Geoffrey Alley, Librarian: His Life & Work
Chapter 2 — The Education of Geoffrey
The Education of Geoffrey
Geoffrey Thomas, born in Amberley on 4 February 1903, just three weeks before his cousin Reuel Lochore, was 'a gorgeous boy', according to his proud mother. He walked and talked at 10 months and was rumbustious, claiming attention and getting it.1 He remained the apple of his mother's eye for the rest of her life.
He was enrolled at Wharenui School, joining Gwen and Pip there, on his fifth birthday, 4 February 1908.2 He was a bright pupil, being dux of the school when he completed his primary education and being awarded an Education Board scholarship for secondary education at the end of 1914, before he was 12. In 1912 he was awarded a first prize by the Christchurch Literary and Musical Competitions Society in class no.20, Recitation Boys (under 11 years).3
Geoff was also the hero of an incident which caught the eye of the school's historian: 'The boys held their own at football. Every year they played Fendalton and West Christchurch. In one match against West Christchurch about 1912 the match stood at 3 to nil in our favour. There was one very small boy who was too small to be put in front, so they put him fullback. One of the opposing forwards broke away and had a clear run to our goal line. Everyone thought the game was up, but this small boy threw himself at the forward and brought him down, and the game was saved … That small boy was Geoff Alley.'4 This was not a flash in the pan. Frederick had played rugby for Canterbury College as a young man5 and, with his passion for physical fitness, undoubtedly pointed his sons in the same direction.
All the boys went on to Christchurch Boys' High School, and the girls to Christchurch Girls' High School. Boys' High was then in Worcester Street, in a building which became part of the Canterbury College complex when the school moved to Riccarton in 1926. Girls' High was on the corner of Armagh and Montreal streets, by Cranmer Square. Each was within easy biking distance of Wharenui.
Eric went to Boys' High in 1909, having presumably spent some time at page 30the Amberley District High School, and Rewi, after being dux at Wharenui6 despite his father's opinion of him, in 1912. In 1911 Eric was sent to manage the Lumsden farm, and he seems to have taken enthusiastically to the life there. Judging by the photographs of him printed in Gwen's autobiography, he was a handsome young man, with a prominent nose, a strong jaw, and a severe expression.7 He was tall, as Geoff later became, but slighter in build, more like his father. He had spent six years in the school cadets, one of them as an officer, and at Lumsden he joined the Territorials, being granted a commission as lieutenant from 8 July 1912.8
As a matter of interest, Rewi and Pip were much shorter than their brothers: Rewi stood at 5 ft 6 in. (168 cm),9 Pip a little more. Of the girls, Gwen and Joy were small, Kath taller.
Geoff was sent to help Eric for a while in 1913. It was not a happy experience for him, since Eric did not understand the limited capabilities of a 10-year-old, but Eric was a great success with the locals. In uniform, on his horse Percy, he cut a dashing figure. He taught in Sunday school, having been baptised in the Lumsden Anglican church on 25 August 1912,10 and one Lumsden resident who was a young pupil of his at the time still, in 1991, treasured a card he sent her from Cairo when he was in the army.11 He enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (Nzef) on 16 August 1914 and embarked, with Percy, on 16 October, as a lieutenant in the Otago Mounted Rifles. Rewi then filled in on the farm from time to time while managers were being sought.
Geoff and Pip both entered Christchurch Boys' High School at the beginning of 1915, when Geoff was just 12 and Pip 13 and a half. They were both awarded junior national scholarships at the end of 1916, when Geoff also won a prize for junior reading. One expects such prizes to be ones that will grace bookshelves for the rest of their owners' lives. Shakespeare's collected works, perhaps? Dickens or Thackeray? Or, more daringly in those days, Hardy? None of these. The prize was a collection of 15 pamphlets, bound in one volume, bearing the spine title Oxford Pamphlets on the War 1914 and ranging from 'The Deeper Causes of the War' (Dr Sanday), through 'Responsibility for the War' (W.G.S. Adams) and 'Might is Right' (Walter Raleigh), to 'The Eastern Question' (F.F. Urquhart). Some master, probably well beyond military age, obviously had a rush of patriotic blood to the head. The volume, treasured though it no doubt was, does not show signs of having been read and re-read. One sentence has, however, been underlined in pencil, near the beginning of Dr Sanday's pamphlet: 'In this vast and portentous war the remarkable thing is how little definite grievance the combatants have against each other.'
