Mr John Clarke

Things that don't quite fit anywhere else go here.

When Paul Cox was moved from hospital into palliative care, we prepared ourselves for tough news. Paul was getting smaller and weaker, his voice was in retreat and family and friends had attended his bedside to say their goodbyes. His siblings flew out from Europe. I didn’t expect to see him again.

A week or so later, Paul decided he was going home and explained to the palliative care people that although he loved them dearly, he would not be dying just yet. He travelled home in a Popemobile-shaped taxi and began blessing people as he passed them in the street. This cheered him up enormously and when we saw him a few days later he rose to meet us, offered us coffee and sat rather grandly in a chair, chatting for hours with a keen emphasis on the future. His voice was stronger, his memory was wonderful, his manners were elegant, his talk was clever and in some cases what he said was astonishing. At 7 o'clock each evening, for example, he went out on to his little balcony in Melbourne and raised both arms high in the air in order to receive healing waves being beamed to him by a woman in Uzbekistan. Paul was very amusing about all this but as he said, ‘at this stage I believe in nothing and everything.’

A few years earlier, the first time he was going to die, he received a liver transplant and, in a state of profound gratitude, he continued writing and making films. Last year he made a movie in which David Wenham played a man who has a liver transplant and falls in love. Paul met his partner Rosie when they were both receiving liver transplants. He was in his late sixties at the time and she is a beautiful Balinese woman of somewhat more tender years. ‘I know what you’re thinking Johnny’ Cox said to me when he introduced us. ‘Rosie is much younger than I am. But I want you to know Johnny, my liver is younger than Rosie’s’.

Half a lifetime ago Paul and I wrote some films together and we’ve always stayed in touch. I’d never written a movie before and I quickly learnt it was no use suggesting to Paul a thematically consistent sequence involving sport, for example. That wouldn’t fit in a Cox film. Too healthy. And there wasn’t much interest in men who fixed cars and called each other ‘mate’. Paul’s films looked like Dutch interiors with dappled light playing through the window and they were full of urban characters who were ill at ease, often slightly wounded or suffering from incongruity of some kind. As with many collaborations, we wrote by talking a lot together and then writing separately. Paul’s house was always full of good conversation. At one stage Werner Herzog was living in a shed in the backyard with a dingo. Peter Watkins also lived there at some point, while he and Paul were discussing a film project. Peter had made the brilliant 1964 docudrama ‘Culloden’ in which 1960s British journalists report live from a battle which occurred in 1745. This strategy of anachronism was new in 1964 and the effect in ‘Culloden’ was terrifying.

Paul’s public presentation was that of a serious artist but he was nevertheless given to fits of amusement which produced a snuffling and rumbling sound such as might occur if a badger were attempting not to explode. When he regrouped, he expressed matters once more in his formal mode, which was not unlike an antiques catalogue. A suggestion which would solve a problem was ‘good,’ a great idea for a scene was ‘fine,’ and if he completely approved of a whole section of plot and dialogue he would pronounce it ‘very fine’; as in ‘I read that section again last night Johnny. That really is very fine’. When ‘Lonely Hearts,’ the first film we wrote together, was about to be released thirty-five years ago, Paul wrote me a letter which I have always kept. In the last line of the letter he said he hoped that having worked on this film together and seeing it come to fruition, would ‘strengthen our shy human friendship’. It did.

Having received blessings from Uzbekistan, Paul announced he was going to America. The only people who thought this wouldn’t happen were those unfamiliar with Paul’s willpower. The doctors wouldn’t allow him to fly across the Pacific for fourteen hours so he’d negotiated overnight stays in Bangkok, Dubai and Frankfurt and then a trip across the Atlantic to Chicago. His film ‘Force of Destiny’ was to play at the Ebert Film Festival and Paul had been invited to speak. Rosie would go with him and make sure he rested, ate the right food and took his tablets. The couple left on April Fool’s Day and that night Rosie, whose canonisation is imminent, sent a message reporting that Paul had gone out to dinner in Bangkok. This was probably a PB for the palliative care unit at the Austin but Cox was just limbering up. After Dubai and Frankfurt the official party arrived in Chicago and Paul made a gracious, honest and very engaging speech to an audience who couldn’t believe quite what they were watching. Following the festival, Paul and Rosie made their way home and Paul was planning another movie. The fact that he died on Saturday will probably slow him down a bit although I expect he’ll call sometime during the next week or so with a revised schedule. ‘I’m still going to do it’ he’ll say. ‘Why not? I have some good ideas. I want to talk about it. Come to dinner.’

Paulus Henrique Benedictus Cox 1940 – 2016

This is our father. He and I had a few problems, but we’ll let that pass.
The photo was taken somewhere in North Africa or Italy during the Second World War.

