My Campaign Against the Bishop of Bristol

Background: Bristol is the refuge city of choice for quite a few refugees and immigrants from Africa because the city has a policy of welcoming the world to Bristol.

Our parish is about 65% black and  10% Indian (the music is outrageous!), many of them illegal or refugees pending resolution, during which time they are prevented from working or receiving welfare. Literally made destitute by decree. Our priest, the remarkable Fr Richard Mackay, has run up a thumping overdraft paying for lawyers, investigators and travel costs to tribunals, on which trips he usually accompanies them. He rescues people from vile detention centres. The diocese has hung a sword of Damocles over his head: stop it, or else.

14thJune 2013
The Annexe
Hobwell Lane
Long Ashton
Dear Bishop Declan, Your Grace,
I am a parishioner at St Nicholas Tolentino. When I first came to Bristol 15 months ago from New Zealand, my first priority was to find a parish where I felt at home, which would mean with the same priorities and spirituality as my beloved and dearly missed St Patrick’s Cathedral at home.
One of the elements important to me can be referenced by this line from St Pat’s published priorities:
  • supporting  inner city out-reach to those in need or who are marginalised. We support and encourage Catholic social service agencies as well as the initiatives provided by other Churches in the downtown area.

They mean it, and they do it. Street people recognise the Cathedral as a home, and often wander in during Mass and at other times for a snooze on one of the back pews (they’re usually remarkably polite and considerate, even the mentally unwell). They are known by name and welcomed, grieved and prayed for when lost to death or institutionalisation.
Often at night Hindus can be found praying on the church steps. They say they recognise St Pats as a holy place, a shrine. It’s so lovely to come to Mass and see marigolds and daubs of colour on the steps.
It’s a hard act to follow. St Nick’s is alone in Bristol, at least that I could find, in practising that standard of Christ’s teaching. I don’t condemn – it is a high standard, difficult and, for the devoted clergy, demanding at all hours of the day and night. The St Pat’s presbytery is across the square, twenty yards away. People know they can knock on that door at any hour and it will open. It’s not a life for everyone.
What I do find hard to understand is that St Nick’s, far from being held up as a shining example by the diocese, is being brought to heel like a disobedient dog. The diocese’s website appears to show no wish to own and praise the enormous amount of time and money invested by Fr Richard and his team in helping the poor and marginalised, finding and sometimes funding lawyers, personally going to detention centres, police stations and courts to be a champion for the friendless.
I searched the site for anything that looked like a concern for the struggling and sometimes oppressed migrant communities of the city. The Justice and Peace Committee? Sorry. Advocating for justice in Brazil? ‘Investigating the possibility’ of working on human trafficking. ‘Re-examining racial justice issues.’ It hardly paints a picture of a church championing the kind of people Our Lord spent most of his time with.
The Annual Report, what does that say? Unsurprisingly, the first half of the narrative is about buildings. I have a fair idea what our magnificent new Holy Father, God protect his shadow, would have to say. A poor church for the poor? Clifton Diocese?
My point is: what a waste of riches. How about turning all this around in one simple stroke? Recognise that Fr Richard and St Nick’s are actually carrying Christ’s cross on behalf of the Diocese.Honour them as heroes, which they are. Feature their work in Diocesan reports. Appoint St Nick’s as the Diocesan Migrant Outreach Centre. It already is, de facto. Fund the Borderland Trust. So many of the stories are heartbreaking, but thanks to Fr Richard and his team, many fewer than might be. (I love this country and adore this wonderful city, but have been deeply shocked by some of the actions of the Home Office. But nowhere is perfect.)
What I suggest is the simple recognition of fact after all – the oppressed of this fair city already know where they can go and be sure to receive time and help. The buzz is on the street. To the Catholic Church. But not the Cathedral. The one at Lawford’s Gate.
I am sure you find some of Fr Richard’s viewpoints unacceptable, even unruly. But with good management, supporting his work need not necessarily provide him with a platform for all his views. He is a clever man, and not one to bite the hand that feeds his flock.
The Holy Father is looking for a new face for the Church. Clifton Diocese has one, ready-made. All you have to do is be proud of it. And fund it. You can certainly afford to.
Indeed, the question in these new times is – can you afford not to? I don’t imagine for a second that the Holy Father will be content to exhort and encourage. He knows what he’s up against, and is an untiring activist. Sooner or later there will be reviews. People may even ask for them – there’s a great deal of discontent out here among the laity. We have been scandalised for decades. We’re not happy. You have been doing good work with your review of Vatican II, but they are just words and words are never enough.
Remember what St Francis said. “Preach the Gospel by every means possible. Even use words, if you have to.”
This is exactly what Fr Richard and St Nick’s are doing, and we have an apparently endless stream of catechumens to show for it.
Enough. You get the point.
Respectfully, may God bless and forgive us all,
Christopher Hegan
cc: Fr Richard McKay
His reply:
Dear Christopher
Thank you for your letter in support of Father Mackay at St Nicholas of Tolentino. I will certainly take note of your comments.
With my best wishes
Yours sincerely