By the time Geoff had won his prize, Eric's military career had run its course. He served on Gallipoli, leaving Percy behind in Egypt. The horse page 31had to be shot because he would not allow anyone else to ride him,12 and then Eric was shot through both legs on 8 August 1915,13 in the action on Chunuk Bair. He recuperated in the Royal Free Hospital in London, returning to his unit in Egypt in February 1916. In March 1916 he was promoted to captain and transferred to the 2nd Brigade Otago Infantry Regiment in France. There, on the night of 16/17 June, he led the first New Zealand raid in the period before the Somme battle, undertaken by a party of volunteers whom he had trained beforehand, its purpose being to investigate a new German system of trenches. Of the 83 other ranks taking part, one was killed and five wounded; of the five officers, four were wounded, one of whom, Eric, died the next day.14 A chaplain, writing to Frederick, called the action 'a highly successful raid';15 the official historian said that it revealed nothing of particular consequence.16 Both statements were probably correct.
Eric was mentioned in despatches some months later. The original wooden cross placed on his grave in Bailleul was later returned to New Zealand and is now housed in the old Anglican church in Lumsden. His name was one of 62 read out at an Anzac Day service at Christchurch Boys' High School in 1917,17 and it is also inscribed on the war memorial in Lumsden. But one of the best tributes to him lies in a box in the Rewi Alley Collection in the University of Canterbury Library. Written on 6 June 1916, in indelible pencil on an army message form by a corporal whose signature is illegible, it reads: 'Captain Alley, I would like to ask if there is any position attached to you that I could fulfill as I would willingly follow you through anything that might happen.'18
Gwen was one who had a mind of her own. When she left school she said that she wanted to teach. Frederick's response was that he did not want a bluestocking for a daughter, but while he was away at the farm she went ahead and got herself a pupil-teacher job at Elmwood School. This was in 1913; two years later she enrolled at the teachers' training college. She weathered spectacular storms on both occasions, but stuck to her guns.19
In September 1915 Rewi sat and failed an examination for entry to the Royal Military College of Australia in Duntroon.20 Writing much later, he said that 'from my earliest days soldiering has been my passion', but that, 'as the time for examination came along, it became clear to me that if I went to Duntroon and spent four years there, I should miss the war where, being fit and in my estimation old enough, I thought I should be'.21 Accordingly, Rewi changed his month of birth back from December to May and enlisted in the NZEF as a private on 30 March 1917. Like Eric before him, he got himself baptised on 26 April.22 He was wounded twice in France, in April and September 1918, and was awarded the Military Medal.23 His second wound was quite serious, but typically, when Edna page 32Pengelly, who was then nursing in the army, visited him in hospital he was 'as jolly as a sandboy' on one occasion and quoting poetry to her on another.24
At the end of 1917, Frederick decided to deal with his current staffing problems by taking Geoff away from school for a year and sending him, at the age of nearly 15, to manage the farm. Rewi approved; in a letter to his father from France he said: 'A bit of the roughing will teach him how to look after himself as it taught me, while he can learn many things, a great many valuable things.'25
When Geoff returned to school in 1919 he had probably gained a great deal in maturity, and he had certainly gained in size and strength. It was from this stage that he began to stand out among his fellows, especially in shot-putting and other field sports and in rugby. He was a member of the rugby team which in 1920 won the Moascar Cup, brought back from Egypt by the New Zealand Division, for the first year in which it was put up by the New Zealand Rugby Football Union for competition among all New Zealand secondary schools. This team included five future All Blacks: Curly Page and Syd Carleton in the backs, and Geoff Alley, Frank Clarke, and Jim Burrows in the forwards.26
The school's first XV won the Moascar Cup again in 1921, but Geoff was not a member of the team. He left school in May 1921 to go to manage the Lumsden farm for an indefinite period. Pip had left at the end of 1919 to take an engineering course at Canterbury College.
