Walking and Cycling on the Harbour Bridge – let’s do it

The 1954 decision by the government of the day to build an Auckland Harbour bridge with only four lanes was one of Auckland’s original ‘sins of the fathers’.  Well transport sins anyway. The others were the cancellation of rail electrification the same year and – the most mortal sin of all – the termination and destruction of Auckland’s highly successful electric tramway in 1956.

The original penny-pinching on the Harbour Bridge resulted in the ‘Nippon Clip-Ons’, but the short-sighted exclusion of walking and cycling has lasted to this day.

In May 2009 I was one of thousands of Aucklanders who walked and cycled across the bridge to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its opening.  The authorities at first tried to stop the crowd but sensibly soon gave up.

Since that time the organiser of that ‘Get Across’ rally, Bevan Woodward, has come up with an exciting proposal he calls ‘Skypath.’  This is a specially built enclosed walking and cycling lane on the eastern side of the bridge.   The $30m proposal has been ticked off technically by the bridge owners NZTA, and backed by private money (Morrison & Co and the PIP Fund).  But it needs a council underwrite to work. Over the last couple of years Skypath has worked its way through the Council bureaucracy, periodically pushed along by my Transport Committee. The Council has given leadership of Skypath to ATEED’s ‘can-do’ chief executive Brett O’Riley, and due diligence work is now underway. There are technical issues to be sorted out with the approaches on both sides of the Harbour and our Council transport staff and Skypath will be working through them with the St Mary’s Bay Association, the Northcote residents Association and the Westhaven Users Association.  Once these are sorted, hopefully by December the new council will be able to sign off on the underwrite and work can begin at last to make walking and cycling on the Auckland Harbour Bridge a reality.  The Skypath will add value to our Harbour Bridge and enhance quality of life for Aucklanders and our visitors.

In terms of dealing with the other ‘sins’ – Auckland’s first electric train arrived in the Port on 25 August, the first of a whole fleet. As for the trams, if we can extend the tramway to Britomart Auckland can look forward to a light rail renaissance in the 21st century. See: http://www.mikelee.co.nz/2010/05/sins-of-the-fathers-the-decline-and-rise-of-rail-transit-in-auckland/

This article was published in the September editions of Ponsonby News and Verve Magazine

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Unitary Plan – our historic houses and townscapes well worth fighting for

The announcement by Prime Minister John Key about the City Rail Link is enormously encouraging – I intend to deal with the issue of transport and how it affects the Waitemata ward in the next issue – but in the meantime I am keeping my focus on the Unitary Plan which is still being rushed towards a notification deadline of September.

Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem because in normal circumstances notification then enables a further round of public submissions.  The problem is that the Auckland  Council has negotiated a deal with the government that in return for a truncated appeal period, the Unitary Plan hearing commission would be handed over to a panel dominated by government appointees. Therefore once the Unitary Plan is notified further influence by the community’s democratically elected local board members and councillor is going to be minimal.

In a discussion about my last month’s article in the Ponsonby News a colleague asked me why I talked about urban sprawl in an article aimed at inner city Ponsonby readers.  In other words why do I feel that the Unitary Plan’s proposed 20,000 ha lateral expansion into rural greenfields would be of interest or consequence to people in Ponsonby, Grey Lynn and the Bays?  My reason in pointing this out was to demonstrate why the Unitary Plan is not really about a compact city, as has been repeatedly claimed but about intensification (which is a different matter)  – and growth – everywhere.  Because most of us would believe a compact city would be an ideal and environmentally sustainable type of urban form– we can assume most reasonably-minded citizens would be willing to make certain sacrifices to help achieve it. But if on the other hand the compact city objective is really largely hype then there are good reasons to think very carefully about plans to intensify our area, at the expensive of the present built environment and amenity – especially our unique and lovely old bungalows and villas.

For instance there is every good reason for communities to push back on council plans to replace large swathes of historic and character townscapes such as in Grey Lynn with new and more intensive apartments and units.

The Unitary Plan is a massive exercise and there is considerable momentum behind it – standing up to a juggernaut such as that is not always easy.  However pushing back is what a lot of residents are asking us to do and that’s what we are doing – and I believe pushing back is starting to pay off.

On a recent Saturday afternoon the Mayor Len Brown, Shale Chambers the chair of the Waitemata Local Board and myself met with members of the Grey Lynn Residents Association who are opposed to the planned rezoning of much of Grey Lynn into new and intensive ‘terraced housing and apartments’ zone.  Instead the ‘Grey Lynns’ are wanting the council to focus intensive housing along the Great North Road ridge and transport corridor in place of the present mixed-use car yards etc., (including the awful Bunnings proposal).    That is a great idea which I fully support. Apart from this very sensible planning advice from the community, the fact that the meeting took place at all in my view was significant. The Mayor is listening and there are signs that this is starting to filter down through the bureaucracy.  So therefore let’s keep on pushing back. Our beloved historic and houses and townscapes which have been handed down to us – are what makes Auckland unique –and what makes this place so different. They are well worth digging in and fighting for.

This article was published in the August edition of Ponsonby News.


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Taking up the Prime Minister’s challenge

The recent announcement by John Key swinging government political and financial support behind the City Rail Link – starting 2020 – was great news. The decision was a political
masterstroke by the PM, though apparently some of his cabinet colleagues were not so enthusiastic.   They needn’t worry no-one will regret this. The City Rail Link project will be enormously beneficial to Auckland.  An inner city underground with metro stations – apart from the obvious transport benefits – will be transformational giving Auckland a truly international feel.
But the PM’s announcement does raise some hard questions. The first is funding.   A mayoral think tank, ‘The Consensus
Building Group,’ has come up with ideas on sourcing extra funding – these (road pricing and tolls) don’t seem very appealing to me, Aucklanders are already paying their way.  And actually nor are these measures very efficient revenue gatherers.  Perhaps the best solution is the one suggested in a recent interview by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee – some of the national fuel tax being redirected into non-road projects like the CRL. In other words this is pretty much what the previous Labour government worked out with the ARC in 2007 – a regional fuel tax.

