July Jubilation

Sunrise 5 July

Today I was up early enough to see this magnificent sunrise.  On recent grey drizzly days I’ve sometimes stayed in bed until after 8am.  Today was different, and despite shepherd’s warning I’m looking forward to a good day.  The forecast is for high cloud and 15 degrees, although my Facebook Memories reminded me that on this date in 2008 snow fell in central Christchurch.

A coloured sunrise makes me think
today I will be in the pink

Early on a Tuesday morning in August 1995 I had a phone call from Rod Donald, Co-Leader of the Green Party.  He had a personal message from Jim Anderton of the Alliance, asking me to stand in the local body elections.  Green honour was at stake as there was only one Green candidate in the whole of Christchurch.  I said I needed to think about it.

Stephen said: “Go for it, you’d be great.”  I consulted the Tarot and came up with the Priestess, indicating pure, exalted, and gracious influence.  Perhaps I should have been standing for the Mayoralty?  The card also signified may be led away by enthusiasm unless careful balance maintained which seemed appropriate.  At the time of the Alliance’s formation I had been outspoken in my opposition and had since withdrawn from party political activity.  Could I ever fit into an Alliance team?

At work, my Task Force Green assistant, a fervent NewLabour supporter had already announced she’d be standing for the community board.  She had a Political Science degree and no electoral experience to dampen her enthusiasm.  I lunched with an old friend who’d also been a Values Party candidate and we agreed my chances of success were very slight.  Later that evening I had another call from Rod to say he’d found another Green women willing to stand in my ward.  Together we could be a green oasis in the central city – an attractive idea.

Next day I had a call from the Alliance campaign co-ordinator asking for a decision that day because there was a photo call for all candidates.  I agreed to the photo ‘just in case’ in return for another day to make up my mind.  My photo was taken by a woman at the Alliance office.  Internally I stereotyped her as a (Social Credit) Democrat and wondered whether she had a Skoda parked outside.  I collected a copy of the manifesto, candidates’ pledge, etc, and hastened off to a crisis meeting at the Women’s Centre.  At midnight I finally had a chance to read the Alliance material, decided I would be happy to associate myself with it, and drafted up a candidate profile before going to bed.

Next day (Thursday) I phoned the Alliance campaign co-ordinator to say I’d stand for the City Council, stressing that my campaign would be very low key.  I also phoned my Board Chairperson to inform him.

On the Friday there was a letter in the Press from a ‘Progressive’ Green suggesting that Greens were frustrated with the Alliance.  I drafted a reply during breakfast and remembered that elections can be fun.  I then raced around organizing my nomination form before heading off for a weekend away.

Sunday I returned home to an answerphone message from Janet McVeagh a dear friend and former Values Party Co-Leader.  She’d been persuaded to stand for an Auckland Community Board for the Alliance and was off to Paris for two weeks with Adam.  I wondered who was Adam?  When I phoned I discovered that Adam was in fact ATOM, a group of 50 New Zealanders going to France to protest against nuclear testing in the Pacific.  Janet would conduct most of her local body campaign from the depths of Europe.

On Monday my candidacy was announced in the Press.  Apparently no-one noticed.

Tuesday the Press published my letter.  A Board member phoned to ask whether I was the author and why I hadn’t informed the previous week’s Board meeting.  I explained that I hadn’t known myself at that stage.  Her husband was also a local body candidate and she was disbelieving.  Two friends phoned to congratulate me on standing.  Unfortunately only one lived in my Ward, but now I was sure of at least five votes.

As I left work on Wednesday I suggested to my assistant that I would see her at that evening’s candidates’ meeting.  She knew nothing about it and my faith in the Alliance’s organizational ability dropped.  The Alliance meeting was full of unknown faces.  I introduced myself to my neighbour who turned out to be my Green Ward-mate who also knew none of the others.  We all sat in rows facing a desk and I wondered why they couldn’t have a circle so we could at least see each other.  The room smelt faintly of paint and unwashed socks.  A man took his place at the desk and started the evening’s business.  He didn’t introduce himself and it was a while before someone addressed him by name so I could identify him from my candidate list.  Two-thirds of the group remained anonymous for the whole evening.  I considered making comments on the process but decided against it.  After all, I was a last minute addition and expecting to be active for only six weeks.  I thought longingly of Values meetings with their lengthy sharing rounds.  The woman next to me fell asleep, and I promised myself I needn’t attend any more Alliance candidates’ meetings.

The following Sunday billboards arrived and one went up on the side of my cottage.  My name had never before been writ so large and kept jumping out at me as I drove around local streets.

