North Shore Times : November 30th 2010
6 NORTH SHORE TIMES, NOVEMBER 30, 2010 NEWS A grand, yet casual retirement lifestyle. Visit 142 Shakespeare Road, Takapun a Call 0800 638 543 Browse www.thepoynton.co.nz A special Open Weekend with tasty Christmas treats You are warmly invited to see this superb retirement lifestyle village, inspect the beautiful apartments and join us for delicious FREE Christmas treats and refreshments. This Saturday 4th & Sunday 5th December, 10am -12pm and 2- 4pm daily +1-POY-NS-DEC At the minehead, portraits in pain Some faces you never forget. Often they stay with you for life as a constant reminder of events, even happenings and memories long gone. More were added to my invaluable personal reference file in past weeks -- from around the portal of the Pike River mine. Night after night those men were part of our house- hold, their pain and tiredness etched deeper and deeper on their faces. They were quiet heroes. Each night their voices seeking to hide the tensions and the growing concerns within them. Calm, as reassuring as it was possible for them to be in the darkness of that tragedy. Seeking a balance in what their body language and words conveyed, always con- scious of families intent and tense with a terrible blend of hope, fear, despair and a growing sense of incipient grief. They knew how those listeners hung on every word, every inflection, were buoyed by simple facts, renewed in desolation by others. A former miner who knew all about life and death in the pit. A career policeman who had never faced such sus- tained pressures before. Their faces, their voices conveyed so much that was unknown or unspoken. The need to sustain hope, the risk of compounding final grief, the sense of anger which swirled around them, and which they recognised and understood, the frus- tration they shared with so many, frustration they must not reveal while at the same time could not shed. It was a time when other faces, other tragedies, came into focus. Christmas night, 1953: A railway station platform near midnight, as tense groups stared down the line wishing for so much and dreading so much all at the one time. A young reporter on assign- ment, I looked too. A familiar face and voice -- the man I had always known with respect simply as Mr Sharp'', chairman of my school board and the father of Don, a fellow prefect and for- mer classmate on our very recent schooldays. Don. That's who he was waiting for through easily the most tense minutes of his life. The pain was plain in the face I could remember so well as authoritative, conscious of a certain status, at prizegiv- ings. When the relief train from the Tangiwai rail disaster finally drew in, we both scanned passing carriages for one face. The platform filled then emptied, as joyous family groups hugged their survivor. No Don. As his father climbed into the now-empty carriages, I was drawn to follow him. It was a hopeless search -- checking the lavatories in case. Even looking under car- riage seats. As if he would be there -- but we looked. And checked a second time. But Don, the loved son who had been coming home for Christmas, never arrived -- one of the 151 who died. Another 134 survived when the express tumbled into a raging river after a lahar -- a huge wave of silt and water -- off the mountains swept away a main trunk bridge. I've never forgotten that final moment when this grieving dad accepted the inevitable, shook my hand and thanked me. He put his arm around my shoulders -- someone else's son -- and walked slowly away. His face, as he turned and waved wanly to me, stays in the memory locket of my mind. November, 1979: Another memory, not a full face but one smudged with tears and buried in the hands of a man hunched in shock and grief over a long table. The proud and often rather dominating chief executive of Air New Zealand had just fin- ished a media briefing. A shattered DC10-30 airliner with 257 dead passengers and crew lay on the ice of Ross Island's Mt Erebus, the terrible end of an excursion to fly over the polar cap. Pain, shock and exhaustion had been there as the com- pany's chief executive Morrie Davis briefed reporters and answered questions he so hated yet which had to be acknowledged. But under a tight rein. Then for those few moments alone -- but still almost paralysed by the tragedy which would prob- ably always be somewhere in his mind -- he revealed his despair. Aramoana, November 1990: He was a grandfather, walking slowly on his stick. But though talking even slower, he was strong on detail he would never forget. As we strolled in the warmth and quiet of the morning it was hard to believe that we were retracing a day of horror when David Gray, a 33-year- old unemployed comparative loner, had gone berserk, randomly shooting 12 of his neighbours and a local police- man before armed police killed him. I had knocked rather diffidently on his front door, expecting a rebuff which investigative journalists so often get and sometimes deserve. The old man instead offered the traditional cup of tea, then picked up his stick which he used like a lecturer's pointer as we walked. He pinpointed each land- mark of that terrible day with certainty. He knew the facts -- who was shot where and when. It was only when we stopped by a bare section with ashes and charred wood, bent roofing iron deep on it, that his voice dropped to a near whisper. He hesitated, poking at some greenery with his stick. Must put some more fresh flowers there. Remind me when we get back.'' Then he explained in a voice soft and full of grief. That was where his grand- children were killed. Attracted by the smoke when David Gray torched his house, they had thrown their bikes on top of a utility driven by an equally curious neigh- bour. When he parked opposite the blaze, they were in the direct line of fire for the high-powered Gray rifle. Their grandfather now pointed out bullet holes in the fence behind us. What could I say? I sneaked a quick look at his face. It was suddenly lined with pain and his lips were moving but no words came. He didn't need to speak. His face told me everything. Like those faces on a Christmas night railway plat- form, and the executive with his head in his hands, Pike River families begging for word from a onetime miner -- but not the news they dreaded hearing, the words he so painfully had a duty to share with them. To contact Pat Booth email email@example.com or write care of this newspaper.
November 26th 2010
December 2nd 2010