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Fulbright in New Zealand

Chapter 4 — The Last Living Moa

page 52

Chapter 4
The Last Living Moa

"The situation between the US and New Zealand is asymmetrical. Very few Americans have much of an opinion about the Kiwis and New Zealand, before going there. The country's natural beauty and the people's friendliness create a favourable impression. Most New Zealand academic types coming to the US already have pre-formed, strong and often unfavourable opinions about the US which are changed very little by our personal friendliness." Ed Williams, Fulbright graduate student 1951 and United States Consul-General at Auckland, 1975-78

"It all happened twenty-five years ago, but I still frequently think of it. It meant a lot to a flatland farm kid who had seen little of the world." Lee Clayton, Fulbright graduate student, 1962

As the exchange programme grew, it became increasingly obvious that more money would have to be found from somewhere. The money from the sale of war-surplus goods was being used up fast. For instance, in 1952, while there was still money in New Zealand, that in Turkey had run out. Stop-gap plans were applied, and worked for some time: in Finland repay ments for a post-World War I reconstruction loan were diverted, and in India repayments on a 1951 emergency wheat loan were similarly transferred. In America the private sector also provided some money. American universities set up fellowships and visitorships for foreign scholars, and the Carnegie Corporation and the Rockefeller Foundation helped too. In June 1952 an amendment to the Mutual Security Act allowed Marshall Plan funds to be diverted. Another provision, in 1954, took over funds from the sale of surplus agricultural products abroad.

Then, in 1961, the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act, usually known as the Fulbright-Hays Act, was passed. This consolidated all the laws and amendments that had made the Fulbright scheme possible, and allowed the programme to expand into new countries and new fields. It also assured the programme of American dollars as well as foreign currencies, and extended the province of the Board of Foreign Scholarships to include the supervision of all academic exchange programmes.

The Board also ensured the fair and impartial selection of grantees. page 53
Two Black and White Photographs. Left: Ed Williams stands in front of a hunting cabin called the 'Seldom Inn'. He is holding a shooting gun. A dog looks up at him. Right: Ed Williams holds the hand of Miss Universe as she walks down some stairs. Miss Universe is smiling and wearing a tiara and evening dress.

Left: Ed Williams on a hunting trip in New Zealand, 1952.
Right: As United States Consul-General, Ed Williams escorts Miss Universe during her visit
to Auckland in 1977. He declares that it was his Fulbright experience in New Zealand which
prepared him for this exacting task.

There was no means test; candidates were chosen entirely on the basis of promise and merit. The Board had pledged at its first meeting in July 1947 that ‘in all aspects of the programme the highest standards be developed’ and the maintenance of these high standards was the aim of succeeding Boards. It was agreed that ‘the individuals to benefit’ should be those who ‘demonstrate outstanding scholastic and professional ability and whose personalities and characters will contribute to the furtherance of the objectives of the programme.’ While it was important that care was ‘taken to avoid all appearances of cultural imperialism’, it also was very important that the American Fulbrighters made a favourable impression on their hosts.

Because of this, the Board looked for resourcefulness and adaptability, along with all the other requirements — but how much adaptability did the average American Fulbrighter need, when she or he came to New Zealand?

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Black and white photograph of Vincent Zehren standing in a cheese making factory. Vincent Zehren and another man are talking with a cheese maker.

Vincent L. Zehren (second from left) sees cheese made in the old way in Taranaki, 1952.>

Suzanne Snively came to New Zealand in 1971, ‘because it was the most distant country taking part in the Fulbright exchange.’ She is still here. ‘So in the end what was almost an accidental decision has led to my settling in a country which I had hardly heard of 16 years ago.’

Sharon L. Smith, a 1967 graduate student, tells of her reactions to New Zealand:

"At first I was dismayed (understatement) because I was ‘exiled’ from page 55Auckland where I thought I would be living, to this marine laboratory on a sheep farm where I had to join in the community efforts at cooking (which I had not done before), grocery shopping and so forth. The laboratory had very spartan accommodation, no clothes-washing machine, no dryer, no television, and a telephone that had to be cranked up to work! I could not have imagined living like this if I had been forewarned, and mercifully one has life's great adventures without warning. Surviving and learning to enjoy a simplified life has become like a gift I brought back from New Zealand. I have continued to be a non-consumer, and have thrived on those lessons in the ‘basics’ . . . So the Fulbright experience changed my personal life in quite fundamental ways and showed me that the many things I took for granted in the United States as necessary to living were not so."

