Friday, 26 November 2010

Help protect the elephants, help protect the people in Sri Lanka.

A wild elephant near Nugelanda village. The elephants have been forced out of their natural habitats as a result of illegal logging.

Our work in Sri Lanka varies from supporting internally displaced people in the north, finishing many tsunami construction projects such as schools, hospitals and community facilities for the many housing estates we built, flood victims etc., but I never thought we would get involved with elephants. But now we are. My Communications and Reporting Manager, Mahieash Johnney wrote this article which I share with you.

Save the elephants, protect the people: Donate now:

When the sun goes down for the day people in Nugelanda, Ampara, Sri Lanka, begins a battle, a battle against nature, a battle against a giant, a battle to stay alive. For over 10 years these people have shared the same space with the wild elephants and managed to co-exist while cultivating and living their lives.

However since the reserves in and around Nugelanda began to fall victim to illegal loggers and others who clear land for illegal cultivation, these wild jumbos began to move into areas where people inhabit.

During the months from August to October the invasion from wild elephants into Nugelanda village has increased drastically, due to the crop season for the paddy cultivated in the area. Once the villages harness their crops they store the paddy in their houses prior to selling. Wild elephants are attracted to the smell of paddy and invade the village in order to eat it and destroying everything that gets in its way.

Human tragedy

For the past two months over 13 people have been killed by wild elephant attacks in Nugelanda and at the adjacent 39th Colony villages. In one instance a family living in the 39th Colony, comprising 3 women 3 children and a man also experienced a wild elephant attack which left 3 dead.

Ranjani who is 38 years old has been living in the 39th Colony for over 15 years. They have witnessed the area go under the control of the LTTE and also the Government military’s offensive to clear the area.

Ranjani stands near the wall of her house that was crushed by a wild elephant, which resulted in the death of her mother.

They are no strangers to wild elephant attacks as the little hut they live in has in many times been crushed by several wild elephants, one of the many reasons for them to rebuild the hut with clay.

On the 15th of October 2010, after dinner all in Ranjani’s family squeezed into the hut in order to get some sleep. At around 11 in the night they heard as to something is passing by their house. Minutes later the left wall, the one which here mother was sleeping close to collapsed and a wild elephant crashed into the hut. Her feeble mother who was sleeping close by couldn’t even get up and run, before that the wild elephant put its paw and crushed her to death.

"It was a horrific experience to see such a wild animal inside our house. We didn’t even have time to help my mother, she was close to the wall the elephant crushed her in front of our eyes” said Ranjani with a tear in her eye.

At this moment everyone else in the house started to scream and managed to scare the elephant away. However it was too late for Ranjani’s mother, who was killed on the spot by the wild elephant. Two of her children were also severely injured when the wall fell over them.

Wild elephant attacks

With the reduction of their habitats elephant populations have broken up and some herds have got pocketed in small patches of jungle. With their movement restricted, especially when food and water resources are depleted, elephants wander into new cultivated areas, which were their former habitat, in search of food. Elephants find ready source of food in these cultivated areas, but wild elephants are unwelcome neighbors in agricultural areas.

This has often been viewed as the crux of the human-elephant conflict. Since 1950, a minimum of 4,200 elephants have perished in the wild as a direct result of the conflict between man and elephant in Sri Lanka. The conflict has escalated in the recent past. During the last twelve years alone, a total of 1,464 elephants were killed, with 672 humans being killed by elephants. (Data from Department of Wildlife Conservation)

In Nugelanda and in the 39th Colony around 13 people were killed the most recent have been a 17 year old boy who went to the market to buy fish. On his way home he met with a wild elephant that has smashed him on the road. He was hospitalized with severe injuries and later succumbed to them.

Nugelanda village has recently suffered an increase in elephant attacks, particularly during harvest time. Rice paddy is stored in houses before being sold. Elephants are attracted to the smell, and destroy everything that gets in their

Red Cross action

Currently the Ampara branch of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society has already begun helping these people to combat this treat of wild elephants. As an immediate measure due to the influx of threat of these wild beasts, they have begun to distribute a high powerful torches which has been the only effective solution in order to chase away the elephants.

“We are in the process of putting a more effective plan to work in these areas. Of course funding has been an issue. What we suggest is empowering the villages by giving them torch lights and also helping them to come up with a risk reduction plan by helping them to build store rooms so that the wild elephants will not break into the houses” says Nilanka Dissanayake, the Disaster Risk Reduction Programme Manager of Sri Lanka Red Cross Society’s Ampara branch.