Ted was born in Wellington in December 1914. His mother had just arrived from Ulster. Ted used to say he was designed in Northern Ireland and assembled in New Zealand. Like many children of migrant parents, Ted was keen to fit into the culture of the new place. His father’s instinct was to hang on to the old place. He thought nothing in New Zealand was good enough; the culture was no good, the politics were no good, the rugby wasn’t a patch on British football. But as a boy, Ted wanted to be like the other kids. Ted played rugby. Ted was a New Zealander.
Quite early in his life, Ted developed a self which he presented to the world, partly as a way of fitting in and partly to put some distance between who he was and who he aspired to be. One characteristic of this developed self was a carefully edited history. Even people who met Ted in his eighties and nineties thought he was the product of an educated and rather comfortable English family.
The real story is considerably better.

In 1914, in the far north of Ulster, around Coleraine and Portrush, his mother Margot Hamilton, 26, unmarried and working as a nurse, discovered she was pregnant and with the First World War approaching she left Northern Ireland and travelled alone on the long sea voyage to New Zealand. There is no evidence that any member of her family ever communicated with her again. When she arrived in Wellington she had little money, no work and she knew no-one. When the time came she was admitted to the Alexandra Hospital for unmarried mothers, where she had an emergency C-section and was delivered of twin boys. The first boy was named after the father, whose name was Edward Clarke. The second boy was named Stewart, after the matron of the hospital, Miss Stewart. The births were not registered, a procedural slip which may have been finessed by Miss Stewart, and while the babies got a decent start and Margot recovered, Miss Stewart took the the little family in. She had boarders at her house and she installed Margot as a housekeeper.

In 1919 there was a flu epidemic that killed more people than had just died in the First World War, and Margot caught it. The doctors told her to leave Wellington and move north, where she could get some sea air. So she moved slightly up the west coast of the North Island, the world capital of sea air, and Eddie and Stewart were brought up in and around Karehana Bay and Plimmerton.
After the First World War, when Ted was six, he was sitting on the verandah one day when a man came in the gate and Ted looked up as he approached the house. Ted always remembered seeing his father for the first time, from the shoes up. Edward and Margot were married at Miss Stewart’s brother’s house in Hawker Street, the births were registered, Edward got work as a carpenter and the semblance of respectability began to be constructed. The boys went to the local school, the beach was only a few yards away and the family had a succession of dogs and cats. They didn’t have any money but life was good. Ted’s father was a fine fiddle player and people would often stop outside the house on their way home to listen to him. Ted had only a small repertoire of stories of his birth and childhood and they created only very general impressions. He spoke of his mother’s family in England as if they were all close, despite the fact that they were neither close, nor in England. The facts were not the point. The point with Ted was always fitting in. Having the right effect. Creating the right impression.
Ted felt less in common with his father and he certainly looked like his mother and although he argued with her about politics (she was a socialist and he was pretending to be a free market capitalist) he never stopped admiring her determination, her stoicism and her dignity. No-one knows where the boys' father was between 1914 and 1920. Ted always said he was fighting in the war but he couldn’t remember where and there’s no record of him in any of the services. Stewart thought he was jailed for his involvement with the Ulster Volunteers in the sectarian violence of 1913-19 but there’s no record of him either in prison records or in those of the Ulster Volunteers. Margot and her boys and their friend Mary Stewart remained close and there are photographs of the boys with Miss Stewart until she died. When they were young they would sometimes go into town by train and stay with her for a few days and she would make a fuss of them and take them to see things around the city. For forty years Margot worked for the Red Cross and for other charities which helped people in trouble. It had been tough but she knew she’d done well to bring herself and her boys to a new life in New Zealand.

The boys were bright, keen and talented, Ted was a good schoolboy sprinter and a very handy tennis and badminton player. Stewart, who had inherited his father’s gift for music, wanted to be a concert pianist. But when they were 14, the world was hit by The Great Depression and unless their families had money, teenagers had to leave school and get a job. Ted got a job at McKenzies, a retail company with branches all over the country. Stewart got work with Ballantynes, a large retail outlet in Christchurch where he worked for some years until after the war Ballantynes burnt down, at which point he also got a job at McKenzies.

Ted was good at his job and during the 1930s he became a manager and began to climb from branch to bigger branch; Nelson, Timaru, Napier, New Plymouth, Gisborne and Auckland before he was called up for military service in the Second World War and after training in Trentham and drafting into the 7th anti-tank unit, 66394 Clarke left New Zealand and arrived in the middle east during one the great crises in the war. The North African campaign was beginning and The New Zealand Division was sent up through Palestine, Syria and Lebanon to defend the oilfields against a possible attack through Turkey, and then they were pulled back to defend Cairo from the German advance from the west which was occurring at speed under Rommel, and there followed throughout late 1941 and 1942, some of the most significant battles of the war. Ted was in all of them: Sidi Rezegh, Mersa Matruh, Minqar Qaim, Ruweisat Ridge, El Alamein, the Libyan and Tunisian campaigns and then up through Italy, the Sangro River and Monte Cassino. In the lives of anyone in the New Zealand Division in the Second World War, these years remained vivid. In his nineties, Ted could still describe in detail these events, his own actions, his feelings and his love and high regard for those who shared those experiences with him, Tony Ballard, Keith Garland, Maurice Spence.

