Friday, 17 December 2010

In Memory of Tom Newnham (1926 - 2010)

A Great New Zealander: Tom Newnham, founder of the Citizens Association for Racial Equality (CARE), author of By Batons & Barbed Wire: A Response to the 1981 Springbok Tour of New Zealand, and a ceaseless fighter for the rights of oppressed people everywhere, died on Wednesday, 15 December 2010, aged 84.

You were thirty-seven, Tom,
When Peter, Paul and Mary
Made If I Had a Hammer a hit.
Old enough to know, in 1963,
How brave it was to sing
So fervently about
Justice, Freedom, Love.

What an incitement it was:
All that youth and reckless hope;
With Mary Travers’ hair
A silver banner in the spotlight,
And Peter’s and Paul’s guitars
Brandished like swords
Above the Newport crowd.

At eighteen, watching the newsreels,
You’d seen the worst that men can do.
The bodies stacked like cordwood,
Racism’s obscene legacy
Luminous in the survivor’s eyes.
Was it then, in the darkness,
You made your lifetime vow?

Watching the post-war babies grow.
Seeing them reach for the bright promises
Their parents forgot to keep.
Refusing the hemlock of comfortable silence.
Moving like a partisan through the Cold War sentries.
Distributing your weapons of resistance –
Hammers, bells and songs.

Showing us how much was lost
In the translation of waiata to song.
How much had been stolen
Beneath the auctioneer’s hammer.
How a whole people was dispossessed
To the accompaniment of church bells –
And the cheering of Rugby crowds.

Until, standing there, Tom,
The air throbbing with the
primal violence of thwarted sport,
You linked arms with history.
And while the whole world watched,
Swung the hammer, tolled the bell,
Sang freedom’s song.

Chris Trotter
17 December 2010


Stan said...

A great New Zealander, who showed us the way.

Anonymous said...

Chris. Did Tom ever receive any official commendation or government thanks, for his life's work fighting racism and the many sacrifices that must have required?

Is there any memorial service planned?

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous.

I'm afraid I can't answer the first of your questions - although I will say that if he didn't receive any official thanks for his extraordinary contribution to NZ society, then the Labour Party should hang its head in shame.

As to the second question: yes, there will be a memorial service for Tom; at 10:00am on Tuesday, 21st December at the Mt Eden War Memorial Hall, just up from the intersection of Dominion & Balmoral Roads, Auckland.

markus said...

It's a real shame Tom didn't quite make it to next year's 30th anniversary of the 81 Tour. I'm sure he would have been in great demand, might have even thought of penning a retrospective opinion-piece or two.

One of the genuine heros of recent New Zealand history. And, like my left-wing, blue-collar, anti-Vietnam War, anti-Springbok Tour, "Silent" generation parents, proof if ever it was needed that not everybody before the Boomers "forgot to keep" those "bright promises", Chris.

Tiger Mountain said...

Tom held a QSO (Queens Service Order) according to online sources, which was awarded in 1988. I saw him over many years at meetings and actions and thought it remarkable that he always resisted publicly endorsing or appearing to join any of the many political groups and parties around. Yet was respected by and worked well with them all.

I have cursed him over the years, every time I bought a new copy of “By Batons and Barbed Wire” someone (usually well meaning) would swipe it!

Tom Newnham, a classic exemplar of how kiwis could and should be.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Chris for this astonishing, perceptive and understanding tribute to my father. How did you know my childhood resounded with "If I had a hammer", "We shall overcome", "Times they are a Changin", "If you miss me at the back of the bus"? Dad would have them playing it seemed endlessly, joining in with gusto. We will give them a reprise on Tuesday at the funeral. Arohanui, Anne Newnham

Tauhei Notts said...

Provincial New Zealand owes a debt of gratitude to Tom Newnham and others for the work they did in tearing down the apartheid system.
Can any of you city dwellers wonder where provincial New Zealand would be accessing medical attention, if the apartheid system was still in place. For, if it was, there would be no need for so many highly qualified medical practitioners to emigrate to New Zealand.

Nick said...

Chris, a commendation for your two last published poems, this and the Pike River poem. I refered last year to one of your 1970s poems as Vogon, I take it all back, outstanding efforts, forgive me.

On the subject of Tom Newnham, what a committed activist, such unwaivering principles. I marvel that people like Newnham actually exist: their humanity and generosity in placing personal discomfort and resulting disadvantage secondary to the greater good of others is their true measure. A giant of a man.

Chris Trotter said...

Thanks, Nick. I do remember your quip, and remember thinking at the time: "How does Nick know what Vogon poetry is like ... unless ... unless ... he's a


[Which explains the sudden improvement in the quality of Chris's poetry.]

Anonymous said...

Dear friends!

Unfortunately I've got the information not more early.
I meet Tom in 1994 in Auckland in his home in Dominion Rd. and we had spoken long time about Dr. Norman Bethune and Kathleen Hall. Some years after them we wrote together by E-Mail. I recontacted him with Ma Baoru in Baoding (China) and it was good for the exchange of students between New Zealand and China . My medical historic interests in Dr. Norman Bethune has given me connections around the world and Tom in NZ was the farest.

Goodbye Tom and thank you for all.

Gerd Hartmann M.D., Germany

Anonymous said...

I was a friend of Tom from China, I met Tom in the years of 2000 in the city of Shenyang, I was in deep sorrow when hearing this, does anyone know Tom's will? Maybe I can help to do something in China.

Dawei Liu