Further on he said that the branch is also in conversation with the Wild Life Authority about an electric fence covering an area of 7km covering two villages, the Nugelanda village and the 39th Colony

The Ampara branch of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society has started to distribute a powerful torch which has proved the only effective way to chase away the elephants.

The Branch Executive Officer of the Ampara SLRCS branch Prashantha Udaya Kumara says “We know that there is much to do. Step by step we are helping these people to combat this crisis. We do have several obstacles to overcome, like finding proper funding for a task like this. However we will do the needful to help these vulnerable people”

Meanwhile the branch has also completed a disaster preparedness plan with the aid from German Red Cross covering 6 areas of the district looking into various disasters like flooding, drought, wild elephant attacks and ramifications of global warming.

Wild elephants enjoy the space  and food to graze, well away from people. Your donations can help give elephants a better life, and help protect people who are regularly killed by elephant attacks.  

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Red Cross continues care after second explosion at Pike River

Red Cross response teams will continue to support the West Coast community after a second explosion in the Mine on Wednesday dashed hopes of rescuing the miners who had been trapped underground since 19 November. (REUTERS/Tim Wimborne/courtesy

I was really proud to be part of the Red Cross when I read about the work of the New Zealand Red Cross who are supporting the west Coast mining tragedy.

The New Zealand Red Cross flag flew at halfmast today as the country mourned the loss of 29 miners who are now believed to have died in the Pike River Mine disaster in New Zealand’s South Island.

Red Cross response teams will continue to support the West Coast community after a second explosion in the Mine on Wednesday dashed hopes of rescuing the miners who had been trapped underground since 19 November.

The Miners went missing when a gas explosion tore through the mine. After the first explosion, Red Cross teams, working alongside other agencies, set up a welfare centre at the New Zealand Red Cross training centre in Tainui Street, Greymouth, and established a catering caravan at the Pike River mine site.

The welfare centre has been the first point of contact for people to register as they arrive into town and a meeting place for families. Volunteers are on hand day and night to offer meals, a place to stay and referrals to other agencies. The centre will stay open over the weekend as relatives and community members continue to arrive. Its operation will be reassessed after the weekend.

Meanwhile, Red Cross volunteers are still catering at the Red Cross caravan at the mine, serving meals, snacks and drinks to constantly revolving teams of emergency personnel. This will continue as long as needed.

Trained, skilled Red Cross volunteers from West Coast towns Greymouth and Hokitika have been backed up by colleagues from Christchurch and Marlborough to care for people affected by the incident.

At this stage, New Zealand Red Cross is not launching an appeal to raise funds for the families of Pike River miners. We are aware of other agencies launching appeals.

New Zealand Red Cross Chief Executive John Ware says, "Wednesday's news is the worst possible outcome for the miners' families and their communities. Red Cross staff and volunteers will do our best to support them. Our thoughts are with them today."

Red Cross response teams will continue to support the West Coast community after a second explosion in the Mine on Wednesday dashed hopes of rescuing the miners who had been trapped underground since 19 November.

Well done New Zealand Red Cross. My sympathy and prayers go out to all families and friends of the minersaffected

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Mining tragedy at Pike River, New Zealand

SEVENTEEN (In memory of Joseph Ray Dunbar and all those who died in the Pike River Mine, New Zealand.)

Joseph Ray Dunbar was just seventeen.

One week ago - turned seventeen.

No doubt had a few drinks out

with his mates.

He'd been through a rough patch, someone said.

Who doesn't ??!

A boy from the Coast,even-eyed.

But he's gotten a job now.

New boots.

The making of him, someone said.

You get a lot of respect with a job.

Couldn't wait !

Probably had his lunch packed.

The unlined face, the big smile.

Probably had a way with the girls.

The local girls.

Couldn't wait !

The local girls are wearing black.

Mothers and sons and husbands too.

He probably ran the last hundred yards....

Joseph Ray Dunbar.

Climbed aboard and headed on down.

A smile and a wave and a joke amongst men.

The biggest day of Joseph's life.

You caught the train, Joseph.

You took the train too soon.

You caught the train before your time.

(If you want to hear Gary McCormack reciting the poem live, click here:

Photo above: The day after hope was extinguished for the Pike River miners, flowers sit at the memorial for all West Coast miners that have lost their lives at the site of the Burnner disaster on the outskirts of Greymouth.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Himachal Pradesh and the Punjab

I am in Delhi now and think back to the wonderful time I had in Himachal Pradesh and the Punjab some days back..

Mountains, rivers, food, people, bird-life, bustling villages and towns and peaceful temples are all vivid memories. I especially enjoyed exploring a few of the mountain streams and rivers and looking at the ice carved and water worn rocks that have been shaped over millions of years. See photo below.