Geoff was a pupil at Christchurch Boys' High School during the last six years of the headmastership of C.E. Bevan-Brown ('Balbus'), who had controlled its destinies since 1884. A classical scholar with a particular liking for Plato, Bevan-Brown had presence, affinity with young people, the respect of his staff, and a strong belief in the principle of mens sana in corpore sano. H.S. Baverstock, in a memorial essay, said that 'his strong personal influence that permeated the whole school came from his balanced judgement, penetrating insight, and a moral vision composed and detached'.27 The future educationalist C.E. Beeby, who was in the same form as Geoff from 1915 to 1917 but had quite different interests (indeed, he went to extraordinary lengths to avoid any involvement in sport), saw Bevan-Brown, on the other hand, as 'a simple-minded man, utterly devoted to his school, conventional in every respect, whose views were fixed', but added, when he wrote about him: 'A man who could generate such a feeling [of veneration] must have had an element of greatness in him.'28
Geoff, who was a natural sceptic, probably saw in Bevan-Brown something of Beeby's portrait of him, but he had been well prepared by his father to achieve academically, and also to merge into the ethos of the school. His record in sport is what school associates remembered in later years, but page 33the liberal arts were not unfamiliar to him. Among junior members of the staff, J.H.E. Schroder, who was only seven years his senior, was, for him, the kind of teacher who becomes a mentor at a pupil's impressionable age; their common interest in English literature and the beauties of the language held them together as lifelong friends. Jim Burrows, a classmate after Geoff 's return to the school in 1919 and later a fellow All Black, a secondary school teacher, and permanent army officer, was another who remained a close friend through their long lives.
So Geoff left school at the age of 18, having passed the matriculation examination and qualified for the higher leaving certificate, to become a farm manager for an absentee owner who was not only his father but was also inclined to want to make arbitrary management decisions of his own.
Before Geoff took up his farming career the family made another move. For 10 years after Frederick's appointment to Wharenui they lived in Division Street, not far from the school, but Frederick then had a house built in Cutler's Road, even closer. Clara put a lot of effort into helping to design it, and she was delighted with it. But Frederick was due to retire at the end of 1921, after 40 years' service as a teacher but still only 55 years old, and the opportunity to acquire more land than was contained in a suburban section, when it was presented to him, was too alluring to resist.
One Sunday early in 1920, as Frederick was biking along Russley Road, on the outskirts of upper Riccarton, he was hailed by Connie Lovell- Smith, who had worked for him as a pupil-teacher, and stopped to talk to her and her parents, whose house, known as estcote, had 30 acres of land attached to it.29 The house was somewhat decrepit, but the Lovell-Smiths had created what they proudly believed was a rustic paradise on the land. They had decided, though, to move to an easier property and Westcote was on the market for £2250. Before he remounted his bicycle, Frederick had agreed to buy it.30 Clara was devastated, but the decision had been made.
Geoff was in charge of the Lumsden farm for nearly five years, until early in 1926. It was a formative part of his life. Edgar Snow, in writing of Rewi, described the area as 'the harsh New Zealand frontier' and quoted Rewi (who had embellished his tale, one would suspect) on the subject of 'a wild hard country with sweeping cold winds that blow through the tussocks and the wild Irishmen among them. Gorse in a blaze of yellow, rabbits by the million, and the swift Oreti river – where as a boy I more than once nearly lost my life'.31 Well, it was not quite like that. The Oreti, in fishing terms, is usually wadeable, though, like most New Zealand rivers, it is treacherous when in flood, when only a fool would try to cross it; and the wild Irishman is the humble matagouri. Nevertheless, although there were neighbouring farms and the lights of Lumsden town (population approximately 500) shone on the other side of the river, it was a lonely existence for most of the page 34time. Geoff recalled getting mail once a week,32 and one of the neighbours remembered his living conditions as being primitive – he was rough in clothing, she said, but a nice chap, gentle, happy-go-lucky, and studious.33 He had visitors from time to time, including his father and other members of the family, Jim Burrows, Crawford Somerset (a contemporary of Gwen's at the teachers' training college), and his cousin Lucy Buckingham, who remembered being taken by him to Lumsden to catch a train and being worried because she could see it coming across the plain, while he paid no attention to her agitation but recited a poem to her.34 He was also regular in attendance at the Anglican church and occasionally read the lesson.