Except when he was at home, where he often looked like a pantomime lunatic, Ted was always well turned out. He wore good suits, brogues and a shirt and tie. He knew the prestige brands and he understood the value of a gesture which signified class and breeding. Eric Townley, another of his army friends, told me that all through the war, Ted was always clean-shaven, even in battle. ‘Your father’ said Eric, ‘was the cleanest man in the Western Desert’. One of the things Ted had with him during the desert campaign, was a small book of poetry he’d bought in Cairo, and like a lot of the men, he read and committed to memory large tracts of English verse. His standard greeting in the morning for the rest of his life was from the Rubaiyat:
‘Awake for morning in the bowl of night
Has flung the stone that puts the stars to flight
And lo, the hunter of the east has caught
The Sultan’s turret in a noose of light.’

He also loved Shelley’s ‘To a Skylark'
'Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert-
That from heaven or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art’. (He loved that last line).

He also learnt, either from his father’s repertoire or from troop entertainers, great slabs of British Music Hall and he could recite all that too. He had a good singing voice, kept perfect time and he loved entertaining people. He knew bits of Sid Field, Flanagan and Allen, Arthur Askey and the Western Brothers. He sang ‘Beautiful as a Butterfly’ very well. He also recited a silly sales pitch he’d got from somewhere: ‘This product is wiff-waffed on both sides and bevelled all around, has hot and cold folding doors, two kinds of water, clean and dirty, it’s guaranteed not to rip, tear or bust. Recommended not by me; recommended by a better man that me. Recommended by the maker’.

On the way back to New Zealand after the war, the troop ship Ted was on stopped at Melbourne for supplies and anyone who wanted to go the theatre was invited to attend a performance free of charge. Ted put his hand up and that night he went to one of the big nineteenth century theatres in the city. He couldn’t remember what the entertainment was, but before it began, a man in a suit came out in front of the curtain and said ‘Ladies and gentlemen. We’re fortunate to have in the audience tonight, a party of New Zealand soldiers, returning from the war in Europe and the middle east. You men are very welcome here, we hope you enjoy the evening with us and we wish you a safe trip home’. The audience then spontaneously stood and applauded. Ted said this was the first sense he had of being home again and he never forgot it. Whenever he came to Melbourne he always went to the Shrine of Remembrance. He didn’t go inside. He just wandered around the huge courtyard and stood by the eternal flame for a while and then he said, every time, ‘They do this very well, don’t they? They’re very good the Aussies. If you’re ever in a war, try to make sure you’ve got the Aussies on at least one flank. They’re very tough and very smart. I saw a lot of them in the desert and they’re terrific in battle. They never give up. They never know when they’re beaten.’

In 1944 in Senigallia, in Italy, when he’d been wounded and was working at Headquarters for a while, Ted met Neva Morrison, who was from Gisborne and was with the New Zealand army secretarial corps, the WAACs. Anna and I are the children of Ted Clarke and Neva Morrison. When we were growing up they were living in Palmerston North, where Ted was the manager of the McKenzies store. He used to tell the story of employing people on staff and if they were honest and responsible people he’d hire them but he always asked them one question. ‘Who wrote Grey’s Elegy?'
Once a bloke seemed confused and Ted said 'It’s not a trick question. An elegy is just a poem. It’s like being asked 'Who wrote Grey’s poem?’‘
'I don’t know anything about poetry’, said the bloke.
‘No, you don’t have to know anything about poetry’ said Ted. ‘Who wrote Grey’s poem? Look out the door there. You see that shop across the Square. What is it?'
'Hopwood’s Hardware.'
'Right. Hopwood’s Hardware. Do you know who owns it?'
'Mr Hopwood.'
'Right. Mr Hopwood owns Hopwood’s Hardware. Who wrote Grey’s Elegy?'
'Oh’, said the bloke. ‘Mr Hopwood’.

He once got sent some kerosene heaters from Head Office. He’d asked for one. They sent him ten. They were terrible and they smelt and no other branch could sell any. Ted sold all of them. He put one out the front of the shop, turned it on so it glowed and felt warm, and he put up a sign: ‘Limit One Per Customer.’ He was a particularly good retailer.

Ted’s brother Stewart went away to the Pacific War and had also come back into McKenzies and during the 1950s he was the manager in Rotorua. They were both pretty smart boys and in 1960 they were both promoted to Head Office, Ted as the Buying Controller and Stewart as The Sales Controller. Ted was on the board of Manakau Knitting Mills and other companies in the McKenzies group, and he travelled overseas in 1962, 1964, 1965 and 1970, when hardly anybody did, including going very early into China, buying merchandise in Europe and Asia (I think his favourite country was Austria). Business was good, the company grew and eventually the parent company, Rangitira, sold the McKenzies stores, and the McKenzie Trust, which is an investment company, became the biggest philanthropic organisation in New Zealand history. The Clarke twins helped build this great enterprise.

