| Life

Our heroes don’t al­ways be­have ex­actly the way we want.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - BILL RAL­STON

Bill Ral­ston

We have pre­cious few heroes in our lives. For me, Colin Meads was one. Com­ing from an ar­dent rugby fam­ily, I al­most died with ex­cite­ment when as a child I spot­ted the All Blacks team, be­fore a test, munch­ing ice creams and sip­ping Coke in the lobby of Auck­land’s Cin­erama The­atre at half-time for, as I re­call, the movie epic How the West Was Won. Those were sim­pler times.

Clutch­ing my pro­gramme for the film – yes, in those days the the­atre printed pro­mo­tional brochures for ma­jor movies – and a pen, my ni­neor 10-year-old self timidly walked up and asked Colin Meads’ kneecap if he would give me an au­to­graph. He re­ally did look like a pine tree as he bent in half, smiled, took the pro­gramme, signed it and then passed it around the whole team.

That ce­mented his rep­u­ta­tion with me as the great­est man on the planet. My mother ob­vi­ously agreed. When she died, I found the signed pro­gramme in one of the draw­ers in her room, care­fully folded and nestling among other prized me­men­toes of her life.

Like most heroes, he didn’t al­ways do what you or I might think was right. In 1986, he coached the rebel Cava­liers rugby tour of South Africa. Play­ing the Spring­boks just five years af­ter the near civil war that re­sulted from the 1981 tour of New Zealand was a chal­leng­ing move.

Iwas sent as TVNZ’s cor­re­spon­dent to cover both the tour and the un­rest in apartheid-era South Africa. Dis­lik­ing my be­ing a po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist, the Cava­liers black­listed me and sent me to Coven­try by re­fus­ing to dis­cuss any­thing. My rugby cre­den­tials of hav­ing once cap­tained the North­cote Col­lege First XV in 1971 were sadly in­suf­fi­cient.

In­stead, I con­cen­trated on cov­er­ing the protests and killings go­ing on at that time, care­fully cut­ting the po­lit­i­cal el­e­ments into sto­ries that also con­tained match cover­age, thus driv­ing my TVNZ sports edi­tor, Tony Ciprian, qui­etly mad as he tried to un­ravel the rugby from the bit­ter blood­shed in the town­ships.

As with the 81 tour, that TV cover­age was a source of fierce ar­gu­ment and di­vi­sion in New Zealand. Ques­tions were asked in Par­lia­ment, and some of those Cava­liers and ex-All Blacks seem to still bear me some en­mity to­day.

Yet years af­ter 1986, at a sports din­ner, I sat be­tween Colin and his lovely wife, Verna, and we dis­cussed the Cava­liers with no ill-will on ei­ther side. He was, off-field at least, a gen­tle gi­ant.

Meads al­ways re­minds me of Sir Ed­mund Hil­lary, a quiet gra­cious bloke from an ear­lier, now long gone gen­er­a­tion. The only mod­ern equiv­a­lent I can think of is Vic­to­ria Cross win­ner Wil­lie Api­ata.

A cou­ple of years ago at an An­zac func­tion, an or­gan­iser del­e­gated me to wan­der about the site with spe­cial guest Wil­lie Api­ata. “You’re his min­der, Bill – yes, you’re his body­guard!” They col­lapsed laugh­ing. Very funny. In any event, Api­ata proved quiet, for­bear­ing, kind to any­one who ap­proached and to have a good sense of hu­mour.

Now as some arm­chair gen­er­als from the me­dia start try­ing to crit­i­cally un­earth de­tails of the fire­fight where won his VC and the SAS raid that oc­curred in Afghanistan in 2004, I think I stand on Api­ata’s side, with the SAS and the NZ Army, in that ar­gu­ment. Like most of us, I was not there at the time, but I know wars are not fought and won with gen­teel de­bates over ethics when your fel­low sol­diers are be­ing shot and killed around you.

Heroes some­times do things you dis­agree with.

Some of those Cava­liers and ex-All Blacks seem to still bear me some en­mity to­day.

“In­vest? No of­fense, but I’ve read about you guys.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.