As a farmer Geoff was hampered by the lack of capital to make improvements, but he did experiment with the use of superphosphate, which was something of an innovation then and which still needs to be applied very regularly to the land in order to maintain production.35 He was helped by his own physical strength. 'He was the strongest man I ever knew,' said one of his neighbours. 'When he first came to the farm he had a Model T Ford and one day he wanted to jack up the right hind wheel. He put his fingers between the spokes of the wheel and lifted it off the ground and held it there while he reached round with his left hand and pushed a petrol case under the axle.'36 The last big job he did before leaving the farm was to remove an old gorse hedge with the help of a crowbar, a chain, and a horse: he held the crowbar under the roots while the horse pulled the chain, which was attached to the crowbar.37
Geoff played rugby for the Lumsden senior team, of which he became the captain. The team won the Bedford Compton Shield, which was the symbol of rugby supremacy in northern Southland, in 1924 and 1925, and also in later years after Geoff 's departure.38Another member of the team was Lance Johnson, a 'swift and elusive' five-eighth who was also later one of the 1928 All Blacks. Johnson's parents had the store in Lumsden, and Geoff would spend Saturday evenings there after taking a post-rugby bath.
In 1925 and 1926 Geoff represented Southland in rugby. He was a member of the South Island team, nominated by Southland, in 1926, and of the All Black team which visited Australia in July 1926, one of 'two tremendous forwards from Southland', according to Winston McCarthy;39 the other, slightly less tremendous, being Bill Hazlett. Geoff, in 1926, weighed in at 15 st 7 lb (98.4 kg) and was 6 ft 2½ in. (189 cm) in height, which would make him relatively small in the 1990s, but commentators consistently refer to his great strength, undoubtedly derived from his Buckingham build: a long, solid body on short, solid legs, with a low centre of gravity which enabled him to exert great pressure in the scrum.
On 14 December 1925 Geoff was baptised in the Anglican church page 35in Lumsden.40 He was thus the third of the three sons of Frederick who spent time at the Lumsden farm to take this step: Eric at the age of 19, Rewi at 19, and Geoff at 22 after mature consideration. They made their decisions for themselves, as Frederick had wished. In Geoff 's case, baptism was preliminary to his resolve to leave the farm and enter university. There were several reasons for this decision, one of them being that Frederick had not allowed Geoff the freedom of action that a manager should have. According to Gwen, the last straw was Frederick's sending off and selling some sheep that Geoff had sorted out for breeding.41 Whether this is true or not, constant interference over five years must have been unsettling. But the main, or ostensible, reason for Geoff 's move was that he wanted to train for the Anglican ministry. There is no doubt that this reason, which has been confirmed by various members of the family as well as by his close friends, was uppermost in his mind at the time, but Jim Burrows, who probably understood him better than most, said that the intention lasted six months at the outside,42 and there is no evidence of his being registered as a theological student.43 Some members of the family thought that he found a point of doctrine unacceptable, and that would have been in character, but it is more likely that he was really not sure what he wanted to do. Temperamentally, he was more inclined towards agnosticism than towards the wholehearted acceptance of doctrine of any kind. Burrows said that during this period his mind seemed often in a real turmoil, and 'Strangely enough I don't ever remember that we discussed religion.'44
It is clear, particularly from Burrows's account of him, that Geoff was severely affected by his father's dominating influence, which other members of the family were able, in varying degrees, to shrug off but which, in his case, created quite a sense of insecurity. This was at odds with his strength and commanding presence and it was not, as a rule, overt, but it led to a touchiness which his associates found hard to understand in later years. The years at Lumsden did little to help him overcome this problem, and it does seem that, for the first years after his return to Christchurch, he found it difficult to focus his energies except in areas, such as rugby, in which he was already notably successful. His initial academic record, for instance, was somewhat unnoteworthy. In 1926, after Canterbury College had exempted him from attendance in the first term, he passed his examinations in philosophy and education but failed in economics. In 1927 he sat examinations in economics, political science, and education II, and failed the lot, in marked contrast to his performance in later years.45 He was, however, together with Burrows, on the committees of both the Football Club and the Christian Union in 1927.46
The recruitment to the Christian Union, which at that time was the most influential club at Canterbury College,47 of two such muscular Christians page 36was the work of Donald Grant and his wife, Irene, two Scots who had been missionaries in India and who had been sent to New Zealand by the Student Christian Movement on temporary secondment. The Grants had become friendly with the Alleys, to the extent that their name for a granny-flat type of cottage in the Westcote grounds, Jungalow, abbreviated to Jung, was accepted as its family name. They were important friends of Geoff 's until they left New Zealand in 1930, and they retained long-term connections with other members of the family.