Perhaps many of the problems that the Americans encountered when they first arrived were exacerbated by the fact that New Zealand and the United States are similar in so many ways. The American historian, Frank Parsons, had written in 1903 that New Zealanders ‘are the Yankees of the South Pacific. In fact New Zealand is a little America, a sort of condensed United States. If all the nations of the world were classed according to the number and importance of their points of resemblance, the United States, New Zealand and Australia would stand in a group together.’

When the American Fulbrighters first arrived, they came as spectators. While it could be very annoying to be asked within the first few days what one thought of the country, the opinion given was likely to be more valid then than it would be for some months to come, for so many got caught up in a kind of ‘honeymoon’, where New Zealand looked almost ‘cute’. Originally the Fulbrighters arrived in groups, and Eric Budge could meet them, but as time went by it became quite impracticable for him to greet them all. Accordingly, he relied on their hosts to introduce them to New Zealand.

‘I spent my first five hours in New Zealand,’ one recalled, ‘hunting for milk bottles so I could buy some milk.’ Others found the A and B buttons of public telephone boxes an annoying mystery. The main problem often, however, particularly if the Fulbrighter arrived in winter, was that no matter how often and carefully warned, no American seemed to believe warnings that New Zealand in winter is cold. Earl Dennis agreed:

"Very few homes or other facilities which we secured for our first year's grantees had central heat. Nearly all our Americans reported that they loved the country, liked very much the people they worked and studied with, and were very happy with their college or university affiliation, but all reported they were cold. One American research scholar and his wife invited my wife and I to their quarters (which we had secured for them) and he spent a great deal of time and energy after dinner placing a thermometer in different locations in the living and dining rooms, and then showing the thermometer to us in turn, to prove how much they were suffering!"

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‘Information on the climate was essential as the American grantees, especially the teachers, seemed to know little or nothing about physical geography,’ said Eric Budge. ‘If I had to go to the northern hemisphere I'd automatically accept the fact that as far as climate was concerned it would be the opposite time of the year. When I explained this to a US grantee about to come to New Zealand during one of my visits to the US he said, "You mean that while we're having winter you're having summer? What a cute idea!"’

Te Karere, the booklet of information that the Foundation put out for Americans coming to New Zealand, made much mention of the weather here. ‘While a few hardy souls have advised us that we worry unnecessarily in giving warning about the New Zealand climate,’ it began, 'the majority of grantees who have commented have INDICATED THAT WE DO NOT STRESS SUFFICIENTLY THE FACT THAT IT IS COLD HERE.’ Too many Americans, the writer (Eric Budge) noted, held the completely erroneous belief that New Zealand has a sub-tropical climate. The cold weather here is humid — ‘In other words, there is a damp cold that penetrates.’ He urged the reader ‘to give full consideration to it. New Zealanders combat the cold indoors by wearing warm clothing and particularly warm underclothing.’

This was good advice indeed. One American wrote gratefully of that wonderful New Zealand ‘invention’, the ‘singlet’. ‘We learned very quickly that New Zealand houses have no central heat,’ John Windle noted. There were exactly two ‘comfort zones’ in the house where the Windle family lived: ‘a space with a radius of about two metres in front of the fireplace, and under the covers in bed. Anywhere else was no-man's land and we spent as little time there as possible. Answering the phone was a major trauma because the phone was in the hall. As the hall was ice-cold, so was the phone, and our ears hurt whenever we had to put the phone up to them. The second most traumatic spot in the house was the toilet seat.’ The school room, however, had a wood-burning stove — and John Windle snuggled up to it so blissfully that he set his ski jacket on fire.