1995 election postcard

Next Saturday my mother had a stroke and my campaigning was reduced to the absolute bare minimum.  I spoke at two candidates’ meetings and answered five letters.  At the election I received 1,612 votes (15%) and was the first runner-up in my ward.  I doubted I would have done better if I’d campaigned intensively, and wondered what that proved?

My swansong as a Green candidate was in 1999, when I was Green List candidate number 34.  Seven Green MPs made it into Parliament that time, including Jeanette Fitzsimons who won the electorate seat of Coromandel.

1999 Green List Candidate no. 34

I found Alliance process shoddy
and never quite made local body

Early in 1984 the Onehunga Branch of the Values Party held a selection meeting where I gave a talk about the value of unpaid work, and I was chosen to be the candidate in that year’s General Election (there were no other contenders).

I embarked on a programme to improve my campaigning skills, enrolled in a public speaking course, and took part in a residential weekend workshop on the Structural Analysis of Racism led by Ripeka Evans.  This workshop was an amazing experience.  Ripeka’s facilitation encouraged an experiential way of learning, and at last I truly understood why so many had been willing to risk violence and prison in protests against the Springbok Tour and the protest at Bastion Point.  We had T-shirts printed that said ‘Values – politicians for peace’.   My slogan was Can Onehunga afford to be Ruthless?

My 1984 candidate photo

My preparation programme was thrown into chaos on the Friday night of 14 June when Rob Muldoon announced an early snap election.  I’d been in Whanganui doing an oil stocktake and was on my way to Wellington for a Values Council meeting that weekend.  It was wonderful timing that the Council was together and able to plan emergency campaign strategies.

With a four-week campaign period we needed to quickly recruit as many candidates as possible and it was suggested that my 18-year-old daughter Cathryn might be persuaded to stand in an Auckland electorate.  Being the youngest candidate and a mother-and-daughter team would give us an opportunity for extra publicity.

When I arrived home on the Sunday night, I woke Cathryn, put the suggestion to her, and she was willing.  The next day she visited Jeanette Fitzsimons and was given her blessing to stand in Remuera, which had previously been Jeanette’s electorate.  Cathryn’s had a grandmother in Remuera and a part time job there, which all helped.

We had just four weeks to campaign and I was the co-ordinator for the nine Auckland candidates.  My employer at the time paid my $100 nomination fee and allowed me use of the firm’s photocopier to run off pamphlets.  We held a public meeting at Auckland University and a number of stunts.  Photos of Cathryn and me appeared on the front page of the NZ Herald.  A ‘friend’ phoned to tell me I looked about 100 compared to Cathryn’s youthful portrait.  I did various media interviews in those hectic four weeks.  I can’t now remember how many votes I got, possibly just over 100, but I do remember I could have put a name to most of them.

This photo of me and Cathryn appeared in the Auckland Star 21 June 1984

We celebrated the election (on Bastille Day) with a party at my home where we anxiously awaited the results.  The television showed almost no individual Values results – our numbers were too low to be of public interest, but we celebrated anyway.

It was around this time that I became General Secretary of the Party, continuing to attend Values Council meetings and annual conferences, but a lot of the initial wide enthusiasm had dissipated.

At the end of 1986 Stephen and I moved to Christchurch where Values Party people formed our initial social circle and we enjoyed such events as their traditional Boxing Day Bubbly Breakfast.

For the 1987 election there was no candidate in Christchurch Central where we lived.  I’d recently started a new job and felt it would not be politic to be a political candidate, so Stephen nobly agreed to stand, but only as a ‘paper’ candidate.

Over the next few years Values became even quieter, and in 1990 the remnants morphed into the ‘new’ Green Party.  I stood in Christchurch Central in 1990, with a low-key campaign.  A young woman I worked with was impressed and said my standing meant I must be “strong, tough, and powerful”.  We older activists were smugly pleased when the new party had to prove it was a descendant of Values to be eligible for television advertising.

Green energy went into the campaign for electoral reform, and a referendum in 1993 meant that MMP (Mixed-Member Proportional) was introduced for the 1996 election, giving hope to smaller parties.  Three Green MPs were elected that year as members of the Alliance, and we have had Green MP’s ever since, with eight in the current parliament.

I continued to play a small part in the Christchurch Green movement but as I moved to paid work in the not-for-profit sector, and increased my involvement in Women’s Spirituality I was less interested in party politics.  I didn’t support the formation of the Alliance in 1991 (where the Greens joined with NewLabour, Social Credit, and Mana Motuhake), and this meant I was less inclined to be active.

