Saturday, 26 November 2016

Still working for Red Cross 45 years later


It took me a while to find a picture of Bob that exemplifies this larger-than-life man as I know him. He's a polar explorer, writer, manager, humanitarian, bon-vivant... but most of all he loves life with an infectious enthusiasm. (Joe Lowry)


Some time ago Joe Lowry asked me to write an article for his blog, 'what it is like to be a man.'
I find being a man is a mixture of roles: protector, provider, clown, outdoor educator, trainer to my children and wife (I have seven children), sensitive to all the females in my life, and a good friend to my mates.
The biggest influence on me was my Mum. She was the one that really shaped me and led me to humanitarian work. Eileen, was born deaf, as was her younger brother Ray, and in those days, anyone born deaf was considered deaf and dumb. But my Mother was a bright woman, she enjoyed Shakespeare, read poetry and she taught me to sew and knit, and to write well.
I loved my Mother dearly and was horrified by children’s cruelty towards her. I remember older kids throwing clods at her and then as a five year old, running down the road chasing after them and trying to knock the shit out of them, but often they would knock the shit out of me. I learned that being a boy (man) was defending yourself and other less fortunate. Bloody knees, black eyes and continuous cuts and bruises were my medals of honour.
When you have a disabled member of your family, someone you love dearly, and people discriminate against them, you grow up with a huge awareness of discrimination and where it occurs.
For me, being a man, is knowing where you come from and drawing strength from that. Explorers, surveyors,  blacksmiths, ploughmakers, shoemakers, labourers, clerks, sailors, miners, bushmen, and strong sensitive woman linked me through the past 150 years across the water to the highlands of Scotland, to the rivers of Prussia, the theatres of England.  My Auntie spoke of having Maori blood  through the village of Colac Bay in Southland and my family tree shows I am related to Buffalo Bill Cody and Charles Laughton, the Shakespearian actor. Perhaps, the most famous connection is to King James V, from whom the McKerrow historian says we have descended, albeit from the wrong side of the blanket.
Thinking of my heritage make me feel strong in the many difficult situations I have had to face. These have included Taleban soldiers threatening me with rifles, thieves in Colon Panama trying to knife me for my money and the cold barrel of an AK 47 pushed against my temple at night in Vietnam. I find my background gives me the cool-headedness to look them in the eye and ‘be a man.’  I find antagonists back down when you stand up to them. I suppose I have never been afraid of men particularly when comparing them to my tough Father. He was a strict disciplinarian and used to bring out a WWII German belt and beat us very hard if we misbehaved. But he was also an excellent handyman and I recall many happy days helping him do repairs around the house,  grow vegetables, cut hedges, lawns and resole shoes. He had two books on how to repair motor cars but being a labourer with five children, a car was beyond our family finances. 
 I go to my diaries from my early 20s and this is what I rediscover.
“For nearly two years I had been a part of all male mountaineering expeditions to Peru, Antarctica, and between times, on all male trips to Mount Cook and Fiordland.
“After nine months in Antarctica I looked in the mirror, and I realised a man without a women around him, is a man without vanity. Winsome, how I loved her. I wrote hundreds of letters to her during that dark, long winter’s night. She was at the airport with her new boyfriend to greet me when I returned from Antarctica.