Ted and Neva’s marriage was not a runaway success and Ted buried himself in his work and for some years refused to acknowledge that he and Neva were effectively living separate lives. After their divorce they both remarried and Ted retired and took on some consultancy work.

When he had grandchildren, Ted gradually began to drop his guard. He managed this rather well and he was wise enough to recognise the benefits.
‘These feminists’ he would say. ‘Good grief’.
‘I’m a feminist Ted’ one his granddaughters would say.
‘No, no, no,’ he would clarify. ‘You’re a very beautiful young woman.'
'Do you know what feminist is Ted?’ she would say.
‘You tell me’ he would reply, and he would then sit back and enjoy a small tutorial from which he would emerge wiser and smiling with pride. ‘I just had the most interesting conversation. God those girls are intelligent. Absolutely wonderful.’

As he drifted through his eighties and into his nineties, Ted was sustained by his great love of the family, by which he meant a slightly fantastical skein of connectedness and common interests and ethics running from his mother, whom he adored, through his children and grandchildren. He also loved his sport and music, which he took up in a big way in retirement and from which he got a great deal of pleasure. He was also a perceptive student of the human race. He had an excellent memory, a great gift for words and talk, an interest in world affairs and ideas and a very dry sense of humour. When he had an operation a few years ago to remove a cancer from his temple I rang him and said ‘How are you?'
'I’m good thanks’.
‘Was the operation a success?'
'Yes. They seem very pleased'
'Are you any better looking?'
'I don’t know about better looking but I caught sight of myself in the mirror this morning and I can certainly see what the fuss is all about’.

Ted was a dignified, gifted and remarkable man. He started with nothing and succeeded in almost everything he did. He was interested in history, language and the society he lived in. A generation later and he’d have been at university and may have had some other choices.
But Ted made the best he could of the situation he was in, as he saw it. He was unhorsed from time to time and there were difficulties. And he was troubled by these difficulties. He looked at these difficulties and in later years he tried to address them. If he didn’t deal with them or didn’t deal with them effectively, he would want to acknowledge his own failure. It was not because he did not want to. He was a loving, attentive and frequently hilarious grandfather and he said repeatedly in the last week of his life, ‘When I go into orbit, I’ll go into orbit with a smile on my face’.

Edward Alexander Clarke 1914 – 2008

We had a gratifying response to our ‘At Least Malcolm Uses Verbs’ quiz and we thank everyone who entered. The winner was Carl Sruhe, of Carlsruhe. Well done Carl. A mighty effort. For the record, the answers were as follows:

  1. True. It’s tomorrow night. If the skies are clear, we should see the deficit move across the face of the moon at about 4am. If you go to you can see Mathias Cormann explain why it is not happening, why it’s not his fault and why he and Joe Hockey were smoking cigars.

  2. True. There has never been a better time to be an Australian, although there might have been a better time to be Mal Brough.

  3. True. If the employees at Clive Palmer’s nickel business had had the good sense to form an entirely useless political party, they’d have been paid unaccountably large amounts of money just before the business went broke.

  4. False. Buying or borrowing a stock on the assumption that its price will fall and repayment can be made at a lower price, is called Short Trading or Short Selling or simply Shorting. Shorting a bill with a stated face value may be less attractive due to the lower beta coefficient. Bill Shorten is therefore not advisable.

  5. False. Adani is not a judge on the X Factor. Adani is a coal company obsessed with protecting the environment and creating Australian jobs.

  6. True. The book is called ‘Go the F… to Sleep’ and it begins ‘Once upon a time there was a little boy who thought he was still Prime Minister….’

  7. False. The quote was taken from the final diary entry of Scott of the Antarctic. Scott of the Treasury is still out there somewhere.

  8. True. Santa received a great many letters last year and couldn’t possibly answer all of them. He made an exception in the case of two young Australians. ‘Dear Eric and Kevin’ Santa wrote, ‘Thank you for your letters. Please stop asking for the same thing each year. You got it the previous year and it didn’t work. Even Joe has worked this out. Love from Santa’.

  9. True. George Pell has a heart problem.

  10. True. Corey Bernardi has been put on earth in order to make it clear that there’s always someone less fortunate than yourself.

  11. False. The third umpire is often under a great deal of pressure and has pleaded this week with cricket-lovers to stop abusing him. ‘Dear Kevin and Eric’ the umpire has written. ‘I’m sorry you’re so upset but the video clearly shows Tony well out of his ground. He had also been bowled, had stepped on his own wicket and had attempted to punch the man at short leg. Please stop appealing. It’s not going to happen’.

  12. True. People who begin all their sentences with the word ‘So’ are being allowed into Australia in increasing numbers. The government denies this a crisis. ‘So these people literally have nowhere else to go’ said a spokesperson.