But it’s not just about funding, part of the problem in local government – indeed our public sector in general – is that we are overly focussed on the supply side (increasing funding) but not the demand side (cost  and getting value for money).  For instance our PT operating costs are too high – and our construction costs are higher than any other country I can think
of.  It’s a rather taboo subject but our vertically integrated construction monopoly (or duopoly) impacts heavily on the
costs of highways, roads, bridges, tunnels, rail …and housing.  In other words on the future affordability of our national infrastructure.  Given this privatised monopoly culture a real concern is that if the public sector somehow came up
with extra funding, costs could magically rise to match that funding.
As for the CRL, I have always thought the price ($2.8b) to be gold-plated, with an additional new electric train fleet and a lot of other network costs thrown in.  So it’s not just about funding – we need to start looking hard at the costs. Perhaps when the time comes in 2020, hopefully earlier, we should encourage some of the big Chinese construction
firms to tender -  and get some competitive tension into our construction sector. Let me give an example of what I am talking about.  Early in 2011 the then Transport Minister Steven Joyce reviewed the regional plans for a second harbour crossing which we finalised in 2008.
The agreed option was a road/rail tunnel.  The Minister had the leading options costed.  The road/rail tunnel was costed
between NZ $4-$5b.  The cheaper option according to the minister was a second harbour bridge running parallel to the
existing harbour bridge. This cheaper option according to NZTA was costed at NZ$3-4b.  But if we look at the Millau bridge in France – the highest bridge in the world which is considered to be both an engineering and architectural masterpiece the cost was only $400m Euro equivalent to only NZ$660m.  The Millau bridge is 2.56km length – the Auckland
Harbour bridge is 1km in length.   Though this bridge was completed in 2005 there is still a vast difference to the construction price per km with NZ prices.  That’s just one indication from the first world about just how far NZ prices are out of whack with the world market.  Folks we are being ripped off.

There is another problem – the PM stated that if Auckland rail passenger demand increased to the required level, the government would advance its timetable closer to the Mayor’s preferred start date of 2015.
But currently public transport patronage (rail and bus) is
flat-lining.  This I believe is the consequence
of sharp fare increases – combined with continuing substandard punctuality. We need to remember we are in competition with the private car and fare increases
in this market are self-defeating.  We can still increase rail patronage by expanding weekend services, incentivising
off-peak travel, managing fare evasion (which has been recorded on occasions to have been near 10%) and opening new stations eg Parnell. And our new electric trains will be here soon. The Prime Minister has set Auckland a challenge to
increase rail patronage.  We should accept it.

An abridged version of this article appears in the August issue of Verve magazine.


Michael Lee

Auckland Councillor

For the Waitemata & Gulf Ward

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Unitary Plan – test of integrity

The Auckland Council draft unitary plan has drawn an enormous amount of submissions from concerned
Aucklanders – 22,700 in all.

But rather than pause to give public submissions the time and attention they deserve, the unitary plan process hurries on.  I and other councillors objected recently when the council political working party was led through public-excluded workshops by council managers, in which the views of selected
vested interests like Fletchers and the NZ Property Council were presented but not those of community organisations. I refer to the very sensitive public issues of building heights and volcanic cone view shafts.

I must confess to still being puzzled about what the mad rush is all about.

The official answer is that a million people will be turning up in Auckland by the year 2041.  To be fair 2041 is not exactly next year – it’s nearly 30 years away.  But even those projections are questionable.  The council is working on maximum growth projections but Watercare Services, the council-owned water and wastewater infrastructure provider is basing its planning on the medium growth scenario – and Auckland Transport - already struggling with an existing infrastructure deficit is questioning how Auckland ratepayers will be able to afford the cost of the transport infrastructure, on top of the CRL, needed for the high growth scenario.

All this does raise questions about the consequences of the unitary plan if council’s own agencies can’t achieve unity on the level of infrastructure needed.  An open-slather developer-driven Auckland which the council seems to be encouraging could leave Auckland with an even greater infrastructure deficit than we have now. An Auckland which for instance exceeds the carrying capacity of its water and sanitary services is not going to do much for our environment – or our quality of life.

So the council needs to get this right.  It would be sensible to wait for the national census figures to be released later this year to get the latest data on which to base future growth projections. This period should also be spent seriously
analysing the public’s submissions – to determine what Aucklanders really want for their city and their region.

I must say I have noticed a certain cavalier approach in the way the council deals with the public. The public is regularly assembled to provide applauding audiences for occasions like unitary plan launches and is called upon to write endless submissions (‘have your say’) – and is then dismissed. In other
words the council is in danger of treating the public like a crowd of Hollywood extras. This has to stop.

The way the Auckland Council deals with the 22,700 submissions from the people of Auckland will not only be a test of the integrity of the unitary plan but also the integrity of this council.

(As published in Verve Magazine July edition)

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Begging bylaw no ban – but step towards social responsibility

There has been a lot of heat and emotion about the issue of street begging in recent days – but unfortunately not much light.  So what is going on?

The proposed Public Safety and Nuisance Bylaw is designed to  replace  all the previous council bylaws with one; and because of the shared responsibilities, the new bylaw will be both an Auckland Council and Auckland Transport document.  The draft was released early this year for public consultation.

Public submissions closed in March and drew 117 submissions.  The council received responses on a wide variety of issues such as graffiti, glue-sniffing, vandalism in parks and public places.  Some of these issues came as a surprise.  For instance we received a surprisingly large number of submissions about conflicts caused by set-netting on northern beaches and surfcasting on Bucklands Beach – which had never previously been considered a nuisance or a hazard to public safety.  But lots of people in our communities think they are, and told the hearing panel so in no uncertain terms.

One issue of public concern though which came as no surprise was the issue of  begging.   In recent years this phenomenon has significantly increased, becoming more and more of a concern and a source of complaints from the public.  Especially so from mainstreet shopkeepers who say beggars permanently ensconced outside their doors are not only a nuisance but are putting off customers.  The legacy bylaws certainly dealt with begging or euphemistically termed equivalents but because of the way they were worded  they proved to be largely unenforceable.

The ineffectual wording of the old bylaws has been of concern to the police who tell us street begging is a problem which is linked with property crime, especially in the CBD.

The hearing panel therefore decided that along with all the other concerns brought to us by the public that this time we would try to do something meaningful to address  this and other  problems   – but in the most sensitive way possible.  Does this amount to banning begging – as the media and some critics have been saying? No.

The relevant bylaw clause in question is:

A person may not use a public place to: beg in a manner that may intimidate or cause a nuisance to any person.

