Into the Black – Eight men and a boy went to sea—only one made it home alive.

He awakes alone in the black at 12.03am. He does not look at the clock but he knows the time. He cannot see their faces but he knows who they are. The silhouettes surround him in silence. He is not afraid. He closes his eyes and remembers their story. It is his too.

He remembers the taste of salt, the smell of gasoline, the constant slap of water against his skin. He remembers what absolute loneliness feels like.

He will say he was ready to die. He will say his entire life led up to the moment when he decided not to.

There were nine, including him. They had set out together on a boat called the Easy Rider. The only difference in their story is that he is alive and they are not. (read more)

Death of a Prisoner – a widow’s seven year battle for answers

Irene Cleary couldn’t sleep. At 1am, two weeks after her husband’s funeral, she lay awake and alone in her Pohara home. Next to her, on the floor, was a box that had been taken from his cell in Christchurch Men’s Prison. It was the things he had left behind. (read more)

Why are port workers still dying?                          (multimedia feature)

The photograph sits on a bedroom dresser in a small wooden cottage. On the walls of the South Brighton home there are oil paintings and old lithographs from the hills looking out over Lyttelton harbour. On the mantelpieces are model ships.

In that photograph, he is looking up. A small beam of light hits his face. Warren Ritchie is smiling.

Every morning Helen Dungey wakes and looks at the picture of her son and then to the polished wooden box that sits just below it. The photo is how she imagines him in his final moments – looking upward, towards his fate. (read more)

Sunday Star Times

Lost in the Long White Cloud – a longform multimedia feature

The land slipped and crumbled beneath his feet. It had been several hours since Gerry Tonkin began the search and while the topography around him had shifted wildly – rolling from shallow gravel gullies, to sharp gorse ridges – the scene in front of him had not. Dust and dried leaves and blackberry bush layered the floor, and thick woody vines of supplejack wrapped and sprawled their way through regenerating forest. “Spider web gullies,” they were called.

“We told ourselves we are going to find this thing,” Tonkin said, grabbing the exposed roots of a beech tree to haul himself upright. There weren’t any easy paths. Holding a small rusted scythe he cut away at the branches that fell constantly into his face.

Patches of prickly  “bush lawyer” – so named for its tendency to grip you until it drew blood – only added to the struggle. Some of the other search groups, Tonkin learned through his radio, had managed to cover only 100 meters in an hour. Even if they saw what they thought they were looking for, it was possible they wouldn’t recognise it. It was the cruel paradox of this search: they were too busy concentrating on scrambling to really focus on what the bush might be hiding.

It was also hard to know what their target might look like after all these years. It was meant to be thin metal tubing crisscrossing its way down to a tapered end. They were told it might look like a windmill fallen on its side. All searches were different, but this one was of the few times that the volunteers weren’t racing to find someone alive.

Deep in the thick green labyrinth, a few kilometres from the Awaroa Inlet, they were searching for a piece of aviation lore lost for 85 years. It represented the forgotten heroism of an age – where an individual could aspire to great feats at great peril. A find would rewrite a little known piece of New Zealand history. It would give two young men credit for conquering the unconquered. And it would bring closure to two families who have long lived without an answer to the question: What happened to George Hood and John Moncrieff? (read more)

Two years after the Christchurch earthquake 

It was a hot, nearly cloudless day in the suburb of Mt Pleasant when Lisa Cobb and her two young children walked past a sign hanging on a metal wire fence which read: “Danger enter at your own risk.” (read more)


Decline, distrust and destruction under the mountain

The police came under the shadow of the mountain. They drove past the mangrove swamp that used to be a horse-racing track, that used to be a sports field until the tide came in and did not leave.

They passed Kotahitanga Marae where a brass plaque stood etched with the names of members of the Maori Battalion who were born and bred in Whangape and went to war and did not return.

The vehicles crawled down the four-kilometre gorge, tyres shuddering over a rutted, metal road.

They passed the single-storey homes with peeling paint and Sky TV satellite dishes, the rusted-out caravans and the sedans sitting on stocks with the windows busted out. The cars came to settle under Whakakoro – the sacred mountain.

Along with the cars coming and going, residents in Whangape heard the sound of machinery whirring long into the evening. At night, there were lights on the mountain.

Since last November, when police raided the town, there had been sideways glances and the skidding wheels of quad bikes in the dust and the echo of gunshots from night-time possum hunts too close for comfort.

When police gathered the community at the marae last Monday night, Detective Sergeant Trevor Beatson said the machinery, the traffic and the lights had all been signs of an elaborate drug operation. (continue reading)

Murder in a small Kiwi school

There were cherry blossoms in the valley that day. They would have only a short period in bloom before their flowers fell off. They would have a short life and a quick death before the season began again.

Back then, in 1923, they always reminded an 8-year-old Joan Dobson of summer. Now they reminded her of something else. The blossoms came into use when the town needed decorations for a procession of people that snaked 500 metres down the dust road sandwiched between the sides of the Karangahake Gorge.

