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AUCKLAND CITY HARBOUR NEWS, AUGUST 17, 2011
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When facts can go off the rails
Tangiwai, the Sunday television
film rolled back the years for me. I
helped cover the disaster as a young
That wreckage-strewn river has
stayed in my mind. And links with
Bert Sutcliffe have kept the cricket
sequel in my memory too.
The rail disaster cost the lives of
151 of the 255 aboard the night
express which toppled off the shat-
tered main trunk bridge at Tangi-
wai bridge on Christmas Eve 1953.
Many who died were coming to
Auckland to see the Queen on her
first New Zealand tour.
A local, Cyril Ellis, driving
towards the river late that night
saw the road was blocked and the
nearby rail bridge damaged. He ran
down the railway track with a torch
trying to warn the train.
When it failed to stop, the bridge
collapsed, five carriages plunged
into the river. And Ellis ended up in
the river too. He had climbed into a
teetering sixth carriage which then
toppled. One of the rescuers who
helped passengers out from the
wrecked carriages in the river, Ellis
won a deserved George Medal as a
One of the passengers who
drowned was the fiancee of New
Zealand cricketer Bob Blair, then
playing in a test in South Africa.
Understandably excused from the
rest of the match, he nevertheless
raced to the ground when he heard
that his teammates were struggling
and unexpectedly went into bat as
last man for New Zealand.
The crowd stood in poignant
silence to honour his courage.
He hit an early ball for a towering
six and he and famous batsman
Bert Sutcliffe made 33 in 10
minutes before he was stumped.
Sutcliffe, back from hospital with
a bandaged head injury from lethal
Bok fast bowling got to 80 in one of
New Zealand cricket s most memor-
able last wicket partnerships.
Bert Sutcliffe, great both as a
batsman and a man, could still not
hold back his emotion about those
moments and Blair s courage years
later when I wrote a cricket book for
young players with him.
It was the stuff of tragedy and
courage. But the filmmakers
Knowing Tangiwai as a place of
such horror, and Bert and Bob
Blair, feeling old emotion and the
power and skill of the production, I
was just a little sorry that facts had
been tweaked for effects which were
not needed. So much so that a very
tolerant Bob Blair summed up:
They ve done a good job but it s
totally different for the sake of the
story, some at least 50 percent fic-
tion. I wouldn t say I was unhappy
with it but some of it is entirely
different from what actually
For instance, he said the script-
writers added tension between his
and his fiancee s family and made
him religious when he was, in fact,
Even before the film was screened
here filmmaker Donna Malane
attempted an explanation.
Quote: It s very hard to tell a
story of someone s life in a drama.
You have to make things up to
make a good narrative but I believe
we ve remained true to the story I
think Margaret Mahy once said, It
may not be factual but it s true .
Fact is much stronger than fic-
tion. And some times too, a watcher
can know just a little too much. It
should not take from a meritorious
In the mailbag: Your corre-
spondent is right on one level about
denying benefit money to immature
women, or girls , who have babies,
unless they attend parenting
classes. Who taught these girls to
abandon education, to binge drink,
to take drugs and to be sexually pro-
miscuous and to arrogantly believe
they have a life-long entitlement to
income they never earned?
Who brainwashed these sisters
into thinking state dependency was
a form of independence and that
they are liberated when they haul
strange men into their taxpayer
subsidised homes and into their
children s lives?
Yes parenting skills would help
to an extent but we need to rip down
and destroy all the sexual images,
videos and websites and brothels
and the suburban liquor and pokie
outlets. We really need to teach
women to respect themselves and
decent men and to learn work skills
and how to express unselfish, duti-
ful generosity toward their children,
family and community.
We can start by arranging
adoptions instead of just handing
over benefits. -- Name provided
On footy phrases:
I couldn t let your remarks go
without passing comments on Terry
McLean s rugby writing style.
He brought colour to the sport.
At the time he wrote, the termin-
ology he used was correct. (PB: In
Britain but not locally.)
Also I understand that his
column was syndicated in the UK so
his use of fly-half versus first five
eighth, inside centre versus second
five eighth, etc, was more atuned to
the readership in the UK.
But back to his terminology.
There was no such thing as full
time -- it was no side , a converted
try was, and I still believe to be, a
goal , just to quote two examples.
And as far as the present breed
of TV commentators, the use of
time when referring to scrums,
lineouts, rucks and mauls as being
at scrum time , lineout time , ruck
time , maul time is an affront. The
only time is halftime.
As far as a team being awarded
a penalty for an infringement by the
opposition, it is the offending team
which is penalised. A penalty is not
awarded, it is incurred. And it is the
goal line not the try line . For good-
ness sake, a short arm penalty is a
Which brings me to golf which T
P also wrote about. There s the
penchant for TV commentators to
refer to the cup , it s the hole, it s a
bunker not a trap and it s the flag-
stick not the pin . As a traditional-
ist I prefer to hear commentators
using the correct terminology.
Rant over. -- Peter Parkinson,
PB: My point was that young
writers since Terry don t have to
ape his style, puzzling some readers
and irritating others in the process.
The 1953-54 All Black tour to
Britain was captained by Bob Stu-
art. Wilson Whineray was captain
of the 1960s. I was an impression-
able nine-year-old and still have
Winston McCarthy s book Round
the World with the All Blacks.
Garryowen is from the
Garryowen Club who had players in
the Munster team against the All
Blacks on January 13, 1954.
I quote McCarthy: The crowd
was calling for Garryowen and
Garryowen they got. This is the
Irish term for up and under, the
high punt, extensively used by the
Garryowen club in Cork.
Clearly TP picked up the term,
among his many others, and used it
in his later writings.
PS: New Zealand won 6-3. --
PB confession: Terry would never
have got the captain s name wrong
-- no matter how long after!
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