The Snap Election eighty-four
presented challenges galore


The 1972 emergence of the Values Party was an exciting time for many of us.  At last there was a political party we could believe in with a policy that was just, sustainable, and community-based.  I joined in 1975 and was immediately introduced to a new circle of friends who planned to change the world.

The philosophy, the methods of communication and decision-making, and the love and support for each other were tremendously empowering.  The early Green movement had similarities to the Women’s Spirituality movement, both seeking harmony within the universe.  Our ‘first past the post’ system made the challenge of changing the world as daunting one, but we knew it was worthwhile.

In 1977 I was persuaded to stand for the Onehunga Borough Council.  Among my other attributes we promoted the fact that I was involved with local youth.  I was secretary of the local primary school committee, a Brown Owl, and part of a group that organised holiday programmes for school children.  Somebody with a sense of humour phoned to ask which particular local youth I was involved with!  My employer agreed to have my photo with a ‘Vote for Ruth’ message in the shop window, but after a vandal broke the window this was withdrawn.

1977 Local Body Election Poster

My scrapbook of those years has sadly disappeared but I have a clipping that records I received 921 votes – not enough to be one of the nine successful candidates.  I came 11th out of 20.

In 1978 we were pleased to have a local Values candidate in the General Election and worked hard on her behalf.  In 1981 we had no candidate.  I felt disenfranchised with no-one to vote for and made up my mind that if no one else offered to stand in 1984, I would.

A highlight was the visit to New Zealand of Petra Kelly who was a West German Green M.P.  Auckland Values hosted her at a public meeting at Auckland University.  A welcoming committee at the airport included my younger daughter and her boyfriend both dressed in green clothing with faces painted green.  The vehicle that had been intended to transport Petra and her partner broke down, and I ended up taking them in my Triumph Herald.  My two green teenagers coped with an embarrassing bus ride home.

An unsuccessful Council bid
was the first public thing I did

I quickly discovered that the scope of my job at the volunteer centre was infinite and I needed to put some very clear boundaries in place.  I learned to prioritise (and re-prioritise as circumstances changed).  I was obliged to abandon my perfectionist habits.  Thoroughly completing any task seemed to be out of the question.  Uninterrupted time became a scarce commodity.

The benefits derived from managing a small voluntary organisation mirror in many ways the benefits of being a volunteer.  There is an element of free will, of giving service, especially when income is considered.  In most cases the salary received is less than the reward given for similar skills in other sectors.  There are unlikely to be any extra benefits, such as superannuation or a ‘company’ car, and because funding is uncertain job security can be minimal.  But there are other less tangible benefits that are immensely rewarding.  For me, the overwhelming benefit was to be working for an organisation whose values closely matched my own.  The vision of the organisation I worked for was “Supportive communities where voluntary work is understood, recognised and valued.  This is a vision I have consciously subscribed to since I joined the Values/Green Party in the mid 1970’s.  While I continued through the 70’s and 80’s to work in the commercial sector much of my energy and passion went into green politics.  As it was 1996 before we saw the election of NZ’s first Green M.P.s this work was often frustrating in terms of public success, yet always immensely rewarding in terms of friendship and personal growth, and a feeling that I was making a difference, however small.  I find it fascinating to review how as my paid work moved into the voluntary sector in the early 90’s my active Green involvement diminished, a clear indication to me that those needs for ‘soul work’ were now being met in my paid work.

While it’s certainly true that deep friendships can and do emerge among colleagues working together in the commercial sector it is my observation that they are likely to be more prevalent and of a deeper nature when nurtured in the voluntary sector.

The stresses of managing a small voluntary organisation can be overwhelming.  I witnessed ‘burnout’ in a number of my colleagues and was at times aware that my own limits were close to being reached.  In a small voluntary organisation the tasks available are often limitless and even when clear boundaries have been set unforeseen circumstances can breach those boundaries.  You learn to do the bare minimum and see any extra ‘frills’ as an exotic luxury.  We had a policy that a volunteer should never replace a paid worker, and this meant I needed to stick to my paid hours, and not do extra unpaid hours.  I was able to rationalise this by ensuring that extra hours I worked voluntarily were for extra projects, such as preparing presentations or workshops.  My paid role invariably leaked into my personal life, especially in social situations where if I told someone what my job was I was then likely to hear all about their voluntary work, and any associated problems.  Over the 21 years I managed the volunteer centre there were several times when the whole thing seemed to be too much and I started to look for other possibilities.  Because I’d become well-known in the local sector I set up a Gmail account under an alias so I could ask for job descriptions anonymously.  I even went for a couple of job interviews, but never found anything that seemed a better option.  A friend who worked in corporate recruitment put me through a comprehensive bunch of tests they used, then said she’d never met anyone whose “career drivers” matched their role as well as mine did.

