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(WESTERN) SAMOA POST-INDEPENDENCE, 1962-65

From chapter 4 of the memoir Compass Points


Four of us took off, with Philip less than two years and Geoffrey four months old, leaving the gorse and mud and paint of Rutland Way behind, to Auckland and on to Nadi, Fiji. There was an interminable stopover there, in the middle of the night in steamy tropical heat. There were only tourist quality souvenirs to look at, and over-priced, duty-free cosmetics and liquor. Then came a long flight to Pago Pago in American Samoa.

There we put the glamour of an Air New Zealand Electra behind us. The Polynesian Airlines plane to take us to Western Samoa was about a 12-seater of some sort. A lovely young Samoan, but obviously new to her job, tried to take us through the safety arrangements. We rolled noisily along the runway and at takeoff point the main door unlocked but did not fall off the plane. The aircraft was not going very fast and we did not really feel threatened while the plane turned and landed again. We did not need to evacuate. The pilot made sure that this time it was securely closed and we were off again. A bit of a laugh really, we thought; now we are getting a taste of the islands.

It was only about 40 minutes to Faleolo Airport in Western Samoa. We landed on a strip with a small and tired airport building, there to be met, thank goodness, by the high commission staff, a driver in a smart white uniform and sandals, and an airconditioned car. We were whisked into town, to Aggie Grey’s Hotel at the far end of Beach Road in Apia, the capital.

Gauguin, move over. I fell in love with hibiscus, frangipani, waves booming on the reef, attractive people, shell necklaces, thatched roofs over open fales, warm and languid temperatures (but keep away from the open drains), the sound of beating drums and the dancing of the siva.

We were able to move into our house quite soon, built with two other houses for high commission staff in a compound at Leififi, about half a mile inland. It was reasonably spacious and quite new, designed by the New Zealand Public Works Department for expatriates. A feature was the row of hurricane shutters on one side, not on the other — but the original location for this design and orientation was in Fiji; in Samoa the hurricanes came from the opposite direction. Since we did not suffer a true hurricane force wind in our time this was a source of amusement, not serious concern.

Our biggest difficulty on first moving in was the need to share the house, vacant for a few weeks, with huge numbers of giant cockroaches. Oh, they are loathsome creatures. We sprayed deildrin — not knowing then how toxic it could be to children — in all the drawers, painted it under the doors and swatted the beasts with jandals. It took a long time to be sure we were rid of the lot.

It was invariable custom, if an expat family had children, to have a Samoan house-girl, and we acquired Su‘o. She was placid and reliable and stayed with us nearly our whole time. She had some connection with a cluster of fales opposite our driveway, and our boys spent some of their time down there. Today we would have worried about that and rushed them off to violin lessons or the like, but they seem to have survived, and the arrangement permitted Rachel to take a part-time position teaching at Samoa College.

Although the office was within walking distance from home, because of the high humidity and temperature it was better to drive to work. The high commission building was new and purpose-built, air-conditioned, and great to work in. I had a comfortable office on the first floor next to the deputy high commissioner, Graham Ansell, another career diplomat.

The high commissioner, though, was not from the Department of External Affairs. Jack Wright was a very experienced Samoan hand from the Department of Island Territories who had retired to Western Samoa and been brought out of retirement to be the high commissioner of the country — as in governor — in the lead up to independence. It caused some confusion in the villages when he stayed on after independence as high commissioner for New Zealand — as in ambassador. But everyone knew he was a very important person. I found him a most able and genial person, held in the highest regard by Samoan leaders, ideally suited to the position.

The high commission had a substantial status not only because it represented the former colonial power, but also because it was the only diplomatic mission in the country. During our time the World Health Organisation sent a Korean doctor to help with the health system, with United Nations diplomatic status, but that was it. So though I held the lowest diplomatic rank of Third Secretary, I could gain access to anyone up to and including the departmental heads. I did not deal with Prime Minister Mata‘afa, but met him occasionally at formal functions, and must record his exceptional dignity and personal demeanour. He was invariably courteous and well-informed, and if he had any resentments at all about New Zealand as the former administering power I was totally unable to detect it.

One of my assigned tasks was to monitor New Zealand’s comprehensive aid programme. Where this involved helping a Samoan department, such as Education or Health, with key New Zealand officers working in the Samoan department, the work was done more or less directly by the counterpart New Zealand department with minimal high commission involvement. It was a great arrangement, with specialists dealing with each other, and it is sad that it was subsequently abandoned. But I did travel quite often around the two main islands to see the reality on the ground at schools which New Zealand had helped build or was paying for, or where a New Zealand teacher was working. They all looked well-kept and administered.

