Wednesday, September 12, 2007

2007. Christchurch NZ, Lincoln University & Oaklands Labourer, 1996

1996. Esslemonts at Lake Tekapo.

Despite my Phonaks, I could hardly hear Lincoln lecturers who took us students on field-trips to see compost heaps, organically-grown vegetables, Sanitarium flower garden, Deans Bush and grape vines. I thought local champagne was crap, until I found Cellier Le Brun at Marlborough. There were no tutorials. Needed library books were scarce. Stand-over male students once bumped my seat in the library, and frightened an Asian girl who left. A male fiddled with my beanie. I shut them up, and reported them to the proctor, a former bank robber.

After writing essays about grass-grub sex life, soil structure, grape brix (sugar content), pressed leaves and other scientisms, I withdrew after the first semester. I reckoned a postgrad diploma wouldn't, "Giz a job?" My state student-allowance paid some expenses, but I took eight years to repay my student-loan, with interest. A year after our arrival, we still subsidized our residence with our reduced SA funds. In 2002, Lincoln merged horticultural courses with degree courses, as student numbers were dropping.

During weekends, I'd picked Royal Gala apples with Chow a Taiwanese workmate at Apple-Fields Mair Orchard near Prebbleton. Our Pakeha boss controlled tractors, hydro-ladders, spraying machines, trailers, pruning equipment. Once, I fell off my ladder when my wet boot slipped off a wet rung. No broken bones. Sometimes, casual workers fell off ladders and left for good. While picking, we selected apples according to colour percentage and size, and were paid according to the number of bins we filled daily. Depending on the size of picked apples, filling three bins daily with Chow was satisfactory. Four or more bins meant we were running up and down ladders.

June 1996: In SA, RDP (Reconstruction & Development Programme) gave way to GEAR (Growth, Employment & Redistribution). RDP & GEAR would prove to be illusions for SA's poor.

July 1996: I queried NZ Immigration Service about work opportunities in NZ and Australia. A bureaucrat wrote: "We have at the moment no facilities nor resources to be able to assist in job placement, or assisting with settling-in after arrival. The NZ Employment Service may be of help regarding future employment... You are free to explore opportunities in Australia and return to NZ anytime, provided you hold a Returning Resident Visa."

Previous NZ governments had assisted tens of thousands of Pom immigrants. Pacific Islanders were also assisted. Paying immigrants, like us, weren't. Annual quota refugees were screened and assisted in Auckland. The National government expected immigrants, like us, to pay for our Residence Visas and travel and relocation costs.

Aged 45, I signed on for the dole for the first time in my life. Sydenham Income Support's Gosling rolled her eyes when I said I was deaf. As there was no connection between state Income Support and state Employment Service, Gosling soon disabused me of my desire for ES to match my professional expertise with well paid work: "Yourwa labourer wage will be topped-up by the dole?" she said.

Topped-up by the dole, for a month I packed apples at Hornby Apple and Pear Marketing Board's cool-store, which was warmer than wintry winds outside.

A year after our arrival in NZ, I'd fallen from being a successful teacher to losing most of our wealth, and being rubbished by bureaucrats. Our living conditions and finances would stagnate over the next decade.

We liked Jake's teacher at Oaklands School. After kindergarten, when Luke turned five he joined Oaklands School's new-entry class. NZ kids began primary school the month they turned five. New-entry classes therefore had immature / school-ready / non school-ready kids. NZ kindergartens didn't have school-readiness programmes. In SA, Leah was trained and experienced in teaching school-readiness programmes to 5-6 year olds in pre-primary schools, before kids went to primary schools. NZ kindergartens were play / socializing schools, expecting teachers to change crappy-nappies. Kiwi-kids jumped from play-socializing kindergartens to desk-bound primary school new-entry classes, without transition from play to formal lessons.

Leah attended job interviews, but didn't want to teach in kindergartens.

NZ state teachers were unionized and fragmented. Kindy teachers had no pay parity with the primary teachers' union, nor Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA), a registered union. In SA, Leah had had pay parity. PPTA wage negotiations with NZ government were confrontational, reminding me of NUM / mine-management collective-bargaining in SA. Over the years, PPTA threatening strikes, going on strikes, wasting our boys' school times with PPTA meetings, strikes and threatened strikes, would teach our boys about union resistance, rather than professional cooperation and integrity.

I also found Christchurch employer / employee relations confrontational. Sometimes I was asked to join a labour union. I always declined. Unions just wanted my union dues, for their weak representation.

For a month, I pruned apple trees at Apple-Fields Wigram Orchard. Pruning needed strong wrists, using pruning-saw, secateurs, loppers for seven hours a day. Every morning pruners sat on an applecart, which was hauled by a tractor to trees.

My Pakeha boss ignored Occupational Safety and Health, and only cared about forcing pruning above quota for each pruner. I was paid a daily basic wage for a quota of 100 pruned trees, and a bonus for trees pruned above quota. Pruning apple trees wouldn't enrich me, even with bonuses. I left Wigram, and lay awake at night with Occupational Overuse Syndrome - numb fingers, tingling in my middle, ring and pinkie fingers of both hands. My swollen carpel -tunnel tendons put pressure on my wrist nerves, and it was weeks before my wrists healed. At Halswell New World supermarket, when I encountered my Wigram ex boss again, he avoided eye contact.

1996. Esslemonts at Punakaiki.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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