11 April 2012

It may have been about 1966 that Bruce Biggs came to teach at the University of Hawai'i.  It was certainly in 1967, if not 1966, that Bruce hired me as student help to work on programming his linguistic data - large sets of cognate correspondences amongst Polynesian languages, as illustrated in the table from that page.  Bruce had data for thousands of cognate sets from dozens of Polynesian languages, and wanted to study the clustering implications for the languages based on these words.  This was the programming I did for him initially.  Later, I helped produce an English-Māori wordlist from Williams's Māori-English dictionary.  I was a student of Bruce's as well, of course - and, particularly when my first marriage broke up, he and his wife Joy helped me with moral support and encouragement.  Bruce was a very dear friend to me.

Some time before Susan's and my trip to the the US mainland Bruce and Joy returned to Auckland, where he lectured on linguistics in the Anthropology Department of the University of Auckland (at the time both linguistics and Māori Studies were taught in the Anthropology department) - and Bruce was then Head of Department.

My understanding of the circumstances that led to that telegramme are shaky, and it may be that friends from the time who know more may correct me.  The Bishop Museum in Honolulu sponsors academic research, including linguistic research.  I think that Bruce had been in Honolulu under their auspices - and that when he returned, an arrangement was made to send one of the linguistic lecturers from Auckland - Andy Pawley - to Honolulu for a three-year stint in this programme. Auckland University was thus to be down one linguistics lecturer for the three-year period 1973-6.  And Bruce was the one who sent me that wire asking me if I wanted to apply for the job.

Susan and I were significantly disconcerted - thrown for a loop, in fact.  I had, for some months, been planning to study theology.  Even more pleasing from Susan's point of view was that I proposed to study theology in Portland, the city she grew up in until about the age of 12 - and, she tells me, a beautiful city, and one where many of her relations lived.

New Zealand??

The idea of moving to New Zealand was not quite so foreign to me, perhaps, as it must have been to Sue.  I had been close to Bruce; I had known Herb Fava when I worked at AmFac; and I had lived in Yap in 1969 and again at the beginning of 1972.  Susan's overseas experience had been moving from Seattle to Honolulu.

A little later, when we knew we were moving there, Susan tried an encyclopaedia, then went to the public library - not much helpful information there.  But there was at least one thing in the library: a travel magazine that had the address, in Los Angeles, of the New Zealand Consulate.  She wrote them - they sent some information (which she, sitting next me here, says was 'ugly') - but they wanted to know why she was writing.  They did not have us 'on the list' - what list??!!

We went to our minister, Pastor Cook.  What should we do?  How do we decide what God's will is?  We thought we had known - Portland and the Baptist ministry.  Now this!

Pastor Cook pointed us to Psalm 37:4 - "Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart."  What, he wanted to know, was the desire of our heart?


Well, it was clear that we had to give Bruce some sort of response.  We decided to apply.  The application had arrived, by post, shortly after the telegramme.  I filled it out and returned it.  Not very long afterwards a contract was sent me.

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