That function brought me into contact with village elders more than might otherwise have happened. I found it embarrassing when we, a school inspector and I, arrived to be greeted with an elaborate traditional ceremony. I soon learned to sit cross-legged the correct way, sort of, for short periods, on a woven mat, to drink ‘ava (kava), and to enjoy a range of Samoan food cooked in stone ovens, such as palusami, which was a thickened coconut milk wrapped in young taro leaves and baked. Only once did I fail, when a plate of live white grubs (huhu in New Zealand, witchity in Australia) was placed in front of me. As they wriggled off the plate onto a tablecloth on the mat, my only contribution was to nudge them back on. I have always sworn I would have eaten some if they had been cooked, but live and wriggling, and too big to swallow whole, I could not do. Fortunately I had been briefed that it was not required that I eat everything that came my way; that the situation of causing great offence by not eating sheep’s eyes in parts of the Middle East would not arise here. The matai around me were quite happy when I passed the plate, undepleted, on to them.

What was more disconcerting was the oratory, and I never became accustomed to having my visit compared to the Second Coming and suchlike. Perhaps I should have been grateful, because nobody has said anything like that about me since. I am sure my reciprocal oratory was a constant cause for disappointment among the audiences. I never once promised any village a new school or the like, only more books perhaps.

One feature of Samoan oratory has particularly stuck with me. The real chiefs (ali‘i) didn’t make the addresses themselves. They sat on their mat, gently whisking themselves from the heat and any flies, looking unbelievably serene and wise, while a specialist orator chief (tulafale) made the speech. More than once since, at some difficult point in a conference, or at a Maori function on a marae in New Zealand, I have explained that custom and pleaded, ‘Where is my tulafale?’

Stories of Samoan village culture ran deep and not all were serious. One was of the burial of a most unpopular man. The ceremony reached the stage when the senior matai said, ‘It is now customary to say some sincere words about the deceased.’ There was a long silence, eventually broken when one elder remarked, ‘Well, I can say this, he’s a lot better since he died.’ I did not experience that incident, but I often felt that type of subtlety.

It was after one village visit that I returned to the head office of the Department of Education in Apia, accompanied by a New Zealander who was the schools’ inspector, to be met by the director of the department, Ces Williams, and told that President Kennedy had been assassinated. We were disbelieving enough to suspect the story had been garbled in some way, but as soon as I returned to the office it was confirmed. It was a deeply moving event and it was obvious that I was not the only one upset by the news. It was the height of the Cold War, with the Cuban missile crisis still fresh in our minds, and Kennedy offered hope and inspiration even in this isolated part of the world. We talked about it incredulously for days.

A by-product of both the colonial past and the way we managed our aid programme was the presence of some 80 New Zealanders and families, many of them teachers, on secondment for two or four-year stints from a New Zealand to a Samoan department. I was told to keep them happy. Many lived in an enclave popularly called Centipede Alley, and on the whole they were a great bunch whose expectations of the high commission were more modest than their slightly fearsome reputation had suggested. We had them all round home for cocktails and socialised a bit with some of them on an ongoing basis.

Our aid included a small number of New Zealanders working for Volunteer Service Abroad. I was amazed at the difficult circumstances they worked under, trying to improve cattle farming for instance. They were alone all day with villagers who were not all as committed as the volunteers. We did what we could to help.

An important aid activity was the Samoan scholarship scheme, which sent a number of Samoans to New Zealand for schooling, university and advanced training. The awards were prestigious, and managed by a high-level combined Samoan–High Commission Scholarship Committee which met regularly, and on which I was the high commission’s representative. Fetaui Mata‘afa, the wife of the prime minister, was a leading light. I did not feel I could contribute much on the selection side, apart from ensuring it was done on merit and not family connection, but I was interested in monitoring the progress of the students and particularly their placement on their return to Western Samoa.

Another assignment was as the consular officer. This reinforced my direct involvement with the Kiwi seconded officer contingent. Early in our stay a New Zealand judge’s wife came up to my office and said she had a new child that she wished to register as a New Zealand citizen. ‘Right,’ I said, trying not to look too blank. ‘Let me take your name and address and I’ll send the papers out to you.’ She looked a bit bemused, wrote out the information, and left the room with thanks. I opened the bottom right drawer of my desk, starting a hunt for forms, and saw in big letters, ‘Application to Register the Birth of a New Zealand Citizen’. Should I just mail one out as planned or, since she couldn’t have left the building yet, dash down the stairs, look a bit of an idiot, and give it to her? I chose the latter. ‘Excuse me, I have the form here, you may as well take it with you or fill it in now.’ She grinned. ‘I wondered whether to tell you it was in that drawer beside you.’ She had had a previous child registered with my predecessor.