My personal values are honesty, openness, connection and simplicity and I saw these personified around me every day.

As manager I had autonomy, could set my own agendas, and plan my own work schedule.  I led a team which shared my values and vision.  Many of the team were people I had personally recruited and we cared for each other.  While I was the ‘boss’ and bore the final responsibility the spirit of team co-operation was strong and help and support were freely offered.  I continually watched team members develop and blossom and often saw them leave for new roles and careers.  While they were missed there was immense satisfaction in knowing I’d helped them along their path.

There were many milestones along the way:

  • In 2000 we launched a website, which became interactive in 2002.
  • In 2006 we formed a partnership with Te Runaka ki Otautahi o Kai Tahu to facilitate a deeper understanding of the role of Maori volunteers within the community and support for their role.
  • In April 2010 we planned and hosted the first South Island ‘E-engage Your Community’ Conference’ where voluntary organisations were introduced to free and low-cost internet tools that could help them meet their mission.
  • In 2011 we lost our office and everything it contained in the February earthquake. Offsite backups enabled us to restore our systems.  The Community House where we had been based was demolished following the earthquake, and for three months we operated from my home.  Losing everything gave us an opportunity to carefully review what we did and how we did it.

In most small voluntary organisations there are limited resources.  Again there is satisfaction in managing the budget wisely, occasional frustration over having to work with outdated equipment, and pride in overcoming obstacles without spending a great deal of money.  Contacts and networking are invaluable, leading us to people who willingly give their expertise for free because they too are inspired by the vision.

These benefits tend to have a ‘shadow’ side, a matching cost.  The skill of managing a small voluntary organisation lies in keeping positive, developing the relationships that will help to further the vision, and always keeping the vision firmly in view.

In 2016 I made the decision to leave Volunteering Canterbury.  I could see more new challenges ahead and didn’t want to spend my energy trying to meet them.  I wanted to have more time for personal pursuits and my voluntary roles.


With Mayor Lianne Dalziel at my leaving function

For twenty-one years I was there
attempting to do all with care

I was attracted when I saw this book on the library shelf a few weeks ago.  Like many women in the 1960s and ’70s I appreciated the Woman’s Weekly for its recipes, knitting patterns, and sensible articles.  Jenny Lynch was the editor from 1987 to 1984, and her memoir covers all of her journalistic career.  It’s an easy read, and I enjoyed the Auckland references (Jenny and I went to the same school where Marjorie Adams was the headmistress).  However, for me the book lacked substance and became a little tedious.  In yesterday’s Press’s Your Weekend Donna Fleming’s review gives all the highlights of the book.  Frankly, if you’ve read this I see no need to bother with the book.  There are now four people on the Library waiting list for it.  I wonder what they will think?

Since this book was written Bauer Media have ceased publication of the Woman’s Weekly, although now that it’s been sold to Mercury Capital it may be resurrected.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

It was a local institution
with sadly lowered distribution

Set in Stone

Our poetry group’s theme for this week was stone.  I couldn’t find any inspiration, even though I’d been given this stone heart last weekend.

This is what I hurriedly came up with at the last minute:

Like a millstone round my neck
a rolling poem was gathering no moss
my muse decidedly stony-faced
couldn’t cast the first word
just a stone’s throw away

I was stonewalled
stone cold sober.
Would it come easily
if I was stoned?

My Thursday morning walk was postponed due to drizzly weather, and Stephen and I ventured out by car.  With snowdrops the only things flowering in the garden at present I wanted colour inside, and thought I’d buy a cyclamen.  Oderings at Barrington had sold out of mini cyclamen, and I bought one with large blooms.  It was thoroughly pot-bound, so as soon as I got it home I repotted it in a larger container.

We stopped at The Colombo for coffee – a smoothie for me.  The Underground Coffee kiosk has a menu board with a wide selection, but all their meals and smoothies actually come from the café at the Colombo Street entrance to the mall.  It makes good sense for them to have this extra kiosk where you can sit and watch the passers-by.

Coffee Kiosk

There are some new shops in The Colombo and a sign indicating that an independent book shop will soon open there – a good spot for this.  One shop called Nordic Chill  stocks attractive items from IKEA, all clearly labelled ‘assembly required’.

IKEA furniture

I’ve read that IKEA has plans to open shops in Aotearoa, and this is an interesting taste of their merchandise.  I remember in the early 1960s my mother bought several kitset items of furniture, which she assembled herself.  It occurs to me there may be a career opportunity for someone to set up as an IKEA assembler.  When we once bought an office chair with arms from Warehouse Stationery assembly proved to be quite a challenge, and we thought afterwards it would have been worth the $10 charge to have someone else do it.