  13. The quest to find the least diplomatic person in Australia has been completed. The winner has won a position as Australia’s ambassador to the United States.

  14. False. The picture shows Tinker Bell. Julie Bishop is petite and she flies a lot but Tinker Bell was not present when Malcolm called Scott about how to fix the Tony problem.

  15. False. A Liberal Party spokesman has denied that Ian MacFarlane will be receiving the 4c per litre petrol discount or the set of steak-knives. ‘I’m afraid Mr Macfarlane does not qualify for our Loyalty Program’ the spokesman said.

  16. False. ‘Call me Ishmael’ is the first line of Moby Dick. It is not a tweet.

  17. False. People who claim to be ‘discussing some issues around that space’ are not taking over the country. They are entitled to express themselves as they wish (although if they ever get together with the people who begin their sentences with ‘So’, an emergency hooter will sound and the entire area will be cleared).

  18. True. Some of the yachts in the Sydney to Hobart Race this year were forced out of the event by wild weather. This was enormous news, having only previously happened in every other year.

  19. False. Australia won the ODI series. Hawthorn was not involved in any way and Jonathan Thurston did not drop a goal in the final seconds to clinch the title for Queensland.

  20. False. The Essendon Football Club had a very decisive board. A hover-board is a device for starting fires.

This is a picture of our mother. It was taken in 1944 in San Spirito, in Italy, when she was working at New Zealand army headquarters. During the Second World War, the role of women was changing. They began to do work previously done by men, in education, in health, in factories, in transport and on the land. These women often became more independent as their experiences took them beyond the lives of their own mothers. As the Irish poet Seamus Heaney said, ‘in a life the nucleus stays the same but with any luck the circumference moves out’.

Not long before this photograph was taken, Neva was working as a secretary in Whakatane, her boyfriend was a champion swimmer and they spent their weekends at dances and up the east coast. When the war broke out her boyfriend joined the airforce and in 1942 he was shot down and killed over Benghazi, in Libya. The 24 year old woman in the photograph was partly recovering from the trauma of losing her best friend and partly taking charge of her life.

Neva Yvonne Morrison was born in Gisborne on April 20th 1920. She had a happy, confident childhood and was bright and keen to do well. But times were tough and like many others she had to leave school during The Depression and find work. She learnt shorthand, became a virtuoso touch typist and could organise anything from a standing start. After the death of her friend, and partly as a response, she joined up for overseas service herself and after training in Wellington she arrived in Italy with the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. In September 1944 the administrative headquarters of the New Zealand division was moved to Senigallia on the Adriatic coast and Neva was promoted to a position working directly for Major-General W G Stevens, the commanding officer.

The New Zealand division, which was sometimes called the 2NZEF or ‘The Div’ had built its reputation through tough campaigns in Greece, Crete and across North Africa and was now part of the arduous and apparently endless fighting up through Italy. Thousands had been killed. Many of the men around headquarters were on leave or were convalescing after being wounded. From them she heard of the battles and the terrible losses. She heard stories of men she’d known in New Zealand. Her sister’s fiancee had been captured in North Africa and was in a German prison camp. Her cousin had come through the desert campaign in the infantry and was now part of the fighting in Italy. Another cousin was a decorated pilot with 70th Squadron, where life expectancy was somewhat limited. She herself was the victim of a sexual assault and was mentioned in dispatches for her actions in defending herself. On the other hand, there were good friends among the WAACs, beautiful beaches, historic towns, and there were dances. An Australian pilot told me ‘Your mother was the best dancer in the New Zealand army.’ She also learnt enough Italian to make her way around and meet the local people, some of whom she stayed in touch with long after the war. As an allied victory became more inevitable the WAACs took some leave and hitched rides in army vehicles going to Florence, Sienna, Milan, Venice or Rome. Neva also went hiking in The Alps and climbed Mont Blanc. Throughout this period she kept a diary in which she recorded her experiences and which was later published as a book, ‘An Angel in God’s Office’.

It was at Headquarters in Senigallia that Neva met our father, Ted Clarke, who was working there for a while after being wounded. Ted was from Wellington and was in the 7th Anti-tank regiment. He’d been at Sidi Rezegh, Ruweisat Ridge, Minqar Qaim, El Alamein, Tebaga Gap, the Sangro and Monte Cassino. Neva was keen not to become deeply involved with anyone but she and Ted got on well and had a good deal in common. Both had parents with strong roots in Ulster, both were interested in the arts, both had a gift for language and they shared a sense of humour.

When the war finished Neva returned home via Britain and visited the place in County Down where her father had grown up. When she arrived at the railway station in Crossgar she approached a man with a horse drawn taxi. ‘Hello’ she said. ‘I’m from New Zealand and I’m trying to find the place where my father grew up.’ ‘Is that right?’ asked the man. ‘What was his name?’ ‘William Gibson Morrison’ replied Neva. ‘Right’, said the man ‘I’ll take you up to the house. I was at school with him. How is he?’ ‘He’s fine’ said Neva. And that night she slept in the bed her father was born in.