The event that marred the start of the visit was when I got the news last Sunday, that my boss and friend, Alistiar Henley, died of a heart-attack while our walking in the hills near Kuala Lumpur. Alistair was Director of the Asia and Pacific region for the Red Cross (IFRC), but as i wrote in an earlier post, A Tribute to Alistair Henley, I was able farewell him in a fitting manner.

Anuj Bahri and I did quite a lot of walking in the foothills of the Dhaula Dar and visited Dharamsala and McLeodganj, the home of the Dalai Lama and many Tibetans in exile.


My travelling companion Anuj Bahri outside the money changer in Mcleeodganf. Photo: Bob McKerrow

As we left Dharmsala for Delhi, we witnessed a marvellous sunset. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Rather than return the usual route through Una, Anandpur and Ropar to Umbella, we took the route into heartland Punjab via Jullunder and Ludhiana and then onto Umbella.

The vegetarian Thali in my favourite food when dining in the Punjab. The taste and variety is so moorish. Photo: Bob McKerrow
We stopped at a roadside  Havelli near Ludhiana and found this rather impressive Sikh inviting us in. Photo:

Punjabi brassware: Photo Bob McKerrow

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Friends in the Himalaya

Mitul, Rikhi and Dharninder Ram Rana. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I feel I am becoming part of the fabric of the Sidhbari. The hiill people of higher Himachal, are hospitalable but it takes time to be accepted.

Sitting on a warm rock with Anuj today, our feet in an icy river draining the Himalayan glaciers, I begann to realise how my friendship with Rikhi Ram Rana and his family has grown. . When we arrived in Sidhbari, after a long trip from Delhi, the night before, we first called on Rikhi Ram. We were warmly embraced by Rikhi and his two sons Dharninder and Mitul. In the typical gesture of welcome and respect, they touched out feet, and then brought tea and snacks. Then they soaked, washed. massaged our feet in hot water

Rikhi, (left) at 78, still averages 15 kms a day, tending his 12 acre plot of land, grazing the cows and walking to see friends or on basic business matters. Last night he walked about 8 km with Dharminder across narrow dirts tracks in the dark to join us for dinner, and a tot or two of the hard stuff, before retracing his steps home. For a man who knows the mountains of Bhutan, India, Sikkim and Pakistan, accumulated during his years in the Indian Army intelligence service, Rikhi is a living legend. I feel privliged to be called my friend

A glacier in the central Dhaular Dar one of the many places that Rikhi and I have visited. In 2008 we visited the remote Chamba and Parvati valleys.
The view of the Dhaula Dar not far from Anuj's house. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Our journey commenced from Delhi on Sunday at 6.45 am and we travelled through many historic places such as Panipat, Umbella (Ambella) Chandigarh, Anandpur Shaihab, Una and Kangra. We got snarled up in heavy traffic around Una and then entering Himachal we struck deteriorating roads.   A 13 hour journey.  During the journey we crossed many of the mighty rivers from which the Punjab got its name, Punj (panch) Ab (water), meaning the five rivers.

Anuj and I are close friends, and enjoy our pilgrimages into the hills and mountains every years or so. This is our sixth trip since we got to know each other in 2001, when we met in his bookshop, Bahrisons, in Khan market in Delhi. Anuj is the city slicker, businessman, successful international publisher, owner of three large bookshops in Delhi, and litrary critc. In 2000 when he felt the pressure of life in the fast lane in Delhi, he started building a house  (photo left)in one of the then remotest parts of the Himalaya, within a 15 hour drive from Delhi .He found a site in Sidhbari, nestled in the middle of a hill village in the foothills of the mighty Dhaula Dar range, an outlyer of the main Himalaya. So with friends like Rikhi and his family, and Anuj, I know this journey will be another classic.

From here over a period of almost ten years, I have used Sidhbari as a base for treks,, exploration and a traquil place for writing. With Dharamsala and Mcleodganj, the home of the Dalai Lama only30 minutes away by car and the famous Norbulinka Buddhist Institute and the Chinmaya Hindu instiute within walking distance, I have got to understand these two ancient philosophies/religions better.

As I type on the grass in from of the house, my foot is a matter of inches away from the skin that a snake has recently shed. Snow leopards, mountain goats and bears roam the hills, and birds of every description visit our garden every day.