The ‘qualifier’ (i.e. ‘in a manner that may intimidate or cause a nuisance to any person’) does not mean a total ban as alleged.  The council recognises that in some instances there are underlying issues as to why some members of our community are begging.  We are not interested in pursuing those who are passively begging but not causing any harm or nuisance.

However, what the new bylaw does mean that if begging – because of its location and/or duration, and the behaviour of the beggar – constitutes a nuisance or is aggressive ; and a member of the public makes a genuine complaint,  the council will now act on it.   The Council  compliance officers will talk to the beggar and ask them to leave. If necessary the beggar will be moved on from where he or she is causing a nuisance. Where the council ’s compliance officers identify an individual who needs help, assistance will be sought from the appropriate state agencies and charitable sector specialists, for counselling, medical treatment, income support and accommodation.

Recently council has utilised the New Beginnings Court to assist with individuals who have been on the streets for a number of years. Auckland City’s New Beginnings Court (Te Kooti o Timatanga hou), effectively a ‘Court within a Court’ operates out of the District Court at Auckland.

Established in 2010 the court is a pro-active multi-agency initiative aimed at dealing with persistent public place offenders, some who have continued to breach council bylaws, despite regular warnings and intervention. The court places them on programmes to address underlying issues and monitors their progress. The council intends to extend this practice to include persistent nuisance beggars under the proposed new bylaw. Without the bylaw there would be no opportunity to do this.

For too long the issue of begging has been ignored because councils have been unwilling to tackle the problem it seems due to well-meaning but misguided political pressure – this has effectively put the rights of beggars over the rights of citizens trying to make an honest living.

The process is by no means over – the draft bylaw will go before the Council Governing Body for final approval.  Hopefully the agreed provisions in the bylaw for socially responsible intervention to deal with the problem of street begging will remain intact.  Tossing a coin in the cup and walking on by is no longer a responsible option.


Michael Lee

Auckland Councillor

Chairman of the Public Safety & Nuisance Bylaw Hearing Panel.

Published in NZ Herald 9 July 2013.  See:


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The Unitary Plan – but is it unifying?

The public have responded to the Auckland Council Unitary Plan with a massive 22,700 submissions. .

I must confess there is still a lot about the Unitary Plan that doesn’t make sense to me.  Probably the biggest puzzle is why the almost frantic rush to get it done as quickly as possible.    To justify this some rather extravagant statements have been made by the Mayor and council planners.  Panic is contagious of course – the council’s more alarmist announcements about the need for ‘pace’ have, along with graphic illustrations of towering high rises in many neighbourhoods, spooked communities across Auckland, inadvertently touching-off a public backlash.  We should bear in mind that basically a unitary
plan should simply be about the rationalisation and folding together of the
seven legacy council district plans and the ARC regional policy statement and
regional coastal plan; to sensibly reflect the amalgamation which created the
‘Super City’.

But there is more to this of course because the council also wants to use the Unitary Plan to make big changes, citing the Auckland Plan, to enable much more and much faster development across Auckland.   The reason for all this is the claimed one million extra people who will be coming to Auckland by the year 2041.

But why are council planners basing residential development plans on the maximum growth scenario yet council-owned Watercare, whose job it is to provide the water and wastewater services for such developments is still working on a medium growth scenario?  While Auckland Transport already struggling with the present the transport infrastructure deficit is raising serious questions of the cost to ratepayers of the high growth scenario.

It’s important to remember the ‘unitary plan’ despite some of the rhetoric around it, is not an ‘everything plan,’ but if the council agencies themselves are not united in their planning, it does raise serious questions.  More importantly what happens to Auckland’s environment if we have open –slather, maximum growth development without the sanitary and transport infrastructure to support it?   To resolve this question the Council should wait until the release of the national census figures later this year and then base its projections on the best available data.  An even stronger reason for a pause is to give serious consideration to the 22,700 public submissions from the Auckland public. But I see no sign of this at all unfortunately.

While the Unitary Plan is being sold as being about a ‘compact city’ – that’s really spin.  30 – 40% of future growth  (and in reality more) is actually targeted for outside the present Metropolitan Urban Limits.  The MUL themselves will be abolished and  replaced by a ‘Rural-Urban Boundary’ and pushed out by some 20,000 hectares, plus more development is to be encouraged around coastal settlements. This, to enable the building of 160,000 new dwellings in the rural greenbelt over the next 30 years.    While this will mean a major lateral expansion of Auckland.

So the Unitary Plan is not really about a compact city. It will mean a more sprawling city, a more intensified city (there is a difference) – with infill housing sprouting up all through our garden suburbs. And of course as many people fear, a more high-rise city.  Developer driven Auckland will be growing every which way.  And whatever its stated objectives it’s not really about people and communities either.  Though major changes are planned we can be sure the deeply-ingrained council culture of non-notified secrecy in which the public are routinely excluded from a say-so in their neighbourhoods, historic character buildings are demolished, views and sunlight blocked, and grotesque developments like a Bunnings complex in historic Arch Hill are recommended by council officers, will carry on.
As your ward councillor I have pledged to fight the Bunnings proposal – as has Shale Chambers and the Waitemata Local Board – but unfortunately this is not untypical.  The Unitary Plan at this stage therefore is looking very much like a lost opportunity – it could have been a wonderful chance for community-based, ground-up, leading-edge planning as has been advocated by Ponsonby residents. A plan which could have taken Auckland well into the 21st century with a whole new paradigm.

Not only ‘unitary’ it could have been unifying.

(Published in Ponsonby News July 2013 edition).

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Unitary Plan – so what ever happened to sustainability and why does all the growth have to be in Auckland?

