Friday, 24 April 2015

In His Passing, the Ray Zander story.

Born in Wellington to Walter and Mary Zander, 29 August 1933, Raymond Colin Walter Zander.

Passed away in Masterton 24th April 1998 aged 64 years.

 Written today on the 17th anniversary of his passing.

In between, a life once lived, mostly to the maximum.

My father was largely a mysterious man.  His life was usually very active and congested but as kids growing up we never really knew who our father was, and how important he was in New Zealand's story.

But before we travel that road, one must go back to the start of his life.  It's fair to say that he was born during The Great Depression and presumably times were tough for anyone.  However family photos from his Mother Mary and Father Wally suggest that times weren't that tough for their family.  Not a life of privilege, more a life of rising above the chaos of the times.  And rising above always seemed to permeate his latter life.

Dad moved from Wellington to Raumati South, then onto Havelock North, Porangahau, and Castlepoint as a child.  Wally was a builder and fisherman and Dad soon learnt that he could do things in an adventurous way.  He was also academically excellent and soon after arriving in Castlepoint found himself at Dannevirke High School as a boarder. He excelled academically and on the sporting field, playing both Cricket and Rugby in the top team (even being Captain if memory serves me right).  His prowess with the books saw him graduate from Dannevirke High and head off to Victoria University to study to become a Marine Scientist, which would lead to work in the Fisheries field as an inspector (apparently the youngest ever at the time) in Christchurch and Bluff.

A little side anecdote here.  When I was working out of Bluff with the Navy's Survey service, I happened to run across an oysterman by the name of Sonny Johnson, who owned one of the two fleets in Bluff.  When he found out my name he asked if I was related to a Ray Zander, to which I replied naturally Yes.  He then spent the next 20 minutes regaling me about how officious and by the book he was and how he was the scourge of all the Bluff fishery fleet.  I did have a chortle (and a few beers with him)

Dad of course was a keen fisherman (understatement) born out of his time in Castlepoint with family so it was a natural progression for him to move into the fishery field, and possibly the start of his affinity with conservation, more on that later.  So whilst being a food gatherer, he was also cognisant on preserving the heritage gifted by nature.  Dad then moved into land management working for the Southland Acclimatisation Society.  During this period, when we were based in Lumsden, he was heavily into the Save Manapouri movemnt, was a deer culler for the National Park service, and a Father with young inquiring minds, his children.  His adventures became our adventures and although we knew nothing of his work, we knew full well the places he took us.  Those memories live on, in both memory and in film.

Dad's work for the Acclimatisation Society and bird counts (particularly wading birds and Paradise Ducks) lead him and the family to James Street in the North East Valley in Dunedin, student country for Otago University.  He completed his Diploma in Wildlife Management and then scored what could have been his dream job, a Park Ranger in Arthurs Pass National Park.  I dare say Mum might not have been happy with the location, but us kids and Dad thrived on the abundance of adventure available outside ones back door (and front one).

But all this hope came to a sudden stop.  Dad and Mum disappeared leaving us kids with the neighbours for a few days and we had no idea why.  My first knowledge of where he was didn't materialise until Mum came home, packed us up and shifted us to her Mum and Dad's place in Dannevirke and then onto Peria way up north (our Mum's sisters farm).  I started getting books from Christchurch from Dad and I wanted to know why he wasn't with us.  When I asked her where Sunnyside was (the address was on the packages) I soon learnt that Dad had suffered a mental breakdown, and as was the norm in those days, he was "hospitalised" for some months.  There is sadness in this particularly when one considers how much potential he had going for him.  More on that later.

Thankfully he recovered enough for all of us to reunite in Palmerston North and he was back to his outdoors work, once again dealing with birds for the Wellington Acclimatisation Society and at the same time reigniting his passion for Conservation, this time chairing the Manawatu Conservation Society. During this passage in his life he was also taking the family on extended holidays around the country, giving us kids a look at how this country looked and the people in it how they lived.  But he was once again cut short in seemingly mid stride with another breakdown.

After a short spell in hospital, he worked as a clerk for JJ Niven Tyres and then moved into another administrative role as Assistant Programme Organiser for the Department of University Extension at Massey University, a position he was to spend a goodly amount of time at, and also excelled at.  Around this time he also became a strong voice against jetboating on the Manawatu River and was very political in getting all river users a fair deal.  He also ran for council to champion river users (unsuccessfully).

Around this period also came one of his greatest achievements.  In Ruamahanga Crescent, where we lived, was a walkway to the river.  It was a popular point for people to access the river and he had wind that the adjoining Golf Club had intentions to expand the course onto that thoroughfare.  He rallied the local residents and fought the council tooth and nail to stop the development and eventually The Ruamahanga Reserve was created to protect access to the river for all public users.  To this day his legacy stands and when Craig and I play golf there we always play that 2nd and 3rd hole adjoining the walkway with some fond memory.

The next years in his life disappeared for me as my Navy work and a new family kept me away from him, especially after Mum passed away.  He did pass through Auckland occasionally but his mental illness kept him a closed shop and he wasn't forthcoming in dealing with his issues, something I myself would come to deal with.  But what we didn't know was the work he was involved in after his move to Masterton.  We were to find out on his passing that Dad taught trout fishing to children on the Ruamahanga River, was also fighting Jetboaters on the same river, and more importantly was submitting to select committees in parliament on river users rights and other matters pertaining to protecting the right of all the public to access any river or coastal area with the knowledge not one person has all the rights.  Plus he was a volunteer in the Red Cross.

Dad passed away way too early (as did Mum) but what can't be shaken is the legacy he passed on to all that knew him.  He was Mr Conservation.  He was Master Fisherman.  He was a Voice in a time when Voices were few and far between.  He was a Great if not quiet Father and Husband (who did have his moments) Stand Tall Dad, you might not be here in body, but in the minds and lives of all those that you touched you stand like a mighty Kauri.


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  2. Zaps, BZ takes courage to write and publish family history like this. Cheers.

  3. Very moving tribute; clearly you have good reason to be proud of such a father

    1. Certainly do Geoff. Sadly we didn't talk for 20 years, his mental illness and my career choice didn't wash to well for him.

  4. My dad too was prone to mental breakdowns, but he suffered in silence, overcoming his problems within the family. He had a fear of doctors and hospitals after being hung up on the high tension power lines, putting him into hospital for some time.
    All 3 of us kids inherited his depression, but he was a beautiful father, an outdoor nut too, but a great dad.