This article was published in ‘Hibiscus Matters’ local newspaper on 5 October 2011.
Allan Parker, who is enjoying a tranquil retirement in Army Bay, has come a long way from his humble beginnings, growing up in a series of Barnardos homes. Despite the lifelong dislike of regimentation that this engendered, he served for many years in the Royal Navy and was awarded the British Empire Medal for meritorious service. Allan spoke to Terry Moore about how his background led him to fight so energetically for the Shakespear Open Sanctuary.
My brother and I grew up in the UK as wards of the state. My mother abandoned us as children because my father was in hospital with muscular dystrophy. He was sent home from hospital, after being given five years to live, and my mother had gone. She left a letter saying she would not return and that we were being looked after by a relative. My father called in the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and we were handed over to Barnardos. I was six and my brother was four and we stayed in Barnardos’ custody for the rest of our childhoods. I didn’t find out a lot about my family background, and why my brother and I ended up in Barnados, until 10 years ago when an Act of Parliament in Britain gave access to records.
Once you were 11, in those days (the 1940s), organisations like Barnardos sent you to Australia or Canada or put you into a trade. Girls went into domestic service. I was put into naval training school, and at the age of 15 I joined the Royal Navy. Your future from the age of 11 was mapped out, which was how the world was in those days. I served in the Royal Navy until I was 25, taking part in the British invasion of Egypt in 1956 and, in 1957, I was involved with the H Bomb tests at Christmas Island. I was a radio operator on the HMS Messina, and our job was to support those conducting the H Bomb tests by setting up observation stations on nearby islands. We would go to an uninhabited island and take fuel and stores onshore for the scientists and help set up a base. I saw 20 Megaton H bombs detonated. We were told to turn our backs and put our hands over our faces and it was like an X ray – you could see the bones of your hands. I belong to a group of veterans who have a claim in against the British government because it has been proven that people who were part of the operation have a higher incidence of genetic damage than the general population. This has been recognised by the NZ government, but not the British. Our family has been okay, but others that I know of have not been so lucky.
I loved being at sea and on operations, but did not enjoy the regimentation of life in the Navy because I had already spent a lifetime in that kind of setting at Barnardos.
After I left the Navy I met Elaine in Manchester and we got married. Not long after we’d had our first child, we decided to start a new life in New Zealand. Both Australia and New Zealand were being promoted in Britain at the time as ideal for young families. I found I could use my naval experience and retain the same rank of Petty Officer in the Royal NZ Navy. I had been institutionalised for so long that I had no confidence that I could do anything else, and I had a family to support, so I joined the Royal NZ Navy and remained in their service for 16 years. Things were absolutely different in the NZ Navy – it was more informal with a family atmosphere and also had a higher operational standard all round than the British Navy. There was a high level of commitment to operating ships and people took more pride in their work. Elaine and I lived in naval housing in Wellington and on the North Shore when I wasn’t at sea.
Because I had spent so much time in institutional settings I was determined to make a change and work for myself. When I left the NZ Navy I did a business diploma at Massey University and set myself up as a consultant specialising in training and organisational development. At the same time Elaine and I bought the land where we still live, in Army Bay, and built our house. My business was successful for a number of years, although most of my work was in Wellington so I had to commute there from Army Bay, Monday to Friday. I enjoyed working for myself, however the field I had chosen began to be taken over by large accounting firms who moved into NZ and extended into management consultancy. This had an adverse effect on solo operators like myself and I decided to change tack and work locally in the mid-1990s. I worked with Rodney Stopping Violence Services, running groups for men. It was a 16-week programme aiming to help men change their relationships with their partners and children. Some self-referred because they wanted to change their behaviour and meet the challenges of relationships without violence, and some men were referred to the programme by the courts. I would help facilitate those groups and did that for 10 years. One reason I was interested in this kind of work was because my first big contract as a solo operator had been to set up a national programme for anyone who worked in a training role in an organisation. I worked out what was required and found a venue, Wellington Teacher’s College, and organised someone to run it. That made me realise how little I knew about group facilitation and engaging a group as a leader, and dealing with conflict. This set me on a path of doing courses and workshops and learning more of those skills because you certainly didn’t learn them in the Navy. My work with Stopping Violence followed on from there. It involved managing people who don’t want to be in the room, or listen to anything you have to say. You have to engage them so they are learning and not fighting. You develop those skills by having lots and lots of practice at it – no amount of study can prepare you for being in a room with 16 men with violent histories who don’t want to be there.
I have always taken an interest in local government and local affairs and like to follow closely what’s going on. I made submissions on various Annual Plans and in the process found out that the Auckland Regional Council had, since 1998, intended to establish a sanctuary at Shakespear Regional Park. I thought I could help get that going, so myself and Jean Bell approached the ARC and said we’d like to start a community organisation to support that initiative. We started meeting with them in June, 2003 and in 2004 we set up an incorporated society, the Shakespear Open Sanctuary Society. We invited people to come along such as DOC and the Navy and Council, people involved with Tiritiri Matangi and Tawharanui, to help form the organisation. We live near Shakespear, and went to the opening of the park in 1977; we’ve always made full use of it. However, my basic motivation for wanting the sanctuary was that, because I was brought up in Barnardos homes, I’ve always lived in beautiful places. The five homes I lived in were all old country estates in beautiful parts of the country. One of them, where I lived from 1943–47, was in Euston Hall, Norfolk, which is the home of the Duke of Grafton and is a huge park with a village and a church all on the estate. As children we had free range of this massive park. Barnardos must have had a brilliant system of picking their staff, because although they were strict – after all they had 250 children to look after, some of whom arrived traumatised – there was never any abuse or mistreatment at all. I’ve always had the view that the world should be a pleasant place, so if I have an opportunity to speak up so that people can live in more beautiful surroundings, I do so. My philosophy is not to believe in ‘isms’ –capitalism, communism or whatever, because it compromises your values and you end up taking a position often against someone else.
For the first two years at SOSSI we wondered what we had done because we were too far ahead of the ARC – they weren’t ready to start this project. We were the catalyst and they had to start catching up and thinking about the fence and what the options were. We kicked off the whole process. Once they made the decision to get it happening, we were in a position to start attracting the community’s attention and fundraising and got a wonderfully positive response. It’s amazing to see the fence now built and we’re moving into the next phase, fundraising for the interpretation and educational side so that once the sanctuary is open to the public there will be images and boards and structures providing lots of information on what the sanctuary is all about.
My retirement is taken up with family and transporting my 14-year-old granddaughter to and from school and training with the Coast Swim Club, as her parents, my daughter and son-in-law, both work full-time. I also have a summer job, working with NIWA as a fishing surveyor at Gulf Harbour boat ramp and I study genealogy, which has provided a lot of insight into my family history and even uncovered a few new relatives.