I suppose I’ve been round long enough to take a rather cynical view of things like ‘Housing Accords’.  Previous governments back in the 20th century when faced with major housing shortages, just got on and built them.  The current housing crisis seems to have become a political blame game with the government keen to embarrass the mayor while off-loading its responsibilities into the laps of Auckland ratepayers.  Politicians nowadays have ‘accords’ about houses – they don’t actually build them. Financing and building  houses is now up to the private sector and charitable organisations.
Clearly we do have a housing affordability problem in Auckland.  Housing prices here are at the high end of the international scale.  Recent auctions have seen astonishing prices being paid – and many young people not prepared to live out on the fringes just cannot afford good housing in the city.
Obviously there are a number of influences pushing up house prices. These include on the supply side: the high cost of NZ building materials (due to monopolistic practices); council regulatory costs, and the cost of sections.  On the demand side: immigration into Auckland; the impact of offshore buyers; a lingering lack of enthusiasm for the sharemarket and complete lack of confidence in the finance sector by local investors. Finally, relatively low interest rates. And as we are talking about ‘affordability’, the relative
decline in average salaries and wages in New Zealand, compared to Australia
over the past 30 years.
However despite all this, the government and the Auckland Council are focussing just on land supply.  While the Unitary Plan is being sold as being about a ‘compact city’ – that’s really a myth.  30 – 40% of future growth is targeted for outside the present Metropolitan Urban Limits.  The MUL will be replaced by a ‘Rural-Urban Boundary’ and pushed out by some 20,000 hectares, plus development is to be encouraged around coastal settlements. This, to enable the building of 160,000 new dwellings in the rural greenbelt over the next 30 years.    While this will mean a major lateral expansion of Auckland it’s still not enough for the government. The Housing Accord is very much about fast-tracking subdivision of productive rural land.
If the Housing Accord is not actually about building houses the Unitary Plan is not really about a compact city. It will mean a more sprawling city, a more intensified city (there is a difference) – with infill housing sprouting up all through our garden suburbs.  And of course as many people fear, a more high-rise city.  Auckland will be growing every which way – which may make housing more affordable – but our quality of life less desirable.

So what ever happened to sustainability and why does the all growth have to be in Auckland?

(As published in VERVE Auckland’s Boutique Magazine. June 2013)


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Men of the 24th – you make me proud to be a New Zealander.”


It was a great privilege to attend the final Beating of Retreat of the NZ 24 Battalion at the Auckland War Memorial on Saturday 21 April.  On a beautiful Autumn evening at the Cenotaph thousands gathered to witness an unforgettable and deeply-moving ceremony as with full military honours from the NZ Army 3rd Auckland (Countess of Ranfurly’s Own) and Northland Battalion, the band playing and saluting gunfire the last 28 veterans of the Battalion led by their commander Murray Adlington paraded for the very last time before the Governor-General His Excellency Rt. Hon. Lt. General  Sir Jerry Mateparae and a large applauding crowd of Aucklanders.  (I knew these were New Zealand troops because as they marched (or were wheeled) past the Governor-General, they smiled, nodded and winked at the Commander-in-Chief).  The ceremony was followed by a dinner in which Murray Adlington gave a remarkably speech supported by Lt.Colonel Chris Powell.  The MC Margaret Burke, as she always does at Anzac Day gave a superb performance with her commentary throughout the ceremony.

Marching off into history - the last veterans of World War ll NZ 24 Infantry Battalion led by Murray Arlington

Today at the Memorial Service in the Museum Hall of Memories I was honored by the Association to give an address.

On the occasion of the final beating of the retreat NZ 24th Infantry Battalion Association

Memorial Service address by Michael Lee, Auckland Councillor on behalf of the Governing Body Auckland Council. Museum Hall of Memories Auckland. Sunday 22 April 2012.

To the President Murray Adlington and Mrs Adlington, members of the 24th Infantry Battalion Association, Patron Rangi Ryan, the Association sub committee led by Sandy Davie and Wayne McDonald, wives, widows and family, I bring the warm greetings of the Mayor, elected members and staff of the Auckland Council.

I would also like to acknowledge Lt. Colonel Chris Powell of the NZ Defence Forces and our hosts here today the Chairman of the Museum Trust Dr William Randall and Director of the Auckland Museum Roy Clare and his staff.  Distinguished guests. Ladies and Gentlemen

Last evening like most people here I was privileged to witness an unforgettable and most moving ceremony of the final beating of the retreat of the 24th Infantry Battalion.

Last evening we were also fortunate to hear superb speeches recounting the history of the Battalion, its battle honours, and its personalities by the Governor-General His Excellency the Rt Hon Lt. General Jerry Mateparae, by the president of the Association Murray Adlington and by Colonel Powell.

The season of Autumn, when every year on and around ANZAC DAY we pause to reflect and solemnly remember the sacrifices of those who gave their lives for New Zealand in the World Wars of the 20th century, was a well chosen time for such a ceremony.  I would like to congratulate Murray Adlington and the members of the 24 Battalion Association and the members of the Defence Forces who participated in that unforgettable, historic ceremony.

Today we acknowledge and give thanks the members of 24th NZ Infantry Battalion and their dedicated supporters – living and dead – to recognize and give thanks for their heroic contribution to New Zealand in war – and through the outstanding work of the 24th Battalion Association in peace.

And recognizing and giving thanks to the Battalion we recognize and give thanks to a whole generation, the Second World War generation, – described by American writer Stephen Ambrose as the ‘Greatest Generation’ – while we are privileged to have the last of those men and women still amongst us.

New Zealanders can be justly proud of the huge national effort the country made during both World Wars.  New Zealand’s contribution in World War ll was remarkable for such a small country – as the saying goes New Zealand punched well above its weight.

As the historian W.B. Sutch wrote “Apart from the Soviet Union, NZ had a higher proportion of its citizens in the armed services than any of the other allied powers.”

Economic mobilization and a unified national spirit meant that New Zealanders on the home front gave the fullest backing to our young men fighting overseas.   As a percentage of national income from 1939 to 1944, New Zealand’s war expenditure was higher than that of Australia, Canada, and the USA and only behind that of the United Kingdom and the USSR.

This economic effort on the home front especially with women stepping into the work force meant New Zealand ended the war with an overseas debt lower by £45 million than it had at the beginning.

Hard to believe now but nevertheless true – New Zealand was a net donor of war aid to both Great Britain and the United States.  And after the war in 1947 the NZ government gifted £10 million sterling to assist the United Kingdom in it’s post-war balance of payment difficulties.

In terms of military achievement and economic performance the national effort of New Zealanders during World War ll has left an example our present day political leaders and economists could well reflect on.

The NZ 24th Battalion was an important formation in the New Zealand Division whose performance on the battlefield brought so much credit to this country.  As we have heard the Battalion was formed in 1940 mainly from young men from the Greater Auckland Province.