A tribute to Alistair Henley - Red Cross leader

Alistair Henley right, with Jerry Talbot left. Photo: Jason Smith
On Sunday afternoon I was driving with my good friend Anuj Bahri, up to his house in the foothills of the Himalaya, for a few days break, when Alan Bradbury broke the news to me that Alistair Henley had  passed away while out walking in the hills with friends. The sadness gnawed away at me most of the night as I thought about his works, and the grief and pain his family must be feeling.

Early Monday morning Anuj and I set off on our favourite walk, along a track which meanders through fields for two miles before the steep climb starts up the Himalayan foothills. Women were washing clothes on a rock slab at the side of the stream, straw-yellow haystacks dotted the fallow fields, and men tended the animals. .

We stopped at the historic temple from which Sidbhari gets its name.

While Anuj did his Puja, I offered a prayer to Alistair Henley, asking that he will find rest and peace, and that his family will be cared for by those who love and respect them

After saying a prayer for his departed soul, I sat down on a stone seat and thought of Debbie and the children, and how emphemeral human life is. I thought of the delightful evening I had with Alistair, Deborah and Jerry Talbot a few months ago, where there was lots of laughter, friendly banter and many reflections over a few glasses of red wine.We spoke of the three of us moving into the dinasaur catergory.

Quietly, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a butterly, landing on a flower.
The butterfy seemed so free and was moving its wings, showing a rare beauty. Was it coincidence that in a Hindu temple in the Himalaya after saying a prayer for Alistair, a butterfly alighted next to me ? I photographed the butterfly and soon it flew gently away towards the high Himalaya. Alistair, I know your next journey will be one where, like the butterfly, you will gently soar higher, with freedom. and release.
I walked some miles further up a small path into the Himalaya and found a dry rock and sat down and gazed at the river flowing from high glaciers. I looked up, and these lines came to me.
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh even from the Lord: who hath made Heaven and earth.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: and he that keepeth thee will not sleep.

Others will write of your deeds Alistair, which many of us know so well and were proud to be part of, but my thoughts are with you on the next journey. I know it will be higher than the Himalaya !

Friday, 12 November 2010

Dispatches from Delhi

I arrived in Delhi yesterday. The colour, the smells, the bustle, the people - a mega city busting at the seams – welcomed me back. Delhi, Saigon and Bangkok are my favourite asian cities.

Khan market  pictured above) and C Block market in Vasant Vihar ius where i did most of my shopping today. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The government buildings near Rastrapathi Bhavan. Photo: Bob McKerrow

It is almost three years since I was here. Elections, Commonwealth Games, the Bombay terrorism and probably another 5000 books in the English language have gone to print during my absence..
I had a most productive yet relaxing morning in Delhi.

First I went to C Block Market in Vasant Vihar as i need a different plug on my computer power supply. Murli, who used to do a lot of work for me when I lived in Delhi, replaces the plug. It cost me US 1 for the plug and workmanship. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Next I got a rickshaw to Khan market where I visited my good friend Anuj Bahri, who is travelling with me to Himachal Pradesh tomorrow. Anuj is a bookseller, publisher and book agent. A very talented and creative man who can talk books and publishing all day, when he has time. I learn so much from this old friend.

The booksell/publishers shop in Khan market. Photo: Bob McKerrow


Anuj Bahri hard at work. Mobile in one hand talking, laying out a book on computer screen and keeping an eye on the shop from his private perch.

Shortly after i arrived today, two journalists from Bangkok were interviewing Anuj about the book trade In India (photo below).

What is it that grabs me about Delhi ? It was my home for six years, and my last son Mahdi was born here. I published two books in Delhi and ran various Red Cross operation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, India, Sri lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives for six years. Delhi drips with history from Alexander the Great, Timur, Chenghis Khan, Asok, Babur, Akbar and of course, more recently, the British.


It was here I met Indira Gandhi in 1975, and her daughter-in-law Sonia in 2005. Sonia on the left, and a clean-shaven Bob on the right. Look at her amazing book collection in the background.  Photo: Simon Missiri

Another joy is taking in the contrasting styles of architecture from the old Moghul style to Lutyen;s modern New Delhi. Deldi has lost none of its charm, character, colours and smells. The Commonwealth Games has brought a fantastic metro system, new fly overs, improved roads and superb sporting facilities. So I am looking forward to an afternoon of architecure and gardens, and hopefully checking how NZ is going against IIndia in the 2nd cricket test.

A canon outside Rastrapathi Bhawan. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Monday, 8 November 2010

Unknown New Zealand photographer - Joseph Divis

‘Crib time’ in a mine drive in 1934, where the sandwiches were washed down with tea, pre-heated by hanging the enamel flask over a candle on one of the roof supports. How Divis managed to get to the back of the group before the shutter timer went off is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps he set everything up, then entrusted the job of tripping the shutter to somebody else.