From the time of his return to Christchurch Geoff lived at Westcote, which by then had become the symbol of the Alley lifestyle as it has been remembered by successive generations of the family. There, Frederick found fulfilment with his cows and his pigs and his crops while he thought about the problems of land tenure that faced the country, while Clara, now entering the long period when she would be known as 'Mother Alley', presided over the family, the house, and all that was made in it from the produce of the estate. It was a rich form of subsistence living, deliberately cultivated for its own sake, but it was also much more than that. Books, ideas, and music were in the very air, and Clara, who had by now become the ruling spirit of the family, had begun to make Westcote a mecca for many of the interesting people who, throughout the 1920s and 30s, made Christchurch the intellectual centre of New Zealand, in its own estimation at least. Jessie Mackay and Ursula Bethell, Frederick and Eve Page, Oliver Duff, Troups, Curnows and, later, Winston and Sophie Rhodes and Lili Kraus and her husband, all joined the Westcote roll-call, not to forget Bishop Chandler, who wrote a poem about Westcote. All were welcome, as were the swaggers, says Joy.48
Geoff and Jim Burrows fitted well into this environment, and not only because Clara regularly bound up their rugby wounds and made quite the best apple pies in Canterbury.49 Neither of them could foresee how their careers would develop, but both responded to the combination of semirural normality and intellectual stimulation. They sang a great deal, and Geoff, who had a fine bass voice, became fond of Schubert lieder (one of his favourites being 'Du bist die Ruh') and other German songs. The peace and tranquillity of this period must have had a strong healing effect; it certainly marked on Geoff 's mind the 'Westcote' image of the perfect life. It must have seemed that life like this could go on for ever when, one Christmas day, Geoff elected to have his dinner in the Jung with his friend Oliver Duff – at peace with the world, with plum duff and Oliver Duff.50
By this time Gwen was teaching infants at Oxford in North Canterbury – 'I had at last achieved what I had always wished – to teach the beginners.'51 Pip, who had not been interested in any kind of farming activity, had graduated in civil engineering in 1925. Kath and Joy were still page 37at home. The one who was farthest removed from the family was Rewi, who, after his discharge from the army in 1919, joined an old school friend, Jack Stevens, in taking up an impossible farm, under a returned soldiers' settlement scheme, in the Moeawatea Valley in the North Island, 30 miles inland from Waverley in difficult Taranaki hill country.52
Rewi still had a hankering for the permanent army life, but was unsuccessful, because he was by now too old, in a renewed attempt to enter Duntroon. He also tried for a commission in the Indian army, but in the period after the end of the war none were available. In 1926 he was able to join the Territorials, in the 1st Battalion, Wellington West Coast Regiment, and he was gazetted 2nd lieutenant on 29 April of that year.53 Before this he had been an officer in the Legion of Frontiersmen, in which he was in 1926 a member of its headquarters staff.54 The Imperial Legion of Frontiersmen had been inaugurated in 1905 by Geoff Pocock, a friend of Lord Baden-Powell, and had complementary aims to those of the Boy Scouts, but rather more adult and actively patriotic.55 It was born of the time when German naval rearmament was causing tremors in Britain and when Erskine Childers's novel The Riddle of the Sands was affecting British attitudes. An Empire-wide organisation, its members wore a uniform modelled on that of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and they were prepared to help the official military authorities in whatever ways were acceptable to them. They joined up in droves in August 1914, 18,000 of them throughout the Empire, of whom 9000 were killed.56 It was an organisation that appealed to quite a number of returned soldiers after the First World War, and there are memorials in New Zealand to 'the nine thousand' in Ashburton and at National Park.57
When Rewi decided at the end of 1926 to abandon his share of the Taranaki farm and go to China, without any clear idea of what he would do there, he was therefore a rather militaristic and imperialistic young man. His first job in Shanghai was obtained through the good offices of the deputy chief of the Fire Department, whose English regiment was allied to the Wellington West Coast Regiment; and he quickly joined the Shanghai Defence Force,58 membership of which counted towards his Territorial training obligations until he was retired from the Territorials in 1933.59 He was also, however, a member in 1928–29 of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a Christian Pacifist group with which Donald Grant was associated;60 obviously, whatever conservative views he may have held were tempered by Kiwi pragmatism.