Following the steps of the Roman Legions the Battalion fought in Greece, the Middle East, North Africa, and Italy.  Battle honours include Elasson and Molos in Greece, Sidi Rezegh, Belhamed, Minqar Qaim, El Mreir, El Alamein, El Agheila, Tebago Gap, Enfidaville in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, the Sangro, Castel Frentano, Orsogna, Monte Cassino, Arezzo, San Michelle, Rio Fontanaccia, Pisciatello, Faenza Pocket, the Senio, and Idice Bridgehead in Italy and finally in the last days of the War the seizure of Trieste.

Out of the 3500 men who marched out, 520 were killed and over 1200 wounded.

As with the New Zealand Infantry Division in the Great War, the NZ Division of the Second World War came to be considered by friends and enemies alike as an elite formation. Indeed none other than Field-Marshal Erwin Rommell considered the NZ Division, the best in the British 8th Army.  It was hard won accolades like these that led the British war historian John Keagan to state “New Zealanders whose settler independence with rifle and spade would win them a reputation as the best soldiers in the world during the 20th century.”

Essentially because of the battlefield performance of the NZ Division and the decision by the NZ government to keep it fighting in the North African/European theatre – New Zealand and its Prime Minister Peter Fraser earned the respect and personal friendship of the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the US President Franklin Roosevelt.  And because of this New Zealand was given a critical role in the post-war formation of the United Nations.

Mike delivers the Governor-General's speech at ANZAC Day 2012

John Mulgan was one of this country’s leading young intellectuals of the 1930s. Like most of the men of the 24th he was an Aucklander.  After graduating from Auckland University he went on to Oxford where he wrote the famous depression-era classic Man Alone. Upon the outbreak of war in 1939 he joined the British Army rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  Mulgan was to make his name fighting with special forces behind the lines in occupied Greece but before this he served in a British regiment in the 8th Army at El Alamein.

Here after many years absence from New Zealand he was reunited with his countrymen, including friends in the 24th Battalion.  He wrote in his book Report on Experience:

“Afterwards, a long time afterwards, I met the New Zealanders again, in the desert below Ruweisat ridge, the summer of 1942. It was like coming home. They carried New Zealand with them across the sands of Libya. This was the division that had saved the campaign of 1941 at Sidi Rezegh. The next year, when Rommel came into Egypt, the same division drove down from Syria and up along the coast road against the tide of a retreating army to meet him, and waited for him near Mersah Matruh. They held there for three days. By the evening of the third day, the whole Afrika Korps, had lapped round them and was closing in. Ordered to come out, the New Zealanders attacked by night, led out their transport through the gaps they cleared, boarded it, and drove back to Alamein. Through all the days of a hot and panic-stricken July they fought Rommel to a standstill in a series of attacks along Ruweisat ridge. They helped save Egypt, and led the break through at Alamein to turn the war.”

“They were mature men, these New Zealanders of the desert, quiet and shrewd and sceptical. They had none of the tired patience of the Englishman, nor that automatic discipline that never questions orders to see if they make sense. Moving in a body, detached from their homeland, they remained quiet and aloof and self-contained. They had confidence in themselves, such as New Zealanders rarely have, knowing themselves as good as the best the world could bring against them, like a football team in a more deadly game, coherent, practical, successful. “

“It seemed to me, meeting them again, friends grown a little older, more self-assured, hearing again those soft, inflected voices, the repetitions of slow, drawling slang, that perhaps to have produced these men for this one time would be New Zealand’s destiny. Everything that was good from that small, remote country had gone into them – sunshine and strength, good sense, patience, the versatility of practical men. And they marched into history.”

John Mulgan did not survive the war.  Before his death he wrote of the New Zealand he hoped would emerge from its sacrifices.

“If the old world ends now with this war, as well it may, I have had visions and dreamed dreams of another New Zealand that might grow into the future on the foundations of the old. This country would have more people to share it.  There would be more children in the sands and sunshine, more small farms, gardens and cottages. Girls would wear bright dresses, men would talk quietly together. Few would be rich, none would be poor. They would fill the land and make it a nation.”

“In this country in a dreamed-of future, men will remember names of desert places that have been dignified by fighting, battle honours of a small country, of that New Zealand of the past, and they will share these things as part of a history that will be dear to them. ‘All earth has witnessed that they answered as befitted their ancestry; they endured as the strong influences about their youth taught them to endure’.”

I believe the New Zealand of the 21st century could well take more time to meditate upon the sacrifices of those of the World War 2 generation, men like those of the 24th Battalion and to reflect upon the hopes and aspirations, the spirit of national unity, resolution and national purpose of New Zealanders of those times – and the high price for nationhood that they paid for all of us.

As we have heard the 24th Battalion Association was founded in 1947 and in its dedication to comradeship and compassionate mutual aid it exemplified in its modest and practical way John Mulgan’s dream to make sense of the pain and suffering of war by trying creating a better world – trying to make a better New Zealand.

In thanking the members of the 24 Battalion Association I will close with the words of veteran Alf Hartnell who summing up the Association’s noble objectives in 1986 in the book Citizenship and Remembrance – A History of the 24th Infantry Association by Gabrielle Fortune and Mara Bebich.  He wrote.

“The song of the hurrying bullet and the whine of the destroying shell could be forgotten.  But how do you forget the years of comradeship fired in the smoking crucible of bloody conflict?

How to close your mind to the needs of those unable to cope with the transition to civilian life? How to forget that among the dangers and discomfort there were times of hilarious comedy and riotous enjoyment?  Together we grew from boys into men.  Together we explored fabled cities of which age-old legends are told.  Together we wrote a new definition of the word ‘comrade’.  How to forget?

Some there were, the far-sighted and wise among us who asked not only how but why?  Need the nobility of sacrificial friendship be buried with the tragedy of human conflict?

The answer came just two years and some months from the day the Battalion was disbanded in Florence.   Immediately, this infant Association established a new concept.  It would have as a main purpose the creation of a fund that would allow it to extend into post war life the same caring concern for each that marked the wartime experience, with a special commitment to helping the disadvantaged and troubled.  Yet it would have no annual subscription.  A decision that reflected a firm faith and trust that these soldiers of the Battalion having experienced so much together, would not fail to care for each other now.”