In many places around the world where New Zealand did not have an embassy or high commission, the British embassy acted on our behalf on consular matters. Apia was the only capital where this role was reversed, and I was assigned to be the British viceconsul. I was handed two very large volumes of British consular instructions, which looked handsome but rested unread on the office bookshelf. There was a requirement for British ships to log in with the local consul whenever they came into port, so periodically I was called on quite formally by the captain or a ranking officer of a newly arrived ship, and required to validate some papers and use a very official-looking rubber stamp. That I mastered. Occasionally, for a British naval vessel, I was invited on board. That meant going out into the harbour in some sort of dinghy (because the amount of coral around meant that bigger ships could not tie up at a wharf ), climbing up the side of the ship and being piped aboard with a salute. I hope I did Her Majesty’s British Consular Service proud.

The only crisis was when a British sailor went AWOL. The ship was desperate to leave but the man had headed off to the hills. What was a diligent British consular officer expected to do — stay up all night seeking updates from the Samoan police who were searching for him, and send reports to someone? Join the search even? I went to bed, my confidence confirmed the next morning when it was reported he had been found and was back on board.

At one point the government in neighbouring American Samoa announced that all non-citizens living in the territory had to produce passports or certificates of identity if they wished to stay. There were quite a number of New Zealanders from our island territories, the Cook Islands, Niue or Tokelau, living in American Samoa, working in the fish canning factory in Pago Pago or the like, and New Zealand determined that it would not be a good thing if they all had to retreat to their home territories. So Lloyd Webber, our Tokelau Islands Administrator, and I were assigned to set up an office in Pago Pago and issue as many passports and certificates as we validly could to persons claiming to be New Zealand citizens. Hence back onto the 12-seater and into a modest hotel in Pago Pago.

We put advertisements and notices around whereever we could, advising anyone claiming birth in New Zealand territories to come to our office with all documents of identity, such as birth certificates, as they could muster. Word quickly got around, and these people wanted to stay where they were as much as we wanted them to. Queues formed and we stuck photos on bits of paper and stamped things very officially and after about five days the numbers dwindled and then petered out, and we felt it time to pack and go home.

We were pleased at that, for it had not actually been a pleasan experience and we did not like Pago Pago much: it appeared lightly industrialised and to have lost a South Pacific character. But just at that time a huge storm blew up. The aircraft was grounded. We were faced with a bad hand to play — if we wanted to fly back we were advised we would have to wait several days before the plane could next take off; or we could head off on a ferry boat and would be home much earlier — if it survived the storm. Heart ruled head and we bought tickets on the boat. It was just a launch that maybe should have taken about 30 persons, and it was faced with 80 miles of open Pacific Ocean to get to Apia. We were miserably sea-sick even before we left Pago Pago Harbour.

The trip was indescribably bad. The boat was simply tossed on huge waves, the horizon looming overhead or disappearing from sight as I have never seen since. Waves washed over. It was a night trip and I cannot say if that made it better or worse. I do know that going below decks and taking a turn on one of the bunks was certainly no better than a stint on an upper deck and holding on for grim death. It took 12 hours. Then suddenly we were unsteadily stepping onto a stable wharf in Apia and Rachel was there to rush me home.

If I felt sorry for myself on that trip I felt even sorrier for another passenger, the Korean Dr Han from the WHO was sent to Western Samoa to run a campaign against filariasis — a debilitating mosquito-borne disease. He was a gentle, highly educated city person and must have wondered the whole trip what he had let himself into.

A less traumatic adventure was a visit to the Tokelau Islands. In those days the old Sunderland flying boats were still plying the route, though soon to be phased out. I made it on one of the last trips up. It was very long and noisy, but we had a safe landing on the lagoon inside the atoll and were canoed ashore. I was rather less enchanted here. There was plenty of hibiscus and booming sea on the reef and thatched huts, but the grave limits of living on a thin strip of coral were pretty apparent. The mood was contented however, with no sense of disaffection in the air. We ate and listened and talked and bought souvenirs and flew back. Their supplies had been replenished, some sales made, and they had not expected more.

