1943 to 1949
(Including two years at the intermediate, which seemed to run as part of the high school.)
Qualifications gained at school:
The usual empty formalities: School Cert, U.E; Higher School Cert. The real qualification I got was a taste for literature.
Involvement in sports/cultural activities at school:
Horry Fawcett the principal produced The Pirates of Penzance with the girls, while the boys did imbecilic “military drill” (we were as bellicose a society then as we are now), or played footy. That was as close as we came to “cultural activities”.
I enjoyed playing footy, cricket, and athletics for the school, but sports were given an excessive importance at the expense of education and thinking. I couldn’t wait to become a man and give up childish things – including “military drill” and organised sport.
Our schooling took place in the shadow of the 1914-18 War, the Depression, and the Second War. Despite supposed independence, we were still in childish thrall to Britain.
Qualifications post school:
Advanced Diploma of Teaching. I took a perverse pleasure in becoming a senior lecturer – without the usual academic qualifications. I’m highly critical of the university takeover of teacher education, the abandonment of the arts, and the mechanistic philosophy that puts testing and measurement before learning. We’d get more sense out of measuring a kid’s height at entering school, then measuring it again every six months than we get from most of the official testing done in schools today.
Working history: I had a go at just about everything, and enjoyed the company of some wonderful people, men and women alike. My main jobs were in the bush: deer culler and possum trapper; primary school teacher; editor of the School Journal; lecturer in English at Wellington Teachers’ College; and writing for children.
I spent ten years travelling the bush and back country, mainly the Vast Untrodden Ureweras. Apart from that, I’ve really only gone abroad as a speaker, and looking for material. I despise the mindless status value placed on travel, and the enormous damage it’s doing to the planet.
Interesting snippets about what you have achieved:
I loved my years in the bush: they were a bit of a crusade, saving the trees and the land itself. Teaching was a great job. And working at Dr Beeby’s School Pubs Branch editing the School Journal and writers such as Margaret Mahy was immensely satisfying, emotionally as well as intellectually. Margaret was one of the three most intelligent people I’ve known, a dear friend, and a continual source of laughter, and imaginative wonder. I was lucky to lecture at Wellington Teachers’ College when it was still under the influence of the visionary Walter Scott: our students were rich in the arts and many made superb teachers.
Writing was something I wanted to do from childhood. I’m grateful to the teachers I had at Waharoa Primary, Matamata Intermediate, and the College. I resigned from a senior lectureship at 55, and have since published over thirty books for children of all ages. My books have been lucky and won many awards. I held the Sargeson, Dunedin Teachers’ College, and the Victoria University Writing Fellowships, and was given the Esther Glen Medal, the Margaret Mahy Medal, the Gaelyn Gordon Award, and the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction.
To oppose the dishonesty of New Zealand politicians who’ve snivelled and licked the bums of American and British politicians as long as I‘ve lived. Our appalling involvement in the Great War, especially the wretched Gallipoli disaster, and our present involvement in the Iraq War are typical of a national immaturity. I still hope for a New Zealand that stands against the immoral foreign policy of the U.K., and the U.S.A. (And I’m just as critical of many other countries, from China to Saudi Arabia and Australia.) That might offend some people, but a writer must stand a bit ajar from his society, and I’m a great believer in the wisdom of Socrates’: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
My main ambition is to keep writing as long as I can. I’ve just finished a book for juniors, and am working on a couple of teenage novels.
I spend a lot of time thinking over and trying to understand my childhood in Waharoa and the Matamata district, and remember so many people with pleasure and admiration, and a few with loathing, as it should be. Growing up there informs much of my writing. Two teachers at Matamata College I remember with particular gratitude for introducing me to literature: Margaret Brown, and the redoubtable Vi Bell – who banned Cath Tizard, then Catherine MacLean – from her library, for talking. Miss Bell was puritanical, a formalist, but a brilliant teacher of English literature. She’d make a marvellous character for a novel.
I’ve always valued the sense of story so many people have. The Matamata district was alive with stories in my childhood, sad, funny, haunting. Somewhere, somehow out of those stories, out of my formal education, and out of the greater education of many different jobs came a wish to understand myself and the world by writing about it. Writing arises partly out of dissatisfaction with the selfish nonentities our political system throws up as leaders, There must be a better way. Their failure to deal with the subject of euthanasia is just one of the many moral questions our MPs dodge – because it would cost them votes. We deserve a more adult sort of parliament.
Somewhere in all of this, there’s a great satirical novel waiting to be written. I don’t have the talent, but some day, somebody will write it.
I’ve umpteen grandchildren but since I think human overpopulation is the world’s greatest problem, I’m not going to go counting them.