So it now comes to an end – sadly as all things must – and it leaves me to express on behalf of the people of the Auckland region our eternal gratitude to the members 24th Infantry Battalion Association.  I am sure that I speak for everyone here today when I say: “Men of the 24th – you make me proud to be a New Zealander.”

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Fairy tale Wedding – tribute to my stepson Joe and new daughter-in-law Ivy

My stepson Zhao Yu (Joe) and his sweetheart Zhang Qin (Ivy) were married on Waitangi Day in a lovely ceremony at St Mathews-in-the-City officiated over by the popular Reverend Clay Nelson supported by Elspeth Lamb.   Ivy was supported by lovely bridesmaids and workmates Hannah and Mini and Joe by workmates Alex and Bain from French Café.  The wedding reception was held at the Castaways resort restaurant with its superb views over the ocean  on the west coast by Waiuku.

Everything about this wedding can only be described as beautiful.  While the whole day was covered by professional photographers I’ve included some of my iPhone snaps to illustrate this post.

the handsome couple Zhao Yu (Joe) and Zhang Qin (Ivy) about to set off for their wedding


St Mathews in the City. Joe and Ivy sign on the good ship Marriage - witnessed by Reverend Clay Nelson



Joe and Ivy with the Lee family

I was asked by Joe and his mother – my wife Jenny  - to make a speech at the reception which I considered a great honour.  There were great speeches from the MC Matt – one of Joe’s workmates from ‘French Café’, Joe and especially a knockout speech from the Bride Ivy!   For the record here’s my one:

Joe’s Story.

Greetings, kia ora koutou katoa, nushimen xiangshengmen hinimen hao.

I have the honour to speak here today on behalf of Joe’s mother Wang Jianhua – Jenny.  Unfortunately Joe’s dad and family in China cannot be here but I understand Joe & Ivy are organising another celebration for their relatives in China.

Joe has family from the far north province of Liaoning in Manchuria to the southern most province of Yunnan.

Ivy, Zhang Qin comes from the famous Hunan province birthplace of Chairman Mao Zedong and I want to warmly welcome here Ivy’s family her father Zhang Wei Ming, her Mum Xi Sheng Jun and her grandmother Xiong Hui who have travelled 12,000 kilometres to be with Ivy and Joe today.

Lets put our hands together and give them a warm New Zealand welcome on our national day – Waitangi day.

I want to say a few words about Joe Zhao Yu whom I first met when he was 17.

Over that time I have watched him grow to be a man.  My first involvement with Joe went back to even before he came to New Zealand.  Being a practical woman his mum Jenny felt he needed a western name and asked my advice because she feared kiwi people may not be able pronounce Zhao Yu easily – and anyway it was the fashion for Chinese people to adopt a second western name.   As his family name was Zhao I suggested ‘Joe’ – and that met with Joe’s approval – and so Joe he became.

Joe arrived in New Zealand on Queens Birthday Weekend 2000 – he and his mum were reunited at last after many years apart.  It was tough for Joe when he first came to Auckland, teenage is a difficult enough time for any young person –  but Joe had to make major adjustments – when I first met Joe he had no English he was missing his friends and classmates in China – he was quite homesick for China actually. But Joe overcame his challenges through his strength of character, his strong heart – and a wonderful sense of humour.

In those days we lived together in a tiny apartment in Federal Street – so small you had to step aside to change your mind (as the saying goes).

Living so closely together I was able to observe the different phases this interesting young man passed through.   The first thing I noticed was Joe’s deep attachment to his computer – which really was his lifeline to China.  Joe would spend endless hours day and night on the computer, surfing, chatting, downloading music and movies and playing games. Young people do this all around the world – but the phenomenon is so prevalent in China affecting millions of young people they have a word for it -  ‘Zhai’ which translates as ‘indoorsy’.  Joe therefore was for a time a Zhai Nan – or ‘indoorsy boy’.

Joe was also keen on Gong Fu– and Joe practice a lot of Gong Fu and Tai Chi moves – usually in front of the mirror or his mum and me.  Anyone round at our house this morning would have seen Joe doing some Gong Fu moves (which he tends to do whenever there is a captive audience).

Around about this time there emerged another Joe  – ‘Guitar Joe’ this involved first of all Joe growing his hair long and practising to the sound of heavy metal music with an air guitar in front of a mirror.  Joe soon graduated from air guitar to an electric guitar which his Mum bought him and thus he was able to join in with the downloaded heavy metal and add his own heavy metal to the din.

Then there was Wolf boy Joe.  Joe became very interested in wolves. Wolf posters appeared all round his bedroom wall, wolves appeared on his computer screensaver, and  his email address was and still is JoeNZWolf.  When Joe watched the movie ‘Dances with Wolves’ he was enormously impressed – I think Joe understood the deeper meaning of that movie more than most. Wolf boy Joe as wolves tend to do would stay out late at night.  The first sound you would hear is the apartment door unlocking, then a friendly little wolf howl ‘Aoooh’  which I would respond to.  Then the next sound would be the fridge door open – wolves being famously hungry.  seriously I think identifying with the wolf spirit gave Joe strength and resilience during his lonely first years when he was a stranger in a strange land.

Then there was nightclub manager Joe – in 2005 Joe and his mum took over a garage in Anzac Avenue and turned it into a nightclub – Joe’s Beehouse bar in Anzac avenue.  This actually was a pretty cool place with a lot of Santana music and the only bar Jenny has ever actively encouraged me to patronise.  There were always lots of people there – trouble is apart from some successful university functions most of the regulars were Joe’s mates which meant it didn’t make much money – and so it was eventually sold. But the responsibility of running a club provided an invaluable life and work experience for Joe.

Then Joe became interested in motorcycles and again with the help of his mum ended up with a very powerful Yamaha bike.  This proved to be very useful for Joe as he would travel by motorbike across the bridge every day to the North Shore International Academy run by the famous pioneer restaurateur Otto Groen.  Here Joe discovered his true vocation and his passion – cooking. And cooking western dishes.

I think I can take some credit if you don’t mind me saying, in stimulating Joe’s interest in cooking. This goes back to when Joe had only been in NZ a few weeks.  It was my turn to cook, it was winter, I was late back from work and Joe was cold and hungry.  To Joe’s amazement I carried in a large leg of lamb which Joe hadn’t seen before – a huge slab of meat and bone. Joe despite his evident hunger seemed doubtful whether this could be transformed into anything edible. I finally got it into the oven and Joe sat on the floor next to the oven window for 45 minutes gazing with fascination as the leg of lamb was slowly transformed into a roast joint.