From left: Tom Flaherty, unknown, unknown, Bill Houghton, Joseph Divis, Bill (Coolibah) Hynes, Ernie Wallenberg, Jim Pascoe.

In the early 1990's while working for the Department of Conservation in Hokitika, New Zealand, I visited the gold-mining ghost town of Waiuta a number of times. As manager of advocacy and historic resources I had an archaelogist, and two historians working for me and they were experts on Waiuta. My boss Bruce Watson also had a great love for Waiuta's colourful past, and another of my team, Ian Davidson was an actor, and when school groups or tourists visited Waiuta, he could play many of the old goldmining characters of the past. Therefore it was with great joy yesterday I received a book from the author Simon Nathan called through the eyes of a miner.

I couldn't put the book down and looked at every photo, and read every word.

Joseph Divis in his characteristic safari suit, with the Blackwater mine poppet head and the prominent mullock (waste) heap in the centre. Its surface had been levelled to provide a bowling green. As with so many of his photographs, Divis was up before anybody else to catch the clear early morning light.

Today Waiuta is a remote West Coast ghost town, at the end of a winding road up the Blackwater River, south of Reefton. But from 1906 to 1951 it was the company town for the South Island's largest gold mine, exploiting one of the most regular and persistent gold reefs found anywhere in the world. More than 600 people lived there in its heyday, when the town had its own pub, shops, community facilities and sports clubs.

One of the locals was Joseph Divis (1885-1967), who was born near Prague (now in the Czech Republic) and migrated to New Zealand in 1909. He worked as a miner, and spent much of his adult life at Waiuta. An experienced photographer, Divis used a shutter time-release and often darted out from behind the camera to appear in his own shots. Photographs taken in the mine show him wearing working clothes, but above ground he was almost always dressed in a distinctive safari suit. His carefully composed glass negatives provide a fascinating record of the mine, the town and its people in the 1920s and 1930s.
Banked-up fires in the hotel at left and the mine in the distance are about the only signs of life in this early morning photograph. Although Waiuta had been established for 20 years when this picture was taken, it still had the look of a frontier settlement constructed of wood and corrugated iron.

Simon Nathan is an old friend of mine who helped proof read my book on another West Coaster of foreign origin, Ebenezer Teichelmann. Simon Nathan has collated an album of Divis’s works in Through The Eyes Of A Miner: The Photography Of Joseph Divis (Steele Roberts, NZ$40), which also doubles as a biography of this immigrant photographer.

Arriving in New Zealand in 1909, Divis immediately headed for Blackball on the West Coast and started working in the mines there and taking photos. A couple of years later he moved to Waiutu, a once thriving mining town now abandoned. Divis recorded the places, the people, and the production equipment until he apparently suddenly ceased photographing in the mid-1930s.

Divis was not, it seems, interested in photography as a fine art. Many of his contemporaries, most notably George Chance, were in thrall to the Pictorialists and one would imagine Divis must have been aware of their work. What Divis was, was a documentary photographer, although the term wasn’t used in relation to photography/film practice until the late-1920s. He concentrated his camera on the utilitarian, the vernacular, and the every day. We see landscapes, architecture, and primarily portraiture. The images are formally constructed, with the portrait work in particular being very formal; the staid poses no doubt due to his use of the glass plate negative, even long after more practical technology existed.

Divis is an odd man of mystery. There is very little biographical information about him, as Nathan’s text makes clear, yet one of the fascinating aspects of his photography (or at least of this collection) is that he is in many of them. They are essentially self-portraits, a visual diary even, an autobiography for the semi-literate. As his photography suggests a need to record his own life I find the fact that there are no existing journals or other writings somewhat curious. I find Divis to be one of Service's 'The breed of men who don't fit in'. Somehow I found some of his photographs haunting as those lively people of the past slowly, but steadily left this thriving gold town, leaving Divis alone. He sounds at times a very lonely man, and a sad figure who had a lot of bad luck. Divis was naturalised in 1936. On his application he recorded, evidently with some satisfaction, that:

I own my own house at Waiuta, it is a four roomed wooden cottage. I am a shareholder in a gold mining enterprise on the West Coast and I am in comfortable circumstances financially.

In March 1939 Divis suffered head injuries in an accident at the Blackwater mine, and spent a considerable period in Reefton hospital. After some time convalescing in a Hanmer sanatorium, in 1940 he was interned as an enemy alien on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour. The reasons for his internment are unclear, as it is hard to see what threat he posed: he had a blameless record, was a naturalised British subject, had not been interned during the First World War, and had still not fully recovered from his head injuries. He was released in 1943 and returned to Waiuta.