A few months later she arrived back in New Zealand and was re-united with her family and friends. She quickly realised that she wouldn’t be slipping back into Gisborne and continuing her old life. She applied to go to Japan as part of New Zealand’s post-war presence in the region but was told they were only taking people who hadn’t had the opportunity to go to Europe. She took a job in the Prime Minister’s office in Wellington while she considered what to do. She and Ted had begun to spend some time together and he was thinking about the future. He had gone back to the job he’d had before the war with a national retail chain and had been appointed manager of the Palmerston North branch. After a while Ted was invited to go to Gisborne and meet Neva’s family and on a fine summer’s day in early 1947, in the garden of Neva’s parents' house in Sievwright Lane, where we later spent many Christmases, Neva and Ted were married.
Here they are in Wellington as a young married couple, in step.

Neva was a modern woman. She was intelligent, capable, talented, ambitious and very employable. She had travelled extensively in Europe at a time when travel was generally available to few. Ted was a very good retailer and retail was booming, so he was quickly marked out for bigger things in the company. I was born in 1948 and Anna in 1951 and Neva was a very good mother. As for many women, however, being confined at home and deprived of independent income or social contacts was a gender-specific restriction. Despite her love for her children, the role of housewife in Palmerston North during the 1950s was not going to hold Neva’s interest on its own.
She got involved with the local theatre group and began to appear in plays. The local repertory attracted actors from other towns and for years afterwards I saw people in film and television productions, who had been in plays at the Manawatu Rep. Sometimes they babysat us while Neva was at rehearsals or during the run of a play; Ngaire Porter for example, who was from Napier and later played Irene in the BBC’s production of The Forsyte Saga' and Dennis Moore, who also went to London and became an agent and among whose clients were the members of Monty Python. They wrote a song about him in the manner of Robin Hood. It begins ‘Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore, Galloping through the sward.
Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore, And his horse Concorde.
He steals from the rich. And gives to the poor.
Mr. Moore, Mr. Moore, Mr. Moore.'
Dennis and I are still in regular contact and despite the fact that he lives on the south coast of Devon, he still knows exactly what’s happening in Palmerston North. Sometimes I was roped into actual involvement in one of Neva’s plays. When I was about eight years old a boy called Bill Woollett broke his nose in a rugby match and I was blackmailed into replacing him at very short notice as Bob Cratchit’s son in 'A Christmas Carol.’ Another time I was prevailed upon to stand just offstage in some production Neva was in and hand various props to an actor called Colin Watson, who later became a successful sculptor in New York. Colin was rather a physical performer and would dash into the wings, grab the prop and then bound back onstage, slamming the door so that the set heaved and rattled and the notion that we were in Moscow, which was already in some trouble, was briefly abandoned altogether. Brooms would fall over backstage and we’d fumble about in the dark catching cups and bits of lighting equipment in case the whole of Russia went up. I also remember an actress called Bunty Norman singing a song called ‘Making Whoopee.’ She was pretending to be drunk and I was aware that I was learning about something by seeing it exaggerated.

Neva was an encouraging and very amusing mother. She could talk about anything and if there was nothing much happening, she would help us to remember or imagine. ‘Who is this man?’ she would ask about a bloke walking up the street as we sat in the car ‘And what is he carrying in that bag? Onions? Fish? Has he murdered his wife and cut her up into very small pieces? And is that a limp or has he just got new shoes, and if so, should he take them back and get some the right size?’ She also took us to the A&P Show, to musical events, to visit her friends, to other towns and to shows by visiting artists. We went to the Opera House where we saw Joyce Grenfell, who was very funny and John Geilgud, who was very serious.

Neva also bought a typewriter and she began to write short stories. There were other writers doing this in the Manawatu and they met regularly. They were often women and they sent their stories away to magazine publishers. Before the arrival of television, magazines were king and some of the best writing anywhere in the world made its first appearance in periodicals. I remember Alice Glenday who became a novelist and Joy Cowley, who lived on a farm on the way to Ashurst and had a husband who could do somersaults on the lawn. I was deeply impressed.

Neva was sometimes ill in Palmerston North in the 1950s with various conditions we might these days see as at least partly psychological. The house was always clean and there was good food on the table but in emotional terms she was running on empty. She and Ted were drifting apart. Ted’s business was expanding and he was at work a great deal of the time. There are photographs from this period in which we look like a dust bowl family who have just lost everything in a tornado.

In 1960 Ted was promoted to Head Office and the family moved to Wellington. He had a senior position with the company and was going well. Neva loved Wellington and her illnesses disappeared immediately. There was quite an active arts community and she joined the Wellington theatre groups. She also joined the radio drama cohort and appeared in plays for broadcast. She took singing lessons from George Scott Morrison. But mostly she continued with her writing. She sold a great many stories to magazines and for the next 50 years she published stories, memoirs, wrote book reviews, appeared in theatre productions and on radio. She published a novel, she wrote histories and she still had a weekly newspaper column in her eighties.