Joe graduated from Otto’s school with distinction and as his preference was to work in western restaurants he went to work at places like the Portside café and bar at Wynyard Quarter, Sage restaurant in Mission Bay, the Igquacu in Parnell and finally in 2008 the prestigious French Café.

Here Joe has found his true metier.  Joe loves working with an international group of chefs under the guidance of Simon Wright and has steadily advanced his knowledge and his career working in New Zealand’s best restaurant.    Joe is also a keen competitive chef – competing every year for the last five years in the NZ Culinary fare competitions at the Epsom Showgrounds, competing against the clock and a host of other chefs and winning silver and bronze medals every time – cheered on by mum and loyal friends.  Joe has his own site dedicated to his own culinary creations and ideas: http://weibo.cn/chefjoe

and on FaceBook: Joe Zhao and another site:spaces.live.com/joenzwolf

As I said Joe has always had plenty of friends.  There are two reasons why I think this is:

1)   Joe is a very thoughtful, gentle kind-hearted person.  A couple of times over the past 12 years I became quite ill and was for a few days pretty crook.  Jenny who is a nurse asked Joe to help her look after me when she went to work – instructing him how to administer medication and so on.  Joe was very good at this – I will always remember his kindness to me.

2)   Secondly Joe has a marvellous sense of humour.  When we were in the Federal Street apartment the whole building was slowly overcome one night with the most foul smell.  The building caretaker and myself eventually traced the apartment but we were unable to get in.   It turned out that the Korean boy next floor down had been boiling some meat and then decided to go out.  The pot boiled dry and the meat started to slowly burn which gave off the awful smell – but the caretaker was also worried about a fire.  The only way was to get in through a very narrow upper window.  There was only one person agile and lithe enough to do this – and this was Joe.  We managed to hoist him up and with some difficulty he managed to wriggle through.  He got to the stove, turned it off and brought out the offending pot and its contents which the caretaker disposed of.  At last the dreadful smell went away and the word travelled round and soon Joe became the hero of the whole building.  People came out to thank him.  We were back in the apartment speaking admiringly about Joe when he came in – and obviously inspired by the Athens Olympic Games which were on at that time – he picked up a bunch of flowers from the vase, crooked them in his arm and with the other waved and bowed at imaginary crowds – as heroes do.

Finally I want to say Joe is admired and loved not just by me but my own family, my daughters Michelle and Annabelle and my brother Bernie, sister Peggy and her husband Stuart and sister in law Anastasia and my son-in-law Ernest and Michelle’s partner Brent who are all here today to support Joe and Ivy.

And this brings me to the happy ending of this story – and the happy beginning. In 2009 Joe met his true love Ivy – Qin.  Joe being a handsome boy with an outgoing nature always has had girls interested in him but Joe has always been quite choosy and had very definite ideas about what he wanted in a girl – two things really – tall and beautiful.    But Ivy is more than tall and beautiful – she is well educated, well organised, and hard-working.  So we offer our congratulations to Ivy’s family for raising such a beautiful, exemplary young woman.  The beautiful ceremony in St Mathews today was the idea of Ivy – the reception in this remarkable beautiful setting was Joe’s idea.  This sums up their different and complementary characters.

Working as a team Joe and Ivy now have their own home and are ready to start a family.

Mission accomplished. Mums' work is done. Joe's mum Jenny Lee after witnessing the marriage - and in the background Ivy's mum Xi Sheng Jun.

I now want to pay tribute to Joe’s mum Jenny.  We take for granted the fact that China is prosperous and strong but we forget the hardships and struggle these people had to go through in our own lifetimes.  Most of her life Jenny has worked hard to support Joe – even when she was thousands of miles apart from him.  I know just how much she loves him.  For Joe to be successful in a career he loves, to have his own home, and to marry such a fine girl as Ivy is deeply important to her. So for Jenny today is a dream come true. Congratulations to you also. Lets hear it for the mother of the Groom.

Joe and Ivy - sunset on a day they will remember all their lives - and so will we.

And so ladies and gentlemen as the fair ship of Joe and Ivy’s marriage sets sail upon the sea of life let us wish them bon voyage.    May grace and good fortune shine down upon this beautiful young couple.   Please join me in a toast to Joe and Ivy.

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Tribute to Jim Holdaway – last of the ‘Greatest Generation’

When the American writer Stephen Ambrose referred to the young men and women who served in World War ll as ‘the greatest generation’, he could not have more aptly described Jim Holdaway as the epitomy of that generation – a generation which has sadly all but passed into history.   Jim Holdaway died last week after a life of service to his country in war and in peace.

It could be said of New Zealand that its finest hour as a modern country was in the great global struggle of World War ll.   During the Second World War it is fair to say New Zealand performance was remarkable and out of all proportion to its size.  New Zealand had a higher proportion of its citizens in uniform than any Allied nation apart from the Soviet Union.  During the intensive and exacting years of 1942-1944 New Zealand committed more in terms of war expenditure as a percentage of national income than any other Allies apart from the United Kingdom.

The quality of New Zealand’s armed services, the elite calibre of the 1st NZ Division, and the commitment and ability of its personnel on land, sea and air was to bring New Zealand enormous international prestige.  Because of this New Zealand and its prime minister Peter Frazer were deeply respected by the Allied war leaders Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt. This hard-won prestige and respect earned on the battlefield meant that New Zealand became a key player in the post war settlement – especially in the formation of the United Nations.

Raised on a farm in the Great Depression at the outbreak of war Jim Holdaway volunteered and served with distinction as a flight-lieutenant in the RNZAF.  Seconded to the RAF he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for carrying out missions over enemy-occupied Europe and North Africa with ‘courage and determination’.   Flight-lieutenant Holdaway earned a bar to his DFC flying mosquito fighter-bombers in the highly hazardous task of a pathfinder for bombing raids on Germany.