Aside from looking after aid and consular matters, there was an underlying strategic seriousness about the high commission’s business that lay at the heart of every day’s work, our relationships with senior politicians and officials, and all of our political and economic reporting. Western Samoa was the first of the South Pacific island countries to gain independence, a step taken by New Zealand in the face of substantial reservations from other colonial powers.

Although I refer to New Zealand as the former colonial power, strictly speaking it was not, having administered the islands under international mandates. However, for our friends and allies this made little difference: we were setting a precedent that could affect them and their colonial relationships, and we were heightening the risk of instability in the South Pacific. Reportedly there had been concerns expressed in the lead-up to Western Samoa’s independence of it becoming ‘the Cuba of the South Pacific’. These days, heading for 60 years later, there are similar concerns about the Pacific Island states, but now this relates to the possibility of their becoming satellites not of Russia but of China. So far they seem quite capable of managing the rising Chinese influence and benefitting from its activities.

Hence New Zealand had a very high stake in making the ‘experiment’ of independence work. That was our overarching mission. I came to feel that the groundwork had been done rather thoroughly, which made our task manageable. Through the efforts of people like Jack Wright’s predecessor as high commissioner, Sir Guy Powles, and constitutional lawyers Colin Aikman from Wellington and Jim Davidson from Canberra, the independent government inherited a constitution it was highly comfortable with, having effectively negotiated it with New Zealand and the constitutional advisers over an extended period. It incorporated a subtle mix of Western parliamentary and Samoan customary practices.

In particular it provided for a fono, a parliament that passed all laws, but for which only Samoans with a chiefly title — matai — could stand for election or vote. It had the Westminster notion of a prime minister and cabinet, all drawn from parliament, and of a professional and neutral career public service divided into departments more or less on the New Zealand model. But roles were found for those with the most senior chiefly titles — the tamaa-‘aiga — with Mata‘afa as prime minister, Malietoa Tanumafili ii as Head of State, and the understanding that on his death that position would be taken up by the holder of the Tamasese title. So much was sensibly accommodated.

Consistent with this, the political system continued to evolve at Samoa’s pace long after we left. Under Prime Minister Mata‘afa in our time it was consensus politics but in the ’80s, political parties and the notion of an opposition developed. In 1991 the country adopted universal suffrage, but still only the matai could stand for a seat in the Fono.

The beach at Apia, Western Samoa, during anniversary celebrations of independence, 1963


It was only decades later, when I re-engaged with Pacific Island affairs on a broader basis through the Pacific Cooperation Foundation, did I realise the full significance of such a careful transition. Fifty years after our Samoan posting other Pacific states, particularly in Melanesia, were still experiencing turmoil. In substantial part this was because of the rapid transfer of power at their independence when a Westminster-type system was dumped on them without anything like the preparation needed. It is ironic that the colonial powers that questioned New Zealand for risking instability themselves caused much more instability and distress because they did not learn from the measured New Zealand experience. We had set a model for post-colonial arrangements in the Pacific which the other administering powers overlooked to the peril of their friends and their former colonies. Samoa, as it now is without the ‘Western’ in its name, remains a Pacific Islands model for its relative peace and economic progress, which is modest but better than most.

One feature during our stay was the Samoan government’s retention of New Zealanders as heads of many of the government departments. Samoan ministers seemed entirely happy with them and evidently did not doubt their competence or loyalty. Ash Levestam at Central Office (the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet), Max Cunliffe at Agriculture and Ces Williams at Education were among those I had the most dealings with. Indeed the Samoans accepted at least one new New Zealand appointment after independence: David McDowell, an old friend from Palmerston North Boys’ High, was sent up to start an office of foreign affairs attached to the Prime Minister’s Department and stayed until a Samoan graduate was ready for the job.

One or two Samoans were already in these top positions. Hans Thieme, of German-Samoan descent at the Health Department was one, and it was simply understood that more would be appointed as Samoans were ready. A number of these transitions took place while I was there, such as Mike Meredith replacing Ash, without difficulty. Vai Alailima took over the Public Service Commission. They were fluent in English, well qualified, and were as forthcoming as their New Zealand predecessors for the high commission to deal with. George Fepuliai‘i, the Clerk of the House of Representative and later Samoa’s high commissioner in New Zealand, Nikko Masoe, a senior police officer and some others become firm friends.