During these early years Geoff had a number of romantic encounters, one of which culminated in a temporary engagement, but towards the end of 1927 he met his future wife. On Thursday 1 December he went with the Grants to the Christchurch Cathedral to hear a performance of page 38Brahms's German Requiem, a work which the Cathedral choir under Dr J.C. Bradshaw had made an annual Christchurch tradition. 'The large assembly at the cathedral was deeply moved by the touching, lovable work,' said a review the next day.61 Among the assembled audience was Euphan Jamieson, who, finding herself behind a woman with a very large hat, moved to sit with her friends the Grants and was introduced to their other friend.62
Euphan Margaret Jamieson was born on 17 April 1903, the oldest surviving child of James Jamieson (sometimes Jameson) and his wife, Laura Peterson. James had emigrated to New Zealand at the age of 13 with his mother, née Margaret Laurenson, in 1885, two years after his father, George, who was a Shetland fisherman, had drowned at sea. Laura Peterson had been brought to New Zealand, also from the Shetlands, as an infant after her mother had died in childbirth, to be raised by two aunts who lived near Christchurch. They both belonged to a close-knit group of Shetlanders – Jamiesons, Petersons, Laurensons and Abernethys – who were devoted to education, the arts, and civic duties, and who adorned Christchurch life in the early 20th century.
James Jamieson worked as an accountant in the post office and therefore had to move about the country from time to time. He was a great reader, a lover of good music, and a gifted amateur photographer, and his children developed artistic talents of various kinds. Euphan became a very good pianist, and in Wanganui, where she had her secondary education, she formed a lifelong friendship with a young teacher, Dorothy Davies, who was later a well-known concert pianist.63 Euphan set out to be a teacher. She did the required year as a pupil-teacher in preparation for entry to the teachers' training college, but then, in January 1923, her father died suddenly and it was necessary for her to find a paying job. When Geoff met her she was working as a secretary-receptionist at radio station 3YA, where Dorothy Davies was also working as a librarian and accompanist before going overseas to pursue her music studies. These were the beginning days of broadcasting, when 3YA, which had been bought by the Radio Broadcasting Company in 1926, had a staff of nine, including the Reverend Clyde Carr as announcer, and operated from the premises of the A.R. Harris Company in Gloucester Street.64 There was no glamour attached to being on the staff of a radio station except in historical retrospect.
Geoff was at this time at the peak of his rugby career. He played regularly for the university club, another of whose members remembered him as a 'heady' player, not very fast but with the knack of being in the right place at the right time.65 In 1927 he was in the Canterbury team which won the Ranfurly Shield for the first time since its first challenge page 39in 1904 (though the shield was lost again, to Wairarapa, early in the 1928 season). He was also in the South Island team which beat the North Island 31–30 in what Gordon Slatter, in his centennial book on New Zealand rugby, On the Ball, calls 'one of the greatest matches of the entire series' and 'one of the most exciting interisland matches ever played'.66 After trial games in the week following the inter-island match he was selected for the All Black team to tour South Africa in 1928, sharing the top statistics with Maurice Brownlie: 6 ft 3 in. (190.5 cm) and 16 st 2 lb (102.5 kg). The team left Wellington on its great adventure on the Marama on 13 April 1928 and travelled from Sydney to South Africa on the Euripides, arriving in Durban on 23 May. From that date until the beginning of September it engaged in 22 titanic struggles, of which it won 16 (including two of the four tests), drew one, and lost five.67 Geoff played in 14 of the matches, 10 of them consecutively without a break, and had a personal tally of three points, scoring the single try expected of a tight forward against Western Transvaal. Unlike most, he scored between the uprights.