Another American reported that the highlight of his Fulbright tenure was the day in Wellington when the sun came out. Transportation, however, was often as big an adjustment as the weather. Cars in New Zealand were still much more expensive than they were in the States, and New Zealand driving habits could prove distressing. ‘The people are great,’ one American wrote, ‘until they get behind the wheel of a car.’ New Zealand, wrote another, ‘is a country with miles of surprisingly good roads built over and through the most difficult terrain, a country of very expensive cars and many ancient ones, a country with a tragically high traffic death rate.’

Despite it all, though, the Americans who came were enthusiastic travellers. They explored New Zealand from Cape Reinga to Bluff, and from East Coast to West, and even found that it is right and proper to talk of ‘the’ South Island and ‘the’ North, but never ‘the’ Stewart Island. They drove, hitch-hiked, page 57rode bicycles and hiked; they camped, lived rough, slept in ski huts and motels, and this, it seems, is typical of Fulbrighters worldwide. An official in Taipei once commented that ‘Visiting professor grantees come with the resolve to derive the most that they can from their foreign experience,’ and this does indeed seem to be true. American Fulbrighters who came to New Zealand were, almost without exception, enthusiastic travellers and talented participators. Becoming an interim ‘Kiwi’ was an energetic pursuit.

The opportunities to explore New Zealand were of course augmented if the Fulbrighter was able to conduct any fieldwork. One American was greatly surprised by the amount of ‘fieldwork’ that he was assigned, until he realised that his director had organised it so he could see the country. When Lee Clayton was doing fieldwork in the Southern Alps he lived at a Ministry of Works camp, and the foreman's wife cooked him his evening dinners. She tried out a procession of New Zealand delicacies on him, something Lee appreciated — until the night she gave him tripe: 'Luckily she had plenty of dry bread to force it down with.' Aarne Vesilind was disconcerted to discover that the fish in fish and chips was often shark (lemon fish), but he had developed such an appetite for the treat by this time that he decided to ignore the fact and enjoy the fish and chips just the same.

Aarne Vesilind came to the Waikato in 1976 as the first Visiting Scholar in the area of environmental studies. It was part of a three-year programme in which it was hoped that an Environmental Studies Unit would be set up at the university. It was also a first in that the approach would be interdisciplinary, and include agencies outside the campus. Aarne taught an environmental course at Waikato, lecturing to more than 80 students on pollution and environmental ethics. He also collaborated with the Auckland Regional Authority and DSIR staff on various aspects of waste disposal and refuse recovery.

In many ways Aarne typified the ebullient attitude of so many American Fulbrighters who are ‘in tune’ with the new environment. The ‘in tune’ phrase is apt: Aarne Vesilind played cornet in the Hamilton Citizens' Band. He also learned how to play cricket, and departed proud of his score of 28 not out in his final match.

Lincoln College, like Waikato, also had a collaborative outdoors-oriented project, sponsored by the Foundation. It was a proposed study of recreation resources: mountain lands, forests, lakes, National Parks and wetland resources. Studies in natural resources were introduced at Lincoln in 1969 and the first Fulbrighter in the field arrived in 1974. He was Arthur T. Wilcox, Head of the Department of Recreation Resources in the College of Forestry and National Resources at Colorado State University. He, and others who followed, were able to convince administrators at both local and national level that recreation is a study worthy of universities, and that recreation officers have an important role in this country.

The study was collaborative throughout, involving the Department of Horticulture, Landscape and Parks at Lincoln, the Department of Lands page 58and Survey, the National Parks Authority, the New Zealand Agricultural Engineering Institute, the Institute of Park Administration and the Tussock Grasslands and Mountain Lands Institute.

Those Americans who 'did' the tracks such as the Milford or the Heaphy usually rated these as highlights of their stays, and some became concerned for the preservation of New Zealand forests. One who admired ‘the magnificent New Zealand countryside’ wished that ‘New Zealanders them selves had more concern with maintaining it.’ As a ‘mountaineer, fisherman, amateur geologist and outdoorsman’, 1968 Fulbright lecturer Donald Russell ‘fell in love with the topography of New Zealand and still classifies it as God's country. I return to New Zealand as often as possible and would thoroughly enjoy spending my final years there. The New Zealand Tourist Bureau ought to hire me as a very vocal recruiter.’

