Hard News by Russell Brown

Three statements

I'll forgo the hurly-burly and the link-o-rama today in favour of three personal statements from three very different individuals.

The first is a friend of a friend who took a Discount Taxi in Auckland on Saturday. She says:

I asked the driver if he would mind if I asked him about Iraena Asher and he said no. I assured him I am a supporter of his company

I asked if he had received negative feedback from customers, he said not really. I asked if he had been briefed by Discount re what had happened, how to respond to questions. he said no, he had not been told anything.

He told me that the young boy who answered the call was the son or grandson of a woman at the company and that she was in the bathroom

I asked him if he had ever been asked to carry out a task by police, he said yes, that in 6 months on the job this had happened 5 or 6 times.

He said he had mainly been pulled over and asked to take home a person in police custody. Each time he was told to contact police the next day for reimbursement but that he never received any despite calling each time. He said it was always too difficult to track down particular officers and he was never called back.

He said he felt nervous about taking these people in his car as he knew they would not pay. He asked an officer once what the person in custody had done and they told him: "We just picked him up for assaulting a taxi driver."

I suggested he refuse the officers' request next time and he said he had tried that and that the officers had replied by asking to see his log books and scrutinising them.

That's about it

I have had some sympathy with police over the Iraena Asher case. On that night in Piha she seems to have presented a confusing and inconsistent picture to people who encountered her in person. It follows that she might have done the same thing to the police call-takers. (And to be frank, I'm not very happy with Discount Taxis myself at the moment: a Discount driver backed into our car outside our house on Saturday night, causing $1000 worth of damage, and the mobile number he gave me is unassigned. I contacted the company, quoting the cab number and time and place of pickup and no one has got back to me. This is very poor, and I will be pursuing the matter.)

And yet what's said above does indicate that we need to know more about the way police use commercial taxi services to mop up work. There are obviously times when sending someone home in a taxi is a sensible use of limited police resources. I have no problem with that. But if drivers routinely go unpaid, if they are intimidated by police officers, or if they are put in personal danger, then something is wrong.

The next statement is from Kari Boye Young, who initially contacted me to complain about a Listener column I wrote on media preparations for the Pitcairn trials. She is married to Brian Young, brother of defendant Terry Young, and they live in New Zealand but own a house on Pitcairn. She felt that I had uncritically accepted what the British High Commissioner's press office, Bryan Nicholson, had said: this was typical she said of media "who never check with 'the other side' whether it is correct or not."

I couldn't do much with what she said at the time, but I subsequently contacted her, before the trial verdicts, to ask her what she made of the media coverage. She said:

ALL of us feel that only the governor's side has got the attention in the media, especially now during the trial. Marks' reports in the Herald are so drippingly negative, anyone would wonder why people would want to live in such a place. Yet Pitcairn WAS a paradise, even for those girls who now all of a sudden claim their life was hell. They certainly seemed to enjoy life, though, the free life style, the free sex, the attention they got on ships and yachts. Sex was something everybody talked about, it was not a taboo subject, children were witnesses to sex, understood sex, and they played mummies and daddies long before their teens.

That is not to say that the underage sex was OK, it should have been stopped, and the British were responsible for ignoring the culture and the repeated appeals for help and guidance from the island and from visitors who were concerned ever since the 30's. But the men were just as much victims of circumstances as the girls, they honestly did not know any better, their fathers and neighbours and elders were no role models. In spite of short visits to NZ, they moved in Pitcairn circles abroad and returned to the island and the culture.

All Pitcairners have been upset over the charges and the women's stories. It certainly doesn't gel with they way those girls/women lived while on Pitcairn. They were very much aware of their sexuality, they chased both men and boys, and they discussed among themselves the next one they wanted to go in the bush with. I know, I was there with plenty of them. Of course it should not have been like that, but there was no authority to stop it, no one to turn to with complaints, and the situation was just perpetuated.

The woman today who claimed she was kept in her home like a slave, beaten and mistreated, has upset everyone. She probably felt the "jandal" some times, that was the common way of punishment, most homes had the "jandal" handy. And all young girls were expected to do chores in the home, they had to, everybody had to, for there was so much to do to keep a home going - firewood gathering, feeding chicken, fishing, weeding gardens, sweeping the floors, lighting fires for hot water, doing laundry etc etc., my own daughter learnt that way, too, but she did not complain.

Yet this woman's chores and parental punishment is hung out in the Herald as if she was mistreated and abused, and nothing about the sacrifices her parents made for her education in New Zealand, the extra hours they worked on carvings so she could have a dress for church, how they did their best to protect her from too early sex. Only the negative aspects are presented in the media. But of course, we realise that reporters are not idealists, they are not even interested in presenting the "balanced view", they only want the paper to sell, their articles to catch the attention of the reader, to astonish and shock the reader - that is their object and goal.

During the trial I also interviewed George Andrews, a longtime local TV producers, who had come into contact with Pitcairners through his work, and was also unhappy with the way the trials had been depicted and, more particularly, pursued by the British government. He did not deny that terrible things had happened, but, like Gordon McLauchlan, he believed a reconciliation process would have been more appropriate than a criminal trial that would destroy the small community. McLauchlan also noted the apparently highly unusual meetings four years ago between Judge Blackie, who is presiding in Pitcairn, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whose officials rejected a proposal for restorative justice.

I'd feel more comfortable with this line of argument were it not for the creepy dismissiveness (I'm including Kari Boye Young here). McLauchlan draws a very long bow in suggesting that a complainant, having settled in New Zealand "might absorb our culture of victimhood and be persuaded she had been seriously wronged." The allegations here concerned child rape in an environment where there was no escape. Should these women really be denied the right open to any others in the Commonwealth - to tell a judge about it? McLauchlan suggests we were only so fussed because because sex was involved. Tapu Misa offers a thoughtful and ultimately, I think, correct, response to the "victimhood" argument.

And, finally, London-based New Zealander Jonathan Broadbent offered a personal response to the passing of John Peel:

I took my flatmate's ghettoblaster into the bedroom last night, (thinking why the fuck fuck FUCK did I not buy a radio when I got to the UK -stupid iTunes, stupid internet) and lay awake until 12.30 or so. Radio 1 had dumped their programming, and played nothing but Peel tunes all day.

I turned the light off, and just listened. I had an extraordinary, vivid flashback; me at 13, late on Sunday night, with the radio under the covers, listening to The Sex Pistols, Kraftwerk and Joy Division. I managed to hold it together until the Peel Session version of Love Will Tear Us Apart, then I lost it. And I realised that I don't LISTEN to music like I used to.

How much I owe him, for the musical seeds he planted. When I got back to New Zealand in 1979 Radio B was a lot like a John Peel show, and I loved that station so much. Then they got a "format" and well, indie rock is fine, but I could only take so much of it.

John Peel was to blame for my "eclectic" (read-annoying) musical taste, which George FM listeners were "lucky" enough to experience; I even played Pretty Vacant once! God knows what I was thinking. I only got away with it by playing a deep house track next. I think John would have approved.

Today I drove to Bristol, listening to Radio 1 and the DJ's, who all sounded a bit blubbery too. I cheered up when I heard his voice; in an interview he was talking about his life, and he said something like:

"I do what I love, I have a house in the country, I have a gorgeous wife, 4 great kids, I play music for a living. Really, what could I add to my life, to make it any better?"

So, in a way, I felt better about his dying.

I read a tribute somewhere that really struck me:

"We are really in trouble- who is going to play all that music now?" It's selfish, but it's true. WHO IS GOING TO PLAY ALL THAT MUSIC?