During the 1960s the sound we heard when we came in from school, was the clackety clack of the typewriter. Neva would be perched somewhere in the house, often near a window where the light was good, and her fingers would be flying across the keys. She could type while looking at notes sitting on another chair or while saying ‘Hello boy who needs a haircut. How was school and why don’t you put the kettle on?’ There would sometimes be a small gathering of writers in the house. I came home one afternoon and had quite an interesting chat with a man in the kitchen. He’d been working as a teacher in Malaya when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was given a year to live and he’d always wanted to write a novel, so he set about it without delay. He finished it, got it published and when he didn’t die, he wrote another one. He’d done this several times and had recently published a novel called ‘A Clockwork Orange’. His name was Anthony Burgess and he would live for another thirty years. Another man called John A Lee had published a memoir called ‘Simple on a Soapbox’. John had won a DCM in the First World War and had lost an arm. He’d been thrown out of the Labour Party for his socialist views and I gathered this had been a great scandal. He was a big genial fellow in a suit and he spoke in ringing tones in our small hallway as if he were addressing a large crowd in rather blustery conditions in open parkland. For a while our postman was James Baxter, who had a beautiful voice and would often come in for a cup of tea and a chat with Neva about what was going on in the writing world. I also remember going to Barry Crump’s house one day with Neva. I must have been about twelve and Barry was a hero of mine. I had first encountered him on radio, reading his early novels ‘A Good Keen Man’ and ‘Hang on a Minute Mate.’ It was the first time I’d heard fiction which caught the rhythm and tone of the New Zealand voice. Barry had overslept and was dressing as we arrived. He put a shirt on and pulled it down very firmly all around, which he referred to as doing the ironing. ‘Come in Neva’ he said. ‘I don’t think you’ve met my new dragon’. And we peered into the gloom where a slightly horrified young woman named Helen Smith was gathered among the bedclothes. My admiration for Barry was tempered by my recognition that Helen would possibly rather be in Philadelphia.
In 1965 Neva became the New Zealand President of PEN, the international organisation of writers, and which over the next few years was instrumental in introducing public lending rights into New Zealand.

In 1971 Neva and Ted were divorced and Neva got a job running an employment agency, bought a small house and got on with her life. Within a couple of years both she and Ted remarried. Neva moved to the far north and settled at Coopers Beach with her second husband Len McKenna, an American ex-Lockheed executive who adored the bays and beaches of the far north of New Zealand as much as she did. They drove all the roads, walked all the beaches and swam all the waters of the place they called ‘paradise’. Neva became the unofficial historian of the entire region and published books which are still among the best research ever complied about the early days and places and people of the far north. Neva was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for this work and if you go to Mangonui, you’ll see the boardwalk named after her along the beautiful foreshore.

Neva achieved a great deal in her life. She was creative, convivial, active and well-organised. She had a strong personality and wherever she lived she was surrounded by friends and admirers. She travelled extensively overseas and established strong contacts with her father’s family in Northern Ireland. She was interested in everything and she gave everything a go. She took up painting in her sixties. She was involved in a film in her seventies. She and the other participants went to Hollywood, met all sorts of people, had lunch with Phyllis Diller and enjoyed every minute of it.

Neva insisted she wasn’t a feminist. Perhaps she thought feminism was inconsistent with motherhood and good housekeeping. Perhaps there were other reasons she didn’t like the label. It sometimes seemed to us that if she could see her personal history in terms of ideas rather than as narrative drama, she might have recognised the inequities she wanted addressed as those at the core of the feminist project. She fought some of them very early and some of them were very tough. Her grandmother had been a suffragist, had lobbied for women to get the vote and had served on local bodies in the 1890s. Neva’s determination to exist and succeed as an individual while providing life and support to others, is a powerful legacy. Perhaps she inherited this determination. She has certainly passed it on.

In the last few years of her life, Neva lived in Hamilton, where Anna paid close attention to her needs as her capacities and her driving energy began to wane. In that time she loved receiving visits from her grand-children, her great grandchildren and from friends.

Until that time Neva had an excellent memory and she always wrote things down. There were notes all over the house. Among some diary notes she made when she was in Wellington, she records a visit from Tom Seddon who lived up the road and was the son of Richard Seddon, who is still New Zealand’s longest serving Prime Minister. The Seddons had been great friends of the Beauchamps and as a young man Tom had travelled from Wellington to Rotorua one day and had bumped into Katherine Beauchamp, who is better known by her middle name, Katherine Mansfield. When Tom saw her in Rotorua, she was sitting in a park in the rain, under a weeping willow. She had come up to Rotorua with a man and it hadn’t worked out very well, which is why she was in a park. ‘But….’ she said to Tom. ‘I’ve written a marvellous story’. The story was called ‘The Woman at the Store’ and Katherine said it was about a woman she had encountered on the way up to Rotorua.
‘The Woman at the Store’ is a well known story and was published some years later in London. Katherine Mansfield scholar Lydia Wevers is interested in Katherine’s conversation with Tom because it was not previously known. It suggests that the work was formed in Katherine’s mind and was possibly written in some form, years before it was published. It is typical of Neva to have written down what Tom had told her, and to have caught even in a diary entry, the drama and value of a good story.