Concurrently with the Samoanisation of the senior ranks of the public service came the granting to the new appointees of high-ranking Samoan titles. Home villages were only too ready to acknowledge their newly empowered sons in this way, and keep them in the fold. Thus Mike Meredith became Lau‘ofo Meti, and that is certainly what we came to call him, and the Police Commissioner Leo Schmidt became Lavea Unasa Schmidt. It was another marvellous example of the Samoan ability both to adopt western forms and to adapt them to fit a framework of customary Samoan practice — fa‘a Samoa.

Nikko rang one day. ‘We’re going to catch palolo.’ This was a coral worm highly regarded as a delicacy. It floated in swarms to the surface on the inside of the coral reef once a year, according to some formula relating to the moon more complicated than ours for calculating Easter. It had something not to ask about to do with mating. It did it at dawn. That meant getting up at about 3.30 a.m., driving to a meeting point in Apia, taking a long drive with Nikko and some of his mates in a beaten-up truck over rough roads and, after parking, wading out to the reef. However sturdy your footwear and other gear is, it seems impossible to get around coral without being scratched and bleeding. The water became deeper and near the reef we had to swim, which is not particularly my forte. It was still dark. I was struggling with the fine butterfly net and a bucket … you may deduce I had developing doubts about the whole venture. But lo, as dim, early light came, the sea turned milky white and scooping began and the bucket filled. Somehow I made it back to the beach and we were all elated during the return trip.

Palolo could be frozen, so into the freezer it went. It was quite strongly flavoured, with a touch of the sea naturally, and delectable. We used it selectively, thawing what we needed to put on biscuits to serve like caviar, usually for visitors. That was all fine except once when we had a single woman guest over from New Zealand. We were talking about Samoan food, and she said, ‘I’ve read about it and I think I could eat it all — except for that coral worm. That makes me sick to think about it. By the way, what’s this delicious stuff on these biscuits?’ Well, we told her and she turned white and didn’t eat any more of anything.

We always enjoyed the occasional New Zealand visitor. The Governor-General, Sir Bernard Fergusson came once. We happened to be talking together at a reception in his honour at the official residence of the head of state, which was in Robert Louis Stevenson’s gorgeous old house Vailima, when dinner was announced. ‘Time of a bit of scoff, old chap,’ he said, totally true to form.

Groups of members of parliament visited and we enabled them to sample village life as well as have the required appointments around Apia. These were opportunities to get insights into New Zealand politics that would have been hard to replicate in Wellington. Exchanges during a long walk along a beach, the reef booming (still), with a New Zealand MP late at night after lengthy village festivities, was usually ‘full and frank.’

Others were the anthropologists Roger Green and Janet Davidson from Auckland University. They were excavating in some pretty inaccessible hill country, but were highly informed to talk to on occasional weekend opportunities. They were interested in the early settlement of Samoa, and language and other linkages with the rest of Polynesia, and later produced a book on the archaeology in Western Samoa.

It became more and more apparent over time, and in different postings, that as well as meeting the best of local people, the embassies provided regular opportunities to meet many of the most able New Zealanders from many walks of life.

My posting was scheduled to last two years, which expired in November 1963, but the department asked if I could stay on for another three months. We agreed. In one of those turns of fate, on the day after we would have left I went down with hepatitis and was put to bed for several weeks.

Even that turned out to be beneficial. Sometime in January when I was recovering, a New Zealand calibration flight came through Samoa on its way to the Cook Islands and French Polynesia. Someone in the office had the thought that I should go on it to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, because the climate there was cooler than in Apia, to quicken my recovery. I could stay there for a few days while the flight went on to Papeete, and I could collect it on the return trip. Rachel agreed, so off I went. After a noisy night of local feasting on Aitutaki on the way, the creaky old plane reached Rarotonga and I headed for a hotel bed.

Two interesting things happened, the first not of my making. The Cook Islanders were heading for an election to determine their first prime minister and government to take office under the recently agreed self-government. Because of that the Resident Commissioner, an official from the Department of Island Territories, was returning to New Zealand to be replaced for the first time by a high commissioner from the Department of External Affairs. I was quickly appraised that the local community, or at least the papa‘a New Zealand component of it, was agog with the rumour that this guy from External Affairs in Apia was down sussing the place out before his appointment as high commissioner. The Resident Commissioner held a modest reception for me to meet some of the community, and most of those two hours was spent gently letting them down. No, I was not so designated.