Max Carman, who came to New Zealand in 1963 as a Fulbright researcher, found himself trapped alone for a week in a bush but because the weather had closed in — and he had no books to read. ‘The beauty and aloneness taught me a great deal about myself,’ he wrote. Then he added, ‘How would you treat the last living moa?’

Carman was working on Lake McKerrow, and staying in a fishing but at Martin's Bay. ‘My friend, Alex, told me the story of the little girl of the Jamestown colony who reported seeing "a huge chicken with legs like a Roman soldier". The speculation of the legend is that she may have seen one of the last surviving moas. Presumably she had seen pictures of Roman soldiers in school books and remembered their leg guards, which bear a similarity to the conformation of moa legs.’

Black and white photograph of Max Carman on a boat.

Max Carman.

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Martin's Bay in 1963 was still remote, and the two men fell to speculating about what they would do if they happened to sight one of these large and allegedly extinct birds:

"I observed that I'd pray I could get my camera out fast enough and be calm enough to get a credible picture, but Alex exclaimed, 'I wouldn't bother with my camera, I'd shoot it!' This was shocking, but he explained to me that no one would believe a photo because it could be faked; but a fresh carcass could not be denied.

I've many times since pondered Alex's drive to prove he had seen the creature, and the value to science of having a dead recent specimen, versus the ethics of killing what might be the last living example of this exotic species or the hope that there might be a barely viable community of moas living in some remote valley, of which the bird we saw was a member essential to its reproductive survival. How would one know that it was truly ‘the last living moa’?"

In some cases, the American Fulbrighters' desire and ability to merge with the myths and resources of New Zealand led to further problems. It was inevitable that the visitors should make some comment about this country they were observing so enthusiastically, and perhaps inevitable, too, that they should become involved in New Zealand-led discussions of American foreign and domestic policies, past and present.

In the article, ‘The Playing Fields of Eden’, mentioned in Chapter One, the author James McEnteer described three kinds of Americans who came/ come to New Zealand: 'the gold-diggers, the space travellers and the utopians'.

"New Zealand first acquired cult status as paradise on Earth for a significant number of American intellectuals and politicians during the progressive movement in the United States, from the late 1890s until World War I. . . .

The progressive movement arose in the United States as a reaction to the social inequities of the Industrial Revolution. The wealth of the few and the oppression of the many obliged would-be reformers to find models of a more just society to emulate. The reformers found their shining example in New Zealand.

Thanks to Liberal legislation enacted between 1891 and 1911, New Zealand's green islands appeared to American progressives like the playing fields of Eden. New Zealand had given women the vote, subsidised farmers and provided them with low-interest loans, awarded old age pensions, forced employers to provide decent working conditions, imposed compulsory arbitration on labour disputes and introduced progressive taxes on land and income, among many other farsighted measures."

McEnteer then goes on to comment that ‘for American progressives New Zealand had more attractions than Disneyland’. There was praise indeed, at page 60first, but when American researchers arrived in a second wave, after World War II, much of this reform had already taken place in the States, impelled by the Great Depression, and 'then, it seemed, they came to bury the welfare state, not to praise it'. The state of social affairs in New Zealand, in a word, seemed overrated.

Many of these post-war observers were Fulbrighters, and many of them felt the need to comment. ‘New Zealand is a delightful country partly because it is less frantic than the United States,’ wrote Lucy McCarton. ‘But when American efficiency is desirable New Zealand can be a most frustrating place.’ Several American Fulbrighters remarked that it took a while to adjust to the slower pace, and it was inevitable that they would try to find reasons for it.

The liberal legislation that had been so much admired earlier in the century got a great deal of the blame. The 40-hour week gave rise to much comment. ‘The limited shopping hours on evenings and weekends took a surprising amount of getting used to,’ wrote one scholar, who added that he had been ‘trapped’ at home for two weekends of his stay here because he had forgotten to fill the gas tank of his car on the Friday.

New Zealand, wrote another, is ‘a country where the government plays a major role in business and agriculture, a country where the government provides "cradle to the grave" security for all its citizens with the result that it probably removes some of the incentive to work, a country which has made me more conscious than I was before of the virtues and the dangers of the "not to worry" and "it'll come right" philosophy.’