Neva Morrison Clarke McKenna 1920-2015

We had a gratifying response to our ‘Year in Review’ quiz and we thank everyone who entered. The winner was Glen Huntly of Glenhuntly. And our congratulations go to you Glen. A mighty effort. For the record, the answers were as follows:

  1. True. Joe Hockey has announced he is using the budget as a shock absorber. The government is also expected to confirm that Tony Abbott is using it as a tie-rack and Mathias Cormann is using it as an ashtray.

  2. Correct. There is to be a referendum on whether or not the Constitution should recognise indigenous Australians. Further referenda are expected to determine the religious denomination of the Pope and to ascertain whether or not the toilet arrangements of bears have any impact on wooded areas.

  3. True. The G20 leaders greatly enjoyed the lecture given to them by Tony Abbott about what he has done in government. On the down side however, the world’s leaders are now aware of what Tony Abbott has done in government.

  4. True. The ALP hates the Greens because the electorate is concerned about environmental issues and although the ALP’s environmental policy includes a formal acknowledgement of photosynthesis and comes in an excellent folder, the mustard remain uncut.

  5. True. The reason the Oscar Pistorius trial received blanket television coverage in Australia remains a mystery. Shots of people we don’t know milling about in a courtroom in another country were broadcast around the clock. We might just leave it there but we’ll go back as soon as any development appears likely.

  6. False. You are perhaps thinking of a urinary tract infection. Sepp Blatter is the head of FIFA.

  7. True. Malcolm Turnbull interpreted Tony Abbott’s promise of no cuts to the ABC or SBS as not really a promise because the context had changed. Mr Turnbull later retired hurt.

  8. True. Treasury’s income assumptions were reported missing in the ACT in July and search teams are expected to continue combing the area with sonar equipment, until March.

  9. False. Bronwyn Bishop is not a bouncer. She is the Speaker of the House of Representatives. A bouncer throws out anyone he doesn’t like the look of.

  10. True. George Pell discovered that the Vatican’s fortunes are in much better shape than expected because hundreds of millions of Euros were hidden in accounts in various banks. For some reason these accounts were not officially recorded. Thankfully George has found no evidence of wrong-doing.

  11. True. The best performers in the federal government are said to be Andrew Robb and the man who bangs on the parliament door with a big stick.

  12. True. Nick Xenophon is an anthropologist. He studies human behaviour in the Australian senate and has his own documentary series called ‘The News.’

  13. True. Clive Palmer has described Barnaby Joyce as a fat red-faced man who is under terrible pressure. The kettle was not available for comment.

  14. True. Joe Hockey will remain as Treasurer until every comma in the budget has been removed, changed, denied, reversed, inverted or interpreted to mean its opposite.

  15. False. The term ‘hospital pass’ is used in sport to indicate that someone has been set up by his own side, to be thumped. Malcolm Turnbull was put in charge of snookering the NBN and reducing the ABC and SBS because of his experience in the communications industry.

  16. False. It was an impertinence and an insult to the Abbott government for President Obama to make a speech about the importance of finding alternative sources of energy. A spokesman for the planet was not available since he was making a speech about the importance of finding alternative sources of energy.

  17. True. Christopher Pyne voted to reduce the ABC’s funding and then petitioned the government in which he is a minister, to prevent ABC funding from being reduced in Adelaide. The Coroner has yet to release a report but police say there are no suspicious circumstances.

  18. True. Nobody knows how the Abbott government got in. It is now thought that aliens may have neutralised the brains of the Australian population on September 7th 2013. The four Australians who actually voted for Tony have all now come out against him in their fiercely independent newspaper columns.

  19. False. Greg Hunt.

  20. False. When the Essendon football team plays next year, the TV coverage will not be out of focus. The blurry effect is just used in news footage, in case anyone finds out what the players look like.

  21. True. When the new rules come into force, Adam Scott will have to get rid of his putter. (Lord hear our prayer).

  22. False. The picture shows Eric Abetz. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is a fictional character.

  23. Correct. The Age of Entitlement is over. (There are some exceptions to this. Please check your postcode).

  24. True. Because of a down-turn in iron ore prices and a blowout in Australia’s deficit projections, the February Unemployment Number will jackpot to April, the May Economic Statement will move to June, the panic set down for July will be re-scheduled for late August and the September claim that it’s not Joe’s fault will become part of the October austerity measures.

  25. True. Australia’s commitment to foreign aid has been buried at sea following a private ceremony. Our hearts go out to no-one.

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