Mountains and women – they were, and are, a huge part of my life. Brasch, our great New Zealand poet said “Man must lie with mountains like a lover, earning their intimacy in a calm sigh” . In “Leaves of Grass” Walt Whitman’s says “ A woman contains everything, nothing lack, body, soul.”
The a close relationship I had with my Mum, with two older sisters and my Nana (and the distant one I had with my Dad) convinces me that women were the one who encouraged me, gave me my reference points in life.
Why was I spending so much time with men ? Was I having to prove myself? Well I had proved I was physically capable of climbing some of the highest mountains in the world, running marathons, and surviving a year in Antarctica with only three other people.
Yet I felt at a cross road. There was something compelling about leading a life of an itinerant mountaineer, explorer or traveller. I cast back my mind Peru to 1968 and the poverty that moved me so much . My first adult poem was prompted by the injustices I saw throughout Peru in 1968. I flirted with Marxism, read Nietzsche, Che Guevara.  Thoughts from Bolivian diary by Che  Guevara swirled in my head. In New Zealand Norm Kirk was emerging as a national leader, an engine driver who was about to railroad our country away from the clutches of racist conservatism. Being a man was being aware of the wider world around me.
These were heady times.  The music -  Dylan, Joan Baez, Leonard Chen The Beatles, Joplin, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. The Vietnam war was becoming ugly - why the hell did New Zealand have troops there? Protests were strong.
During these weeks of running and frequent bouts of drinking at the Captain Cook pub, I came across an advert in  December 1971 in  the Otago Daily Times  wanting personnel to work in South Vietnam for a “ New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Welfare Team”. They wanted nurses, an agriculturalist, water-sanitation special, rehabilitation guidance officer, and a mechanic. Shit, this was for me. I could travel and do something structured for the people like those I saw in Peru.
Chris Knott and I had just got back from our miserable trip to Fiordland and we were together licking our wounds. We had miserably failed to climb Mt Tutoko and after a week of torrential rain we almost died of exposure and later were swept away when a swollen river picked up our tent as we slept.
The doorbell rang, and there at the front door was the telegram man with a message for each of us, inviting us to go to Wellington, for interviews for the New Zealand Red Cross Refugee team to South Vietnam.
A few weeks later I was elated on receiving news I had been selected to go to South Vietnam.
Chris missed out. He was to go back to England and spend the next three years working for the British Antarctic survey. I was the lucky one to have broken out of the mould being set for me to continue the lonely life of an adventurer
Defending my Mum on a number of occasions made me realise at a young age that discrimination is to be found everywhere, and that committed and motivated people were needed to stand up against it. That led me to the Red Cross, at the age of 22.
I wanted to be the protector, rescuer and change agent for all these people brutalised by uncaring soldiers in war, and to change the minds of the uncaring bureaucrats who were designated to care and help them.
Forty five later I am still  working for Red Cross in Bangladesh and feel I have the drive, committment and energy to go on another ten or more.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Obituary Kevin Pain. 1928 - 2015