Rugby encounters between New Zealand and South Africa have become so important to rugby psyches that one has to remind oneself that the 1928 tour was only the second occasion on which they met. The first was in 1921, when South Africa toured New Zealand, winning one test, drawing one, and losing the third. The 1928 tour was therefore the second leg of an ongoing contest in which the giants have met to strive for what they, at least, have considered to be the rugby crown; a rivalry, moreover, which as time has passed has been spiced by great controversies. Most of these lay in the future then, but in 1928 there were two particular sources of dispute.
The first of these, which caused some disquiet at the time but did not assume major importance until much later, was over the question of whether Maori players should be included in All Black teams selected for South African tours. The most notable omission from the 1928 team was George Nepia, who is still regarded by many as one of the finest fullbacks of all time. The decision not to include Maori was made by the New Zealand Rugby Football Union, as many commentators have pointed out, and was not imposed by the South Africans. This is technically correct, and it has been held against the New Zealand union in more recent times, but there is much more to it than the application of late-20th-century opinion would suggest. There was a genuine fear that Maori players might be subjected to unacceptable indignities. It was not so long then since Maori soldiers going to the war to end all wars had been ordered off trams in Cape Town, to the indignation of other New Zealand soldiers.68 It was only seven years since South African newspaper reporters had been outraged by the sight of white spectators in New Zealand applauding Maori players who treated white page 40Springboks with disrespect. By later standards the New Zealand union was being paternalistically protective, but those were not the standards of the 1920s. Nevertheless, Geoff felt it keenly and spoke out later when he felt he had to.
More immediately, problems and controversy were caused by differences in the playing styles of the two teams, and particularly by differences in the interpretation of rules relating to the scrum. In New Zealand the standard scrum formation was 2–3–2, with a front row consisting of two hookers, a middle row with one lock and two flankers, and a two-man back row, together with a wing forward who had a roving commission and detached himself from the scrum at will. The South Africans, on the other hand, used a three-fronted scrum, with one hooker in the middle and (usually) a four-man middle row which included two locks, with the eighth man at the back.
The New Zealand formation was regarded with great affection by its supporters, and even in 1970 Gordon Slatter referred to it as 'the compact, diamond-shaped, beautifully balanced, lean and logical 2–3–2 scrum, New Zealand's great contribution to the game'.69 But it had two defects. One was that a two-fronted scrum tended to gain less ball than a three-fronted one. The other was that the wing forward was anathema to the International Rugby Board, on which New Zealand was not represented at that time. In the eyes of the board, and of overseas referees, a wing forward who detached himself after the ball had been hooked by his own team was offside, because he was in front of the halfback. The wing forward was therefore legislated out of existence in the early '30s ('our birthright was sold for a mess of scrummage,' says Slatter),70 and it took some time for New Zealand rugby to adjust to a different, less open, style of play. Quite apart from sentiment, though, the fact of the matter in 1928 was that the All Blacks were at a disadvantage because of their two-fronted scrum.
Geoff 's position was at lock. When he locked the two-fronted, singlelock scrum he was therefore solely responsible for holding the scrum together, and he enjoyed this role. In a brief contribution to the published account of the tour he wrote that the most important point about the 2–3–2 scrum was 'that it is controlled by one man, the lock, "and one bad general is better than two good ones"'.71 World War One experience might have suggested that the best bad general was a dead one (this was not one of the best quotations in Geoff 's armoury), but the point he was making had some validity in his own case. His strength and his build made it possible for him to play the role of the one general, good or bad, and to control the impact and the direction of the scrum unimpeded. Nevertheless, he was promoting a lost cause.page 41
The tour was enormously important in Geoff 's development. Because of the conditions of the time, when it was not possible to fly to and from a distant country, it was a very long one, and friendships which he formed and consolidated with other members of a high-performing group lasted throughout his life. They also probably did a lot for his morale at the time. It is significant that after South Africa his examination results showed that he was a good student as well as a successful rugby player. After his disastrous academic performance in 1927, he passed in all the subjects he presented himself for at the end of 1928: education II, economics, and political science, despite his other preoccupations during the year.72