But I decided that I might as well do something useful for my couple of days there. I found the Commissioner and other New Zealand officials that I met held the view that in the elections an ‘establishment’ candidate — who would not rock the boat with policies and relations with New Zealand — was sure to win. I understood that the Commissioner’s formal reporting to Wellington anticipated this. Nevertheless there was a certain buzz about a more nationalistic candidate, Albert Henry, and from what I could tell he was talking a lot of sense.

Being a professional diplomat by now, I asked the taxi driver how he was going to vote. He said with a slight tone of defiance in his voice, ‘Albert Henry.’ When the maid came into the bedroom the next morning, I asked her too. With that same touch of defiance she gave the same answer. Maybe that was enough for a full diplomatic report, but I found a telephone directory and a phone, and rang Albert Henry. I explained I was from New Zealand’s Department of External Affairs, currently based in Western Samoa but in Rarotonga for a couple of days, and I’d like to meet him. He said he would be pleased to and would be home for most of the day.

The drive in the taxi took an age, to an isolated part of the island, but then we sat down and yarned and yarned for two or three hours. He didn’t need much questioning; he just talked about his feel of what the Cook Islands needed, in a remarkably well-thought out and coherent way. It was in a nationalistic direction, but in the sense that he wanted the Cook Islanders to be more self-reliant and to think about their future for themselves. There was nothing obvious in it that should trouble New Zealand, indeed most of it should have been judged admirable by us.

So then I had my memorandum, which I sent off when back in Apia. I set out his views as systematically as possible, as I suspected had not been done before, and without explicitly forecasting he would win the election made it clear that New Zealand should not be surprised if he did. Many years later I was told that the memo had been widely noted in Wellington, and after Henry won, hadn’t done my career any harm — feedback I found quite unexpected because most reporting went quite unremarked upon.

Jack Wright put on a generous farewell party for us at the high commission and we left Samoa in February 1964, much enriched by a Pacific Island experience. I felt, a bit guiltily, that I knew more about Samoan society than I did about Maori, but sadly it was over 40 years before we returned to Apia. I took away an underlying realisation that the Western rules of social engagement that I had been brought up with were not infallibly correct — for example the Samoans seemed more liberal than our society was (at that time!) on premarital sex (I deduced this on thin evidence even though the Australian Professor Derek Freeman had just debunked Margaret Mead’s widely accepted views on the sexual freedom of adolescent girls) and stricter than us with their wider definition of incest. Who was to say they were wrong on either count?

And I was fortunate to gain some feel for the benefits and downsides of a communal as opposed to an individual-based society, an issue I have reflected on many times since. The Samoans were faced with difficult decisions over the pace of social change, in a society rooted in communalism and kinship, which they understandably sought to retain, versus the need for economic growth and increased wealth, which appeared to thrive best in individualistic circumstances. They struck that balance in various ways, by being very cautious about tourism, for example, and its potentially damaging social effects, even though its potential for foreign exchange earnings and jobs was clear enough.

We also left feeling reasonably comfortable about the New Zealand record in Western Samoa, its management of the transition to independence and the likelihood of the country surviving quite well in its independent state. There were blots on our record, especially between the two world wars, but I met no Samoans who referred to those events (notably the 1918 influenza epidemic and the 1928 Mau suppression), or who otherwise complained about the New Zealand administration. On the contrary, the more recent past of New Zealand and Samoa had much to commend it. They clearly were not damaged or humiliated by their colonial experience, but rather felt good about themselves and their situation. When the prime minister of New Zealand in 2005 apologised to the Samoan people for our administration, from all accounts in the face of a preference by the Samoan cabinet that she not do so, I felt that her view and action were misplaced, too much based on happenings that were generations ago — and which were still open to various interpretations.

This judgement about Samoa at independence being in reasonably good shape and confident was backed by other observers. Once an American rushed up the stairs of the high commission, security not so tight then, and into my office shouting, ‘What did we do wrong? How have you guys done it?’ He had come in from American Samoa and was genuinely appalled at the contrast of how well Apia and its people looked compared with Pago Pago. I sat him down and we had a lengthy discussion about these things. However, all this is not to deny alternative histories, that New Zealand never spent enough training Samoans in fields such as tropical medicine, education or agriculture, and I have no doubt that we administered Western Samoa frugally if not exploitatively for decades.

We took the banana boat home — three days to Suva and four days down to Auckland. The four of us were all in one room of bunk beds, and at 6.45 a.m. each day we were pleasantly awakened by the tea lady with tea for us and hot chocolate for the boys. It was a good family time, though we sometimes left the boys tucked in and joined the captain’s table for the evening meal. It was a warm ending to an intense period of our lives.