Most gripping, however, are his studies of his fellow miners. They are pictured above ground, waiting for the next shift, and below ground, creeping into crannies with their candles, to hunker down by boxes of dynamite, and enjoy a mug of tea. Through Divis, you participate in their social activities, too -- parties, school concerts, weddings, even the occasional hangi.

Joe Divis outside his Waiuta house

I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in West Coast history, gold mining and the way of life that was. And thanks to Simon Nathan for sending me a copy.

Thanks to a few websites that I borrowed some facts from.

Friday, 5 November 2010

"I stayed on the loo all night." Fifty-five years ago playing against India in India was difficult !

I was introduced to cricket at  Mornington Primary School in Dunedin, New Zealand when I was about 7 years of age by Alex Moir, who was a member of that marathon New Zealand cricket tour of India, in 1955-56.. Another member of that team, Bert Sutcliffe was a neighbour.. Then there was Noel McGregor and Jack Alabaster who I watched play regularly at Carisbrook, a short walk from my home. These four Otago cricketers were members of the New Zealand cricket team to tour Pakistan and India in 1955-56 which was not only the first tour of India by a New Zealand tea, but arguably the toughest ever.
Today I have been watching the NZ cricket team playing in India, and they are doing very well. The 1955-56 team  played 16 arduous matches over many months and that tour became legent in the annals of NZ cricket.

Alex Moir was happy to talk cricket to us at lunchtimes at school shortly after his return from the cricket tour of India and he regailed us with tales of Maharajas, elephants and poverty.  He also spoke of the warm hospitality, the gentlemanly approach to cricket. the heat and strange food, which proved a handicap to several of the players who suffered from stomach trouble, dengue fever and other illnesses.

It was New Zealand's first trip to the sub-continent and fast bowler Tony MacGibbon found it especially hard as Indian and Pakistan pitches did little to encourage his bowling. He wasn't helped by treatment for a stomach illness that was completely the opposite of what he needed. "It was very difficult for us. They were doing their best for us and were extremely hospitable."

But the food preparation, particularly when out of the main centres was the problem and all the New Zealanders struggled at various times. "At one stage I went to sleep with a couple of pillows behind me while I stayed on the loo all night," said MacGibbon.

By the time the tour finished and he had picked up 14 wickets in eight Test matches, at an average of 58, he learned he had dengue fever. "In the second innings of the last Test I had felt not quite right and had a splitting headache while I was batting. I was then picked to play against Combined Universities at Nagpur and was sitting beside John Reid waiting to bat. I remember saying to him, 'God, it's got cold.' And he looked at me and said it was 93 degrees," recalled MacGibbon.

Gary Sutcliffe used to play cricket with me at our local park, and occasionally, his Dad, Bert Sutcliffe would join us for a few hits.

My neighbour Sutcliffe, the left-hander, after a comparatively disappointing time in Pakistan, ran into excellent form in India, particularly in the Tests, and his 230 not out at New Delhi constituted an individual record for New Zealand (photo right).When I lived in Delhi between 2000 and 2006 I was frequently reminded that Bert Sutcliffe still held the world record for the highest score in a test match in New Delhi. Well done Bert !

Matches--Played 16, Won 3, Lost 6, Drawn 7

So as the New Zealand cricket team play in excellent conditions, live in fine accomodation, and eat specially prepared food, think of those pioneering NZ cricketers who did NZ proud in 1955-56 in our country's first ever tour of India.
As much as I salute Bert Sutcliffe, John Reid and the rest of the 1955 team, I salute the wonderful play today, 6 November 2010, Jesse Ryder, playing his first Test in 14 months, and Kane Williamson, playing his first Test, batted with the assurance of gnarled pros of the old era to help New Zealand clamber out of trouble to a position where they have an outside chance of a first-innings lead. The prospect of New Zealand being asked to bat again had loomed large at lunch, after they lost both Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor in the space of six runs when they were less than halfway to the follow-on mark.

Thank you Alex Moir for introducing me to cricket, and to Bert Sutcliffe, Noel McGregor and Jack Alabaster for inspiring me to play and follow this noble game.

And thank you Jesse Ryder,( pictured above) Kane Williamson, Brendan McCallum and Ross Taylor, for showing me that Kiwis of today, can stand tall and play cricket as hard as ever, against India.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Freda du Faur - 100 year celebration.

