in case. I am enjoying my class very much. I find I remember conjugations better than I would have thought but am uncertain of my vocabulary. I went into the third term of the beginners’ class, which is working out just about right. I am enjoying the people in the class too. Our teacher even had a party at his house, which was fun to go to.

We have made two car trips this month. On the first, we packed a picnic lunch and headed back to the South Coast that was one of our first excursions. The weather was not as clear as the first time, so we couldn’t see the South Island, but our goal was different. We hiked 2-3 kilometers into the Turakirae Heads Scientific Reserve to see if we could find the winter seal colony. It was a good thing we passed some returning hikers who were able to report that seals were there, because the trail is far enough away from the shore that it is hard to spot them at first. But once we started spotting brown lumps on the rocks, we could see more. To hike closer we had to maneuver around rocks and tussock grass and small pools, but we were able to get pretty close, as you can see by the pictures. Our presence barely seemed to disturb them at all. Occasionally, one would look up and check us out, and then go back to sunbathing. It was surprising how high up they were able to climb on the rocks.

The second trip was to the Southward Car Museum on the Kapiti Coast, supposedly the biggest car museum in the southern hemisphere. It was way bigger than I expected, and particularly focused on really early vehicles. It also, of course, had early imports to New Zealand, and a number of hand modified cars & trucks by NZ do-it-yourselfers. It did not have many cars from the 40s and 50s, which is what Ron enjoys. I like that it also had bicycles, motorcycles, baby carriages, model cars, and a lot of other old stuff. We had a nice lunch afterwards and a walk on the beach. On the drive home, we came to a part of the coast road where traffic was really slowed down and many cars had pulled over to the verge. We realized that they were looking at a whale swimming just off the beach, so we pulled over too. We couldn’t really see much – occasionally a fin, mostly its back, sometimes spray from the blowhole – but none the less it was quite magical and exciting. We read about it in the paper the next day, and the opinion was that it was just resting in its migration and not in distress or anything.

August was actually feeling quite Spring like. We took a wonderful walk around the Botanical gardens one day and were quite surprised by the rhododendrons and magnolias in bloom, as well as camellias, which have been blooming for a couple of months. I have also been digging up and preparing parts of the vegetable garden, and planted a whole bunch of peas, and some beets and scallions. We shall see if I was too optimistic. The weather has gotten windier again – equinoxal gales, I am told – but the highs are more frequently around 15C (upper 50sF) than before.

We continue to go to movies, especially on Tuesdays, which is a discount day. We saw Coraline in 3-D, which we enjoyed, but which you probably all know about, because it opened awhile ago in the States. We saw a New Zealand film called Separation City, which we also enjoyed, but that may never open in the US. It is a pretty funny comedy about that time in married life (7 year itch?) when the relationship can seem stale and blah and you wonder where all the magic went. It particularly follows one man and one woman (many voiceovers to let you know what they are thinking; I am not a fan of voice overs) who are in the same set of couple friends and start getting attracted to each other, especially after she breaks up with her husband having found him sleeping with someone else. They have a number of very amusing failed attempts at hooking up. Eventually the guy realizes that he is more uxorial than he thought, and he and his wife get back together for a happy ending. (The other woman is reasonably happy with where she ends up too.)

The woman who owns the car we have been using returned from England on August 31, so we are reducing our carbon footprint even more. Trains are pretty good in the local area, and I assume we could rent a car for a day if we really wanted to, so I don’t think it will make a great difference in our lifestyle.