After the war Jim became a pilot on passenger aircraft for BOAC.  He then returned to New Zealand with his remarkable and beautiful English wife Ann. Having discharged his duties as a soldier with courage and distinction, Jim returned to the peaceful pursuit of farming.  At semi-rural Northcote before the building of the Harbour Bridge he and Ann began a family and had three children Nigel, Mark and Sarah.  Here too Jim and Ann working side by side broke in a market garden and then a 200ha farm in Dairy Flat.  Always a civic-minded person Jim became increasingly drawn into in local government and in 1953 was elected to the local Northcote Borough Council. In 1959 he was elected Mayor and served in this role for 9 years. He also served on the Auckland Regional Planning Authority.

Jim’s great achievement in local government was in 1963 when after years of hard work and lobbying along with fellow intellectual politicians like Dove-Myer Robinson, Hugh Lambie and Lee Murdoch he helped form the Auckland Regional Authority, (ARA).

The ARA was critical to the development of Auckland as a modern city. The ARA was responsible for the Auckland International Airport, the building of 5 major water storage dams, the comprehensive upgrade of the Mangere wastewater treatment plant, major landfills, the building of arterial roads like Balmoral Drive and Ian McKinnon Drive, the creation of the ARA Bus service – the biggest bus company in New Zealand, regional planning, – and the achievement most dear to Jim’s heart, the regional parks network.  The ARA in its early years had enormous mana because of the scale of its achievements and because of the stature of its leaders.  In many respects the ARA was more powerful than the present ‘Super City’ as the ARA unlike the ‘Super City’ had all of its functions under the direct control of its elected members.

The history of Auckland’s regional parks is set out in Graeme Murdoch’s excellent book ‘Dreamers of the Day’ published by Random House in 2010. See: http://www.mikelee.co.nz/2010/10/dreamers-of-the-day-book-launch-regional-parks-and-the-legacy-of-regional-government/

Auckland’s regional parks network was first envisaged by the visionary planners and regionalist politicians who founded the ARA – men like Dove Meyer Robinson, the regional planner F.W.O. Jones, Arnold Turner (the last living founding member of the ARA) and Jim Holdaway.  They were aware that the nearest national parks lay some 400km from Auckland and were anxious both to provide outdoors recreation outlets for Auckland’s rapidly growing population, and to protect the region’s outstanding  coastal landscapes from suburban sprawl.  Building on the existing Centennial Memorial Park the ARA stepped in to acquire prime beachfront area at Long Bay and Wenderholm before they were cut up as coastal subdivisions.  Jim Holdaway took an active role in these decisions and in the acquisition negotiations.

Founding Fathers. Jim Holdaway and Judge Arnold Turner - founding members of the ARA and founders of the Regional Parks network in October 2010


From that time onwards Jim always retained the keenest parental interest in regional parks and the ARC. During my time as chairman of the regional parks committee (1992-95) and as chairman of the ARC (2004-2010) Jim nearly always accompanied by Ann, religiously attended ARC events and functions – especially regional parks events.

After retiring from regional politics, Jim served on numerous government bodies, often as chairman, including the Urban Transport Council, The Nature Conservation Council, the Hauraki Maritime Park Board and the Auckland Conservation Board. He became increasingly interested in conservationand natural history and later served on community based environmental groups like the Tree Council, the Motutapu Restoration Trust, and the Hauturu Trust, amongst others.

In 1991 he was appointed by the National Minister of Conservation Denis Marshall to chair the Minister’s ‘Technical Working Party on the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park proposal along with Marjorie van Roon and Jan Crawford.

Jim’s working party received 764 submissions and held 30 consultative meetinges. They came down strongly for a national park in the Hauraki Gulf.

Jim’s key recommendation on page 112 of the report is:

“1. That Option 4, which would establish a Hauraki Gulf National Marine Park, administered by an appointed Commission advised by a broadly representative Consultative Panel, be further developed as the preferred option.”

Jim’s park proposal meet opposition from conservative elements and many local councils – and it was shelved for some years by the government.  It was finally revived in 1995 after passionate lobbying from Jim and other conservationists including myself.  However the park proposal when it was finally produced was a considerably weaker version than the model Jim and his technical working party had recommended and is in many respects a ‘virtual park’.  There is no park’s commission or indeed any management structure – and the designation “National Marine Park” does not appear in the in the empowering legislation, the ’ Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act 2000′.

I was present in early 1999 when Jim in arguing before a select committee to strengthen the Park along the lines of his original recommendation managed to persuade the MPs to include within the Park the waters of the Hauraki Gulf  (Part 3. s.33(d) – along with the DoC islands and the seabed.   Despite its  shortcomings (which can and must be rectified) the legislation was finally passed into law in February 2000 by the Labour-Alliance government. Jim Holdaway will always be remembered as the father of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park.

Mike Lee with the late Jim Holdaway 'father of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park' in June 2009 on the eve of the DoC pest eradication of Rangitoto Island

I saw Jim quite frequently in recent years, usually on a regional park or out one of the Gulf Islands.  We had long telephone conversations in which he would talk about Robbie and the early years of the ARA.  In 2009 he wrote to me asking me to stand for mayor of the new Super City and pledging his support.  I was deeply touched and honoured.

It was November when I last saw Jim – by then he was already hospitalised.  The sudden and tragic death of a beloved son-in-law Grant had badly shaken him and sent him into a downward spiral. However in November despite failing health he still retained his physical strength and was able to join Ann, my colleague Sandra Coney and myself for afternoon tea where Ann recounted how she and Jim had met in wartime Britain.

Jim passed away peacefully last week.  His funeral service was held at St John the Baptist Anglican Church on Saturday in his beloved Northcote – mourned and eulogised by friends and family before an overflow congregation of admirers who had come to pay their respects to a great New Zealander.

And so he leaves us – having lived to the grand old age of 94.  One of a unique and special breed of New Zealanders – the last of the Greatest Generation – who fought courageously in World War ll and who came back home to build the peace.  A noble man, an officer and a gentleman and a true hero in both war and peace.  We who are left behind owe Jim Holdaway and men like him an enormous debt of gratitude.   I was truly privileged to have him as a friend. Jim like so many of his generation raised in the Great Depression did not have the privilege of a tertiary education – but he was an erudite well spoken man, very much a self-taught scholar who avidly read the classics and who deeply loved Shakespeare. So in summing up Jim’s life it is suitable to quote from Hamlet: “He was a man. Take him all in all. We shall not look upon his like again.”

E.A.Jim Holdaway CNZM, OBE, DFC and BAR. 8 January 1918 – 14 January 2012.

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