Kevin Pain dedicated a lot of his life to working in the mountains using his carpentry, mountaineering, rescue and skiing skills for the benefit of others.
Kevin Pain found solace and peace in the mountains and had the all-round skills, attitude and survival mentality to have a crack at anything, and not be intimidated by others or hostile environments.
Kevin was born in Westport on 15 January 1928. He left school when he was about twelve and worked in a Butcher Shop. Kevin spoke little of his upbringing but it was a hard one and he knew the inside of orphanages.
At the age of 15, he moved to Christchurch in 1943 and started a 5 year apprenticeship with the Railways on the 15/7/43 as a carpenter   He completed this apprenticeship on the 23/7/48 at the age of 20.
He started on 10 and a 1/4 pence per hour and in his 5th year,  he was earning one shilling and 5 1/4 pence per hour. He stayed in Christchurch after his apprenticeship for a couple years working on new subdivision in the city.
When he first arrived in Christchurch at 15 years he boarded with the Fifields who became lifelong friends.  Jack Fifield also did an apprenticeship at the railways.  On most Friday nights the two of them would board the 6pm train to Arthurs Pass to go deer stalking.


 A montage of shots of Kevin Pain provided by his Antarctica sledging companion Pater Otway

The only stop the train made was at Arthurs Pass but these two always wanted to get off a bit earlier so they would slip the train driver a couple of bottles of beer and the train driver would slow the train down at the given point where they would jump off the train (while it was moving very slowly) signal the driver with a torch all was OK and the train would continue.
While in Christchurch Kevin played rugby for Albion and he often talked about those days – he could name every pub down Moorhouse Ave!
In early 1950 Kev moved to Franz Josef working on a number of projects including the Church.  He also worked in Queenstown, Wanaka and Milford.  Climbing was a passion and sometime in the mid 50s, he took up a job for the Ministry of Works at Mt Cook. While at Mt Cook he became heavily involved in Mountain Rescue, Guiding, Fire Brigade and of course climbing.  A friend told me he “climbed almost every peak including Mt Cook we think 3 times.” Because Kevin never wrote articles, few of his climbs are recorded although one of his ascents of Aoraki Mount Cook is recorded in Jim Wilson’s book Aorangi, in a party with Harry Ayres, and Gil Seymour on 7 February 1959.
In 1962 he did quite an amazing dog sledging trip in the Axel Heiberg Glacier area of Antarctica with a party led by Wally Herbert, Vic McGregor, and Peter Otway. Kevin Pain, was described by Wally Herbert in his book as "an experienced Mt. Cook guide" .
They surveyed a large area of the Queen Maud range and followed Shackleton (1908) and Scott's (1911) route up the Beardmore Glacier. Denied a request to proceed to the South Pole, his party ascended Mount Nansen and descended a route taken by Amundsen in 1911, thus being the first to retrace these explorers' traverses.

A mountain in Antarctica was named after Kevin. Pain Mesa ( 73°8′S 163°0′E Coordinates: 73°8′S 163°0′E) is a large mesa just north of Tobin Mesa in the Mesa Range, Victoria Land. Named by the northern party of New Zealand Geological Survey Antarctic Expedition (NZGSAE), 1962–63, for Kevin Pain, deputy leader of this party.
In 1969 when I was at Scott Base, the NZ Government announced that Kevin Pain had been awarded the Polar medal for his services to Antarctica.
An important part of Kevin’s life involved Lake Ohau and particularly the skifield 
He was a founding member of the Ohau Ski Club and worked away on the tow, the building and ski patrol. Kevin started the Yeti fever at Ohau
There is a type of fenced off area near the access road used for experimental grasses.
Kevin used to tell the kids it was a Yeti pen where they captured and kept Yetis
That story still lives on  - and the Yeti pen is still talked about. And the kids still look out for the Yeti that may have escaped

Kevin Pain repairing Palaeau Hut roof after it was blown off in August 1972. This to me epitomises Kevin, in the mountains, fixing something and in damn difficult conditioms. Photo: Bob McKerrow

When I lived at Mount Cook from 1971 to 1973, I got to know Kevin quite well, through our love of mountains and common experiences in Antarctica. I spent a week in Plateau hut with Kevin and a few others putting the roof back on after a storm tore it off. It was freezing and someone said the temps dropped to minus 20oC one night. When skiing out from the Grand Plateau down the Freshfield glacier I had a bad virus, and felt very weak. At the bottom of Haast ridge I took a rest, and dozed off. Kevin came back and shook me awake and had it not been for Kevin, it may have been my last sleep.
Colin Monteath  has another story around that time, and said, “ I remember working with KP in the dark on Herm roof …when a huge section of roofing iron blew off in a storm… It was dangerous as iron was still flying about. KP yelled at me for he was not impressed that my nails were being driven into the new iron in a straight line!!…will never forget that
In 1988, Kevin retired in Tekapo where he built a house.

Graeme Murray, a friend of Kevin's has a lot of information on Kevin's life.
Just before last Christmas we took Kevin down to Moreh Home in Fairlie and introduced him to that wonderful lady in there called Allison. 
Can you fancy Kevin, the life-time loner moving in to an Old Person’s Home. What a test of character that must have been.
But they welcomed him with love and compassion not to mention the good meals being served up.
So in the end he never hesitated.
So he moved in for Christmas 2014. But underneath he knew he was in big trouble. His Engine Room was running down  – although incredibly his friends  never heard him complain once.
His health had steadily deteriorated from January on and so after a mighty battle he finally succumbed and quietly passed away just five days ago in the loving arms of his family.

Bob McKerrow