In later years Geoff retained nostalgic memories of the long sea voyage from Sydney to Durban, when he and Burrows read and studied and listened to music up on deck,73 and on the rare occasions when he went overseas in his later years he preferred to travel by sea. While in South Africa he formed strong opinions about conditions in that country which give the lie to the view of those later activists who thought that an All Black going to South Africa must necessarily become tainted. Burrows tells the story of the team's visit to a predominantly Afrikaner town called Burghersdorp where, following a common South African custom, the name of the town was displayed in painted boulders spread across a neighbouring hill, or 'dorp'. Some time during the morning of their departure Geoff disappeared, and later, from a train window, he pointed out where he had been. The first letter R had been replaced by another G, and the H had been removed. 'I don't like this place,' he said.74 He also made a point of going to see a diamond mine and, as a result of what he saw of conditions there, declined to provide a diamond engagement ring when he finalised arrangements with Euphan on his return.75
Geoff continued to play rugby for the university club until 1930, and in 1929 he was noted by the Canterbury College Review as 'a much-needed leader in the forwards, who occasionally took the ball the length of the field in fine dribbling rushes';76 but there are more references in the student publications of the time to his prowess in putting the shot, for which he was awarded a blue in 1928, and (less successfully) in throwing the hammer. As he became more heavily involved in other things he withdrew from active participation in team sports, but he continued to contribute to student life in physical as well as intellectual ways. One of his contemporaries remembered an incident at the end of a college ball, when one student and his partner were departing in a Baby Austin. 'As they entered the car, Geoff and another of similar massive build stood towards the back of the small car and, putting their fingers under the rear mudguards, very gently lifted the rear wheels clear of the ground. The driver started the car, and with a final "good night" put it into low gear. It didn't move. He tried all his gears, page 42with no response. Stopping the engine, he complained rather bitterly of this sudden breakdown. "Try it again," they suggested. He did, and as he engaged low gear, they did! They dropped the vehicle, which shot forward like a rocket-powered projectile.'77
Geoff 's mana as an All Black, in the days when rugby held the winter stage almost on its own, was high, and years later people spoke in awe of his having locked the scrum for 10 South African matches in a row. He was not one of the all-time greats like his fellow tourist Maurice Brownlie, whom he greatly admired, but he was greater than many who have made brief appearances in teams over the years; he was not just 'an honest toiler', as a more recent All Black was described in his day.78
The All Black experience was important to Geoff, and it retained its importance in his private life. From most quarters it brought well-merited respect, but unfortunately Geoff was too sensitive to the kinds of sneers which come from those who cannot abide the spectacle of excellence in physical achievement (and who, in other contexts, are only too willing to hold forth about the 'tall poppy syndrome'). Since he tended to perceive this kind of attitude in some types of academics and in marginal intellectuals, and since he found it difficult to let the dogs bark while the caravan moved on, his relations with institutions like universities were never as easy as they should have been in his later career. His daughter Judith thought that, in his heart of hearts, he loved the life of the university, 'the community of fellows, students, thinkers, planners',79 and with more inner self-confidence this major experience of his early life could have given him much more unalloyed pleasure than it did.
As a full-time student in 1929, Geoff came increasingly under the influence, and the notice, of Professor James Shelley, who came to regard him as one of the best of his education III class. He took minor roles in plays put on by Shelley, and he became addicted to John Dewey's educational thought, by which Shelley was especially influenced. He did not, of course, have Shelley's flamboyance or his ability to hold crowds, but his mind was of the same cast. He was wary of grandiose schemes for the improvement of the world, and he had great faith in the ability of ordinary people to get things done in their own way.
Geoff passed French I, history I, philosophy II, and education III in the 1929 examinations and was the University of New Zealand senior scholar in education. He also qualified for the diploma in social science.80 He graduated BA in May 1930, together with Crawford Somerset, who also majored in education. Towards the end of 1929 Shelley asked him if he would like to carry out a new experiment in rural adult education in Canterbury, funded with the help of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and involving the use of a travelling library in the charge of a tutor-page 43librarian.81 Geoff accepted the offer and was appointed by Canterbury College as a travelling tutor 'in connection with the development of W.E.A. work in rural districts' from 1 January 1930, at a salary of £400 per annum.82
To this appointment Geoff brought the background and achievements of his first 27 years. Shelley had made a good choice for his own immediate purposes, but he could not have foreseen its long-term consequences for New Zealand society.