It was probably impossible for any American Fulbrighter here to avoid making a comment. Many New Zealanders who studied in the United States remarked on the admirable American capacity to absorb criticism. One wrote that he 'liked the displayed ability to quite aggressively challenge a colleague academically without this being misinterpreted as a personal attack.' Another noted that Americans seemed much less 'touchy' than New Zealanders. A third New Zealander noted that Americans welcome criticism; they think about it, and wonder if they need to change, and how they could do that if necessary. The British, he wrote, ignore criticism as being beneath their attention.

New Zealanders, by contrast, get angry. 'New Zealanders do not like to be criticised,' wrote Robin Winks. He was one of the two American Fulbrighters who published books detailing their expectations, impressions and criticisms of New Zealand as they saw it in that first decade. 'Is it possible to love something without respecting it?' Winks enquired. In his book These New Zealanders he then proceeded to list the characteristics of the New Zealand people that did not merit esteem. His penultimate remark, that ‘I demonstrated my love for the people — because I married one of them’ might, as an excuse for the written criticism, raise a few eyebrows among feminists and logicians alike, but Winks, like the other Fulbright author, David Ausubel, raised some very pertinent issues.

David Ausubel was an American professor of psychology who came to page 61New Zealand on a Fulbright grant as a research scholar in 1957 and, as James McEnteer describes it in his article, ‘he decided the progressives' enthusiasm for New Zealand was excessive and largely misplaced. He decided to set the record straight ...

"In his book The Fern and the Tiki (1960) Ausubel pointed out ‘the apparent paradox of an advanced welfare state co-existing with an essentially mid-Victorian social ideology’. He found the women oppressed, the schools authoritarian and conformity rampant, despite a contentious atmosphere. What he appeared to despise above all was the air of smug self-satisfaction among the natives, 'holier than thou attitudes ... This superiority extends to all important matters — morals, ethics, education, intellectual attainment, public taste, good manners, tolerance, family life and the deportment of children . . .' Whatever validity Ausubel's cultural observations possess is undermined by the shrill belligerence of his tone as he sets about his work to destroy the myth of New Zealand as heaven on earth."

The words ‘shrill belligerence’ are probably very well chosen. While Winks' book is certainly much less far-reaching and precise, it has a ‘cosy’ tone that sweetens the pill of criticism. Both men touched on the drunken behaviour and preoccupation with sport of the 'typical' New Zealand male, and both remarked on the adverse social aspects of the social welfare system, but Ausubel aroused much more ire, perhaps because so many of his readers and reviewers perceived the same quality of 'smug self-satisfaction' in his writing that he assigned to the New Zealand people. W. L. Renwick reviewed The Fern and the Tiki in Nga Pukapuka, November-December

"Several times ... the author instructs his readers of the vast difference that often exists between ‘things as they are’ and ‘things as they are perceived’ by those who take them most for granted. His own book provides a very good illustration of this dictum.

Dr Ausubel writes about New Zealanders and the New Zealand way of life with the frozen zeal of the would-be-admirer turned iconoclast. He left the United States disturbed at the evidence he could detect of increasing social conformity and he was, he tells us, 'eagerly looking forward in New Zealand to the heterodoxy and forthrightness of opinion that (he) automatically associated with a pioneering and liberal Welfare State' (p. 119). (Elsewhere in the book we are warned against the dangers of thinking in terms of national stereotypes.) ...

The author ... set himself the task of writing ‘a treatise on the national character of the New Zealander’ (p. 220); he has attempted to disclose patterns and uniformities in our behaviour where others have seen isolated, unrelated fragments. This is an exceedingly ambitious and difficult task and, in the absence of full documentation of the hypothesis that is being advanced, it depends very largely for its effect on the quality of the mind at page 62work behind the personal observation and reportage. On almost every one of the first 148 pages of his book Dr Ausubel demonstrates his lack of qualification for writing such a book. Indeed, it is one of the unsolved mysteries of his work that he can write so much about the methods of scholarship and practise them so little. He scolds us for our insularity and lack of perspective, but for all his world travelling and specialist knowledge of human nature his book reveals the mind of a provincial: he is absolutely without humour and is no less assertive than the New Zealanders whose habit of making categorical statements on little or no evidence he so much deplores; and despite what he says about objectivity and fidelity to fact, the tone of his book is more characteristic of a termagant than of a scholar."