They were still in bloom several days after that when Waikino School was burned down. But it would be a year later until they came back – when residents passed each other in the street but did not speak about why that school, which had stood alone atop a slope 100 metres above the Ohinemuri River, was shifted further down the hill. (continue reading)

Diving for Gold on New Zealand’s most famous shipwreck

Cold and shivering, Bill Day hauled himself out of the water and into an inflatable boat bobbing lightly on the incoming tide. He pulled off his diving mask and looked around the cove. It was a rare day in the Auckland Islands. Sunlight streamed into a huge archway big enough for a ship to fit through. A waterfall flowed from the middle of a cave roof, washing over hanging rocks and into the ocean below.

“Isn’t it a pity that ships don’t go down in places like this,” Day told the boatman at the engine.

The expedition team had swum the length of the west coast of the islands, which lie like irregular dragon’s teeth, 300km below New Zealand’s southernmost tip. (read more)

White supremacists

White power movement delivers warning

For evil to prosper all you need is a good dose of sunshine.

So it was on a bright Christchurch day last weekend when men adorned in black T-shirts, camouflage pants and with their heads shaved took to the streets.

Alongside them were women pushing baby strollers, and displaying signs that declared, among other things, that it was all right to be white. (read more)

Overstayers fear for their Kiwi kids

Off the main road, past the tank that proudly stands guard outside Jalandhar’s military headquarters, past its railway station and the place where the trains go to die, lies a loose collection of feebly strung blue tarpaulins, woollen blankets and a faint blur of coloured dots.

Stop and look closer on Rama Mandi road, in India’s northwest Punjab, and the coloured dots become children. (read more)


Rough ride for Rena salvors

Standing in the Rena’s engine room, weeks after the container ship struck the Bay of Plenty’s Astrolabe reef, Kenny Crawford’s mind was altered.

He had sailed for years on ships much like it, and recognised the layout. But here the spanners on the walls were leaning, like the ladders, the entire ship on a 22 degree angle. (read more)

Lost biologist drawn to New Zealand

The scene seemed familiar to Mihai Muncus-Nagy as he flew into Auckland airport last year. He felt at home as he saw green trees, rounded hills and feeding cattle beneath him. Though he knew little about reincarnation, the 33-year-old Romanian biologist was confident that if he had lived before, it would have been here. (read more)

The Dominion Post

When cricket is more than just a game 

So this lesson begins with a cleft of Kashmir willow, a tree once grown on the plains of a piece of disputed territory in Central Asia, but now, in the heart of India’s Punjab region, it is shaped into a high-sided polygon, thin white twine wrapped around its cane handle and it is in the hands of Propsh Om Parkash. “Think of India as a bat,” Parkash says. “It has a top, the handle, a splice, a middle and a toe.” (read more)

Your Weekend

Crowned prosecutor

Simon Moore has a full gallery on this June day as he walks calmly across Auckland High Court’s courtroom 15. The jury watches closely as he addresses them before the judge, defence, media and public gallery. The New Zealand coat of arms is set securely within a wooden shield over looking the jerking, hulking figure of Antonie Ronnie Dixon. (read more)

The Press

Farewell to Kia Ora St

There are no signs to Kia Ora St.

It was just over a month ago when Tracy Carlyle first noticed that the last of them were gone. It was a short and largely forgotten stretch of Bexley – filled with potholes and empty sections and, for its residents, memories. There were 23 years of those for Tracy and her husband, John. It was the only home her daughter, Sasha, had ever known. It was meant to be the first and only one they ever bought.

So Tracy called up Christchurch City Council to ask for the signs to be replaced. How else would people know that there was a street that existed there, just off Pages Rd, where a group of neighbours once made a pact that no matter what happened they would stay in touch? In the early days they agreed that they could park caravans in each others gardens while homes were being rebuilt. Then the pact changed. No matter where they moved to, they would check in on each other. They would still be neighbours. They called themselves the Kia Ora six.

“How many people are living on the street?” the council phone operator asked.

“Just two,” Tracy replied. (read more)

Home Bittersweet Home

The tide was out on the morning of the move. Ian Wallace awoke early to make his two children breakfast before setting about packing up four months of their lives. He took a photo of his wedding day off a shelf in the rented house that was only meant to be shelter for a few weeks.

He picked up a wooden box, shrouded in blue velvet, and placed it carefully on the back seat of his car. Then he drove home for the first time in almost two years. Only it wasn’t home. Not quite. (read more)

What good are the arts? – Denis Dutton vs John Carey

Like all good English boys, Oxford professor John Carey was brought up to believe that the arts made you a better person – that there was some higher moral authority in being able to quote Shakespeare or comment on the musical phrasing of Beethoven’s later symphonies. Art was, for lack of a more specific term, good. But as the Sunday Times’ chief book reviewer, Carey has read many accounts of famous artists, musicians and writers. And the more he reads, the less good they all seem. (read more)

Campus chameleon

Rod Carr never seemed like the thing he ended up becoming. He never seemed like an economist when he went to help govern the Reserve Bank. He never seemed like a businessman when he headed up Jade Software Coporation. Right now, standing in the lobby of the company he still runs, Carr does not sem like the Vice Chancellor of the University of Canterbury. But in four months time he will be. (read more)