The flat pack furniture looks good.
Does it assemble as it should?

After twenty years in commercial administration I was thoroughly disillusioned with working in a culture where the dominant values were very different to my own.  I’d seen many instances where people put profit and personal gain ahead of moral considerations.  Some actions were borderline illegal, but they were the kind of things that “everyone” was doing.

I had always been involved in voluntary work, mainly in child-related organisations and political activism, but until I moved to Christchurch in the late 1980’s I was not aware that there was such a thing as the voluntary sector.

After settling in here I took a couple of University Feminist Studies papers and as my disillusionment with the commercial sector grew, I decided to seek training that might enable me to gain employment in the not-for-profit sector.  I vaguely thought this might be in the helping skills area, still not really aware that there were paid roles available in voluntary organisation administration.

The only training option seemed to be at Christchurch Polytech and in 1993 I duly enrolled as a part time student in their Certificate in Community Services.  This was an extremely basic course, but I enjoyed the classes, found the assignments manageable in time and content, and soon felt ready for more.

The course required that I do some hours of supervised voluntary work and I carefully considered where this might happen.  My choice was the local Women’s Centre a feminist organisation with a focus on domestic violence, and a strong lesbian aspect.  Their offices were in the old Atlantis Building in Cathedral Square.  My offer of help was accepted and I commenced training as a volunteer support worker, a role I found immensely satisfying.  Later that year (1993) the centre needed a paid finance worker, and that role became another part of my “portfolio”.  By now I was a member of the organising collective, an experience which provided both challenges and pleasure as we struggled to balance the task of managing the Centre with caring for the wellbeing of clients and collective members.

During all this my dream was to obtain a full time paid administrative position in a not-for-profit organisation.  In late 1994 my dream came true.  In June I’d applied for the position of Manager of the Canterbury Volunteer Centre, was one of two finalists, but the role went to the other person, who had experience in sports administration.  He resigned after three months, I was contacted to ask if I was still interested, and I was.

I slowly discovered that my dream contained some nightmare elements.  At times my learning curve seemed steeper than Mount Everest.  My commercial management experience had gained me the job, but time and again it was my experience in the Women’s Centre Collective, as the Chairperson of a local residents’ group, and as a Green Party activist that I called on for guidance.

The Board Chairperson was Judith, Lady Hay.  She’d started the centre six years previously, and it was run very much on charity lines, i.e. doing good to people.  My training had been in community development, working with people, and we often clashed.  Judith Hay was a former Mayoress of Christchurch and was fond of saying “when we were in the Mayoral chair”.  The week I started she drove me to a meeting at the Town Hall and parked in a loading zone right outside.  When I politely suggested this was not a good idea she said it was “all right because they know my car”.

Luckily I’d been warned beforehand that the centre was Judith Hay’s “baby” and I would need external supervision to cope.  Judith was unfamiliar with this concept but there were other Board members who did know and who persuaded her of its value and necessary expense.

The staff were helpful and supportive to me.  Each day there were half a dozen different volunteers working, then a whole new group the next day.  I kept a roster pinned to my office wall to remind me of the names of those who were there each day.  There were many opportunities for training for me, and I also needed to organise monthly training sessions for the staff.  In winter I discovered that many of our volunteer staff expected to take lengthy overseas holidays.  This had not been a feature of voluntary work at the Women’s Centre.

An early Volunteer Centre team

Now working in a different world
new possibilities unfurled.

Tempting Treats

The best hot chocolate in Christchurch can be found at the Mediterranean Food Company in Tuam Street.  We often go there for particular groceries, but I hadn’t been to their café for several years.  They now have a stall at the Riverside Market, but the Tuam Street shop is easier to access by car.  We wanted to get some of their superb focaccia bread but we were told we were too early and it wouldn’t come out of the oven until eleven o’clock.

Mediterranean focaccia

It was obvious we needed to have a coffee and hot chocolate while we waited, then we found they offer pain au chocolat, so we needed one each of those as well.

Morning tea at the Mediterranean café

After our weeks of rāhui it still feels like a treat to be able to sit in a café.  We’re very aware that our daughters in the U.K. don’t have this privilege.  Their cafés are still serving only takeaway food.

This afternoon I’ve walked for an hour, and done an hour’s exercise class, and hope that will counteract the effect of this morning’s pastry.

I’m mostly careful what I eat
and am allowed a chocolate treat