Renwick went on to say, ‘All the more pity, then, that on two subjects, the training and discipline of children and adolescents, and race-relations, Dr Ausubel touches on important matters.’ The generally carping and dogmatic tone of the book, which, in time-honoured tradition, led to bad reviews and very good sales (the book is still in print after several editions) meant that readers focused on style and aspersion instead of the more apposite statements that were made. The best that can be said is that the book inspired a great deal of debate — debate that continues today.

For much of what Dr Ausubel wrote was most perceptive, and time has proved him right, as Roger Mackey pointed out in the Evening Post of 16
July 1986:

"Ausubel might have been an unpopular man but ... he was, as an American might say, damn right when it came to predicting New Zealand's future.

He wrote, sometime in 1959, ‘the honeymoon of prosperously muddling through while recklessly violating every known principle of economics is over’. And, ‘. . . but over the long haul the economic crisis will progressively deepen until New Zealanders are finally willing to face up to the one inescapable reality of economic life, namely, that to stay in business one must be able to compete effectively in a competitive world market.’

His prescription for change in our economy might be mistaken for an agenda of the national economic debate of the last ten years.

Ausubel was hardly less accurate in his predictions for the course of New Zealand race relations.

‘Maori-pakeha relations will gradually deteriorate until a series of minor explosions will compel the adoption of preventive remedial measures ... This situation will intensify Maori racial nationalism and eventually compel Maori leaders to dig their heads out of the sand. . . ."’

But how does this relate to the Fulbright philosophy? Most American Fulbrighters participated energetically during their tenure in this country and wanted to make well-meant comment. But did they have the right to do so? Most Fulbrighters would possibly think so; as one New Zealander wrote, page 63
Black and white photograph of Elmer Scholer standing in the mid-foreground with three women and a man. In the background, children are playing on swings and slides in a playground and standing with their families.

‘Sampling the New Zealand lifestyle’ — Professor Elmer Scholer with the Schmidt family,

'the promotion of mutual understanding should not preclude constructive criticism of either society.'

It was impossible not to make comparisons, once the sense of similarity had worn off; the problem was whether to voice them or not. Many scientists stated some form of anxiety that New Zealand was technologically backward. One wrote that he had to make his own analytical laboratory —'I mean, we built it from scratch.' Others expressed puzzlement that bright and well-qualified New Zealand scientists chose to stay here. Others saw the compensations of the slower pace of New Zealand life and found, furthermore, that they accomplished more in the hassle-free environment here than they would have in the hectic pace of a research laboratory back home. As one wrote in his final report: 'During this period I have virtually completed eight papers which is as many as some of my colleagues will do in their lifetime, and I have the material for as many more to do in the next few years.'

Sharon L. Smith made a similar comment: ‘Perhaps I should add that I came back to the United States and worked for two years using my New Zealand experience to write environmental impact statements. Then I returned to graduate study, gained a PhD with a thesis in biological oceanography, and have continued to work as a research scientist in oceanic biology since. My research covers the globe, and it all began, in my mind, with a Fulbright grant to do an MSc in New Zealand.’

'If I were to identify the single most important professional experience in my life, I would pick those two years of intense uninterrupted study,' said John Dickey Jr., a 1963 American graduate student. Mollie Smart, a Fulbright page 64bright researcher in 1971, felt the same: 'I learned a lot. I got new ideas. I enjoyed every day. I made dear friends and good colleagues. I love telling my North American friends, family and colleagues and students about New Zealand.'

Robert Collar, a 1984 graduate student, had this to say:

"I think most Fulbrighters will agree that the pace of life (all aspects) in New Zealand is much slower in New Zealand than in America. The society in general is a less stressful (competitive) one and for those Fulbrighters coming from large metropolitan areas this can be very refreshing once gotten used to. The warmth and hospitality exhibited by Kiwis is a direct reflection of this attitude that life should be fun. Foreigners, you'll agree, are generally accepted with enthusiasm almost the world round. But more so in New Zealand."