Learning to hear

On his final day in a world without hearing Guy Anderson ate a Japanese curry in a small restaurant on Hereford Street. The next day, at 8am, doctors at St George’s hospital shaved a part of his head, drilled into his skull, inserted a filament into the ear and embedded a small electronic implant. (read more)

The Nelson Mail

Looking for Leo

It’s out there somewhere – a black Nokia mobile phone with the battery run flat and hundreds of messages left unanswered. The message is casual – the voice of a young man with seemingly nothing in particular on his mind. “Hi, I’m not here at the moment, please leave a message.” One hundred and forty-one days have passed since a live voice replied at the other end. Seven helicopter searches. Dozens of emails. Thousands of kilometres driven, from Nelson to Invercargill. Hundreds of kilometres trekked, from the tip of Golden Bay to the edges of the Marlborough Sounds. But the numbers aren’t important any more. After five months, no-one knows even where to begin. (read more)

Hitting the right notes

Little Kirimaraea was not supposed to hum. She couldn’t. The five-year-old is one in 150,000. Emma Breaker had never even heard of Cornelia Delong Syndrome when, after six months of tests, doctors finally discovered the reason why her daughter had lost half her body weight by the time she was just six weeks old. Kirimaraea was just the 10th baby in New Zealand to be born with the genetic disorder, which causes wide-ranging and severe developmental abnormalities. She doesn’t speak. She smiles, and grins and pokes her tongue out. She nestles into the refuge of her mother’s shoulder when she gets nervous. There is scarcely a peep out of her. But each day last week, after Kirimaraea came home from Victory Primary School, Ms Breaker heard something different: high-pitched wordless tones. They had rhythm and tune. It was a melody. (read more)

The men’s room

It is a difficult place to blend in. Sneakers too white, jeans too blue, skin not lived in. Before taking even one step across the thick white stone threshold that separates the shelter from the Vanguard St pavement, it’s obvious that the reporter is not one of them. (read more)

One step at a time

About five years ago, when 13-year-old Hemanshu Patel lost the last of his dwindling sight, he curled up in a small ball, afraid of the world. He stayed that way for seven weeks and would not move. But yesterday Hemanshu, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder, went for a walk in the Queen’s Gardens. Barefoot and with cane in hand, he slowly made his way out the doors of Maitai School on to the cold tarmac and crossed Tasman St. (read more)

On the road to independence

Sharon Schipper cannot speak, but she has a voice.It is sharp, funny and inquisitive. Sharon’s voice is her best buddy, her “BB”. It is the name she gave her pink DX5 computer that she uses to communicate with the world around her. At 7.50am, the 15-year-old is at the door of her Nelson home waiting to be taken to Garin College, in Richmond, for school. Sharon has made the trip almost every weekday for the past three years. Her mother, Amanda Schipper, puts her lunch in a backpack, pulls Sharon’s gloves over her hands and puts a black woollen hat on her head. It is a cold morning. Mrs Schipper often wakes up to seven times a night to make sure Sharon is OK. One morning, Mrs Schipper was so tired that she couldn’t stop to chat with Sharon before she headed off. “I’m sorry Sharon I can’t talk today,” she said, hooking her backpack on the side of her daughter’s electric chair. Sharon grinned and began to press buttons on the computer in front of her. The letters came up on the screen. After a few moments BB spoke: “Go back to bed,” Sharon told her mother. Mrs Schipper had to laugh. But yesterday, Sharon simply moved the joystick on her chair, rolled down the wooden ramp that leads up to her house and was lifted up into an awaiting taxi van. After being strapped in, Sharon was on her way. “Be good at school,” Mrs Schipper called out. (read more)

Collision course with killing

Shannon Brent Flewellen was a boat painter, turned white supremacist, turned murderer. He had been through youth court from a young age, spent most of his adult life in prison and never showed any responsibility or remorse for his offending. Now 30 years old, Flewellen will spend at least another 16 years behind bars after being sentenced yesterday to life imprisonment for the murder of South Korean tourist Jae Hyeon Kim on the West Coast in 2003. “He was always on a collision course,” said Nelson Bays area commander Detective Inspector John Winter, who headed the investigation.

Land of the dinosaurs 

I have been told to walk first. I’m entering some of the oldest remaining bush on Stephens Island, the most remote Department of Conservation outpost in the Marlborough Sounds. I have been told to walk first because that way, I will see one of New Zealand’s very own living fossils, the tuatara. Stephens Island, or Takapourewa, is home to 90 per cent of the world’s tuatara population and it is here they have lived unchanged for millions of years. So, if I want to see one, it is best they are not disturbed. Walk quietly. (read more)

“Is it a pineapple?”

“Is it a pineapple?” askes seven-year-old Rose Moana Rapata looking at my piece of cardboard. To be honest, I am not sure. It is oval with spiky hair and a quality that screams “a five-year-old made me,” but a five-year-old didn’t.  I did. “Sure, it’s a pineapple,” I say. (read more)


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