On 3 December 1910 a woman stood on top of Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain. Freda Du Faur felt “…very little,” and “…very alone,” after climbing to the summit of New Zealand’s highest mountain.

She wrote: 'I was the first unmarried woman to climb in New Zealand, and in consequence I received all the hard knocks until one day when I awoke more or less famous in the mountaineering world, after which I could and did do exactly as seemed to me best.'

That was a hundred years ago today. Let's clebrate this wonderful feat.

During a 15 year period while researching and writing the book I eventually published on Ebenezer Teiuchelmann, who was a climbing contemporary of Freda du Faur, I  interviewed countless people who knew Peter and Alec Graham, and others who has heard second hand from Darby Thomson, who all climbed with Freda de Faur. I also came across many notes, snippets and photos of Freda du Faur, and my respect grew for her courage and ability. Although I have no written evidence of Dr. Teichelmann opinions of her, those who knew Teichelmann and the Graham brothers well,  believed he would have been one of the few male climbers who would have supported her whole-heartedly. They did meet twice, but more on that later.Here is one of his classic photographs of Aoraki Mount Cook taken in 1905.

Aoraki Mount Cook taken by Ebenezer Teichelmann in 1905 from around Glacier Dome. The East ridge on the left, East Face in the centre and Zurbriggen's ridge at the immediate right of the east face.

Emmeline Freda Du Faur was born 16 September 1882 in Sydney Australia, but lived and grew up 25 kilometres north near the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Much of her youth was spent exploring the diverse terrain of the park, ranging from wetlands to sand stone cliffs, a perfect introduction to the world of rock climbing.

Upon completing her education at Sydney Church of England Grammar School for Girls Freda started training as a nurse. This did not work out and there is some suggestion that she was suffering from bi polar disorder.

Freda spent the next few years traveling and in 1906 made her first visit to New Zealand’s South Island to gaze upon Mount Cook. Photos of the mountains inspired her to go and see it for herself. She stayed at the Hermitage Lodge with its views of snow-covered peaks.

On her second visit to Hermitage in 1908 she met local guide Peter Graham. Under his influence and guidance she progressed from youthful rock climbing to full fledged mountain climbing. By this time she had already decided that she was going to climb all of the major peaks of the Southern Alps of the South Island.

Freda first ascended Mount Sealy within the Southern Alps on 19 December 1909. At the Hermitage, she fell afoul of other women, who insisted she should not spend a night alone with a guide, not even Peter Graham. It is unknown whether Freda was aware of her attraction to other women at this point, and how she privately responded to these concerns about morality. Unfortunately for Du Faur, the designated chaperon proved to be an encumberance. Her well-learnt ropework expertise saved his life when he slipped.

Given the rigour of the alpine environment, Freda dressed practically. She wore a skirt to just below the knee over knickerbockers and long puttees while she climbed. Du Faur wore it on all her subsequent mountaineering expeditions. She contradicted gender expectations after some of her major climbs. Her femininity disconcerted male critics and upset stereotypes about female athletes. She was a practical woman, however, and felt sunburn, dirt and discomfort were minimal discomforts when it came to the excitement of climbing.

Freda Du Faur proved to be a trendsetter in her chosen vocation, not only for similarly motivated women, but for other guided climbers of the Edwardian era. She was celebrated for her rock-climbing expertise, perseverance, and athleticism. Muriel Cadogan trained her for three months at the Dupain Institute of Physical Education in Sydney, before she travelled to New Zealand in November 1910.

The south face of Aoraki Mount Cook. Photo: Ebenezer Teichelmann. Taken 1905.

Mount Cook: December 1910

For 40 years from the mid-1890s alpine climbing was dominated by professional guides. Alec (left) was based at Franz Josef Glacier and Peter (right) became chief guide at the Hermitage in 1906. Guides like the Grahams would take clients on expeditions through the central Southern Alps. The Australian Freda Du Faur (centre) was often guided by the Grahams. Alec and Peter were with her when she became the first woman to climb Aoraki/Mt Cook in 1910. Peter also guided her on the first traverse of Aoraki/Mt Cook’s three peaks in 1913.

Freda's rigorous preparation for the coming onslaught enabled her to climb Mount Cook soon after her arrival in New Zealand. On 3 December 1910, Peter and Alexander (Alec) Graham accompanied her to the summit. Her expedition was the first female ascent of the mountain, as well as the fastest to that date. She shared her tent with the guides. After this expedition, chaperonage, dress, and convention proved to be irrelevant to her enjoyment of mountaineering.

Over four climbing seasons she made many first ascents and notable climbs. Her feats included the second ascent of Mount Tasman, the first ascent of Mount Dampier and the first traverse of Mount Sefton as well as other 3000 m peaks. She made the first Grand Traverse of all three peaks of Mount Cook on 3 January 1913 with Peter Graham and David (Darby) Thomson.

She had great plans to climb other regions around the world including Canada, the Himalayas and the Alps. With Muriel she travelled to England in preparation, but World War 1 intervened. All her plans were set aside and Freda never climbed again.

Freda wrote her book The Conquest of Mount Cook while in London and it was published in 1915. In 1929 Muriel had a breakdown and her family came to take her home leaving Freda alone in England. Unfortunately, Muriel never reached Australia, dying at sea.
Freda returned to Sydney where she spent her time traipsing the nearby bushland. On 11 September 1935 Freda took her own life and was buried in an unmarked grave at Manly. It was not until 2006 that a proper headstone was erected commemorating her achievements.
Lendenfeld (l) Tasman (c) Mt. Cook Aoraki and dampier (l), all peaks climbed by Freda du Faur. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Earlier on in this article I spoke of my knowledge of the Freda du Faur era through my research on Ebenezer who climbed from 1897 to.1924. In her book The conquest of Mount Cook and other climbs : an account of four seasons’ mountaineering on the Southern Alps of New Zealand she refers to Dr. Teichelmann six times on pages., 21, 22, 80, 82, 137, 167 .

On page 81 she describes her first meeting with Teichelmann in 1910 at today's Franz Josef township, then Waiho. (photo left) "We strolled over to Batson's about 6.30, and there found Dr. Teichelmann, a well-known West Coast climber, and Mr. Linden, of Geelong. They had both been waiting page 81some days for a chance of crossing over Graham's Saddle to the Hermitage. They were starting the following morning under the guidance of Alex Graham for a bivouac up the Franz Josef. We decided to spend at least two days at Waiho Gorge and explore the glacier, and then, weather permitting, follow the others across Graham's Saddle."

On page 82 "The next day, Sunday, was wet, page 82and we amused ourselves as best we could; I sent most of the morning in the swimming hole. Just as we were finishing dinner there came a sound of heavy boots and weary voices in the passage. It was Dr. Teichelmann and Mr. Linden, who had been driven back from their bivouac for the third time that week by bad weather. The doctor was unfortunate enough to have a toe slightly frostbitten, so retired to his room and was not visible that night. Their account of the days spent in the bivouac so diminished our desire to do the Graham's Saddle trip that we decided to return as we had come, endeavouring to piece in the missing bits of the view, and, weather permitting, spend a few hours on the Fox Glacier."

On page 167 "We got some splendid photographs; Alex taking a special one of the great rock slabs of La Perouse for Dr. Teichelmann. I also got a beauty of the ridge between the three peaks of Mount Cook, our situation being the best possible view-point from which to study it. Then deciding that we would have to leave Mount Ruareka for another day, until it had put off its mantle of snow and ice, we made all speed for home. We managed some splendid standing glissades, the tracks of which were seen by Peter and his party, who crossed over the Ball Pass a few hours later. They concluded we had succeeded in gaining our peak."

Like the meeting of the founder of Red Cross, Henri Dunant, and Florence Nigthengale in Paris, we have very little information. As a biographer of Teichelmann,  I would love to know what they talked about when they met at least twice, , what they thought of each other, and did they have anything in common.

Let's join together and celebrate the wonderful achievement of Freda du Faur.

I just wish I could be back in New Zealand to celebrate this significant event for women's mountaineering, and mountaineering at large. What a programme is lined up at Mount Cook: The New Zealand Alpine Club, in conjunction with a small core of dedicated volunteers, is organising a day of celebration at Aoraki Mt Cook.

Freda Du Faur Centenary

A Celebration of the First Ascent of Aoraki/Mt Cook by a Woman

Aoraki Mt Cook Village - Saturday 4th December, 2010

2.00pm - 5.00pm: Forum and Afternoon Tea

Sir Edmund Hilary Alpine Centre, The Hermitage

Guest speakers:

•Sally Irwin: "The Inconvenience of Being a Woman"
•Margaret Clark: "Women in Mountaineering in the 1960s and 70s"
•Afternoon tea
•Short topics: "Women in New Zealand Guiding", "Getting Started", "Kiwi Women on the World Stage."
•Open discussion
Tickets cost: $20.00

6.45pm: Drinks and Buffet Dinner

The Old Mountaineers Café Bar and Restaurant

Guest Speaker: Lydia Bradey

Tickets cost: $60.00