Rt Rev Declan Lang
Bishop of Clifton

My Campaign Against the Bishop of Bristol (continued)

26 July 2013
The Annexe
Hobwell Lane
Long Ashton

Dear Bishop Declan, Your Grace,
Thank you for your reply of the 5th inst.
I must confess I had hoped for a substantive, if not necessarily lengthy, response. Although I am but one parishioner of many, I hoped that the subject matter might elevate our exchange to a level of intercourse, albeit brief.
I refer you to the homily delivered by Pope Francis at Lampedusa, on a matter of such importance that it prompted his first visit outside Rome. He coins the memorable phrase “the globalisation of indifference” in a homily he specifies as intended “to challenge people’s consciences and lead them to reflection and a concrete change of heart.”
As we are all seeing, the Holy Father is a powerful and thoughtful user of language. His homilies and statements are entirely devoid of platitude and formula. He could have declared to some effect that he wanted a “new church for the poor.” He didn’t. He quite specifically said he wanted “a poor church for the poor.” (My emphasis.)
How can we square this with a diocese which has funds to invest with JP Morgan yet has not the money to pay for a lawyer when one of its own is threatened with being sliced away from home and parish in a grossly unequal battle? Such was the fate of John Patrick, a member of our choir, last Friday.
Let me answer: we simply cannot. It remains a broken circle.
Why is the diocese investing so much money? Against the future? What future? A future when we have too few parishioners to support our institutions? To plan for such a future seems to me verging on sinful. Did Jesus not say, “Sufficient unto the day are the evils thereof”? Or was He a bit off the mark with that one?
I am, from where you stand, a lone, insignificant and probably presumptuous voice. But I have had a lifetime as a communications professional and know very well how to create a ‘story’ when I need one. I know how to reach people. This is my committed campaign: to see Clifton Diocese become an active, visible champion of the poor and the discarded, using both its voice and its assets to help them.
Remember, Jesus did not say in Matthew 25-36 “I was in innocent in prison and you came to me”. You and many of your congregation may be concerned, as many are, about the problem of illegal immigration. If it is a problem – I’m not so sure. Even if those arriving become a burden on us, history tends to support the proposition that their more numerous young will be working to support us in our old age, when our too few children cannot. But it is beside the point. No position on this issue can provide an excuse for a wealthy church not to succour the penniless and over-whelmed in our midst.
So I say this: if you continue to rein in St Nicholas’ spending on helping the poor, I will do my best to out you. It may not concern you. I will probably fail. But not certainly. I have pulled offer tougher assignments in my time.
Respectfully, God bless and forgive us all,

Christopher Hegan

The Dishonourable Sword: Workers’ Welfare as Covert Industrial Subvention.

The Dishonourable Sword: Workers’ Welfare as Covert Industrial Subvention.

The United Kingdom probably has the largest and most complex welfare system ever known. Much of its workings are the standard stuff of modern economics – the pretence that everyone should be in education, paid employment or retirement, i.e. full employment, continues as usual. This in defiance of the plain fact that for more than half a century standard economic theory has held that a certain level of unemployment is both desirable and necessary as a hedge against inflation. The clear and present threat of loss of employment is the sole available brake on wage demands in those economies such as the UK still locked into the adversarial employment relations model.
The German mitbestimmung, spectacularly successful as it has proved, is of course an effective alternative. Germany’s experience has shown that wages can effectively be limited by mutual agreement based on open books. Workers under mitbestimmung have shown themselves well able to recognise wage thresholds beyond which the success of the enterprise and therefore their jobs cease to be viable. This holds little political appeal in the left-right obsessed minds of British politicians and workers’ advocates, with each side holding the other to be unrestrainedly greedy. This is a pity and a waste, but it is business as usual, neither likely to change nor even particularly interesting, the quotidian folly of a society mired in 19th Century industrial relations philosophy.
I am more interested in the other, possibly larger slice of the welfare bill: payments to the poor in employment. In the mid 1980s New Zealand introduced a purer form of monetarism than that of either Britain or the United States; Thatcher was a fervent admirer of Minister of Finance Roger Douglas under the unfortunate Lange government, who swept away every single vestige of state support to the employed. Not that there were many to start with. The child benefit of around £7.50 per week per child had been around since Michael Savage’s far-reaching welfare reforms in the thirties. I part-funded the purchase of our first house by the common practice of child benefit capitalisation, which gave us 18 years’ worth of child benefit for both of our children – a substantial sum. The only other benefit was the ability for the employed to claim work expenses – study and training, work-related travel beyond the daily commute, clothing allowances, etc, which also went in the late 80s.
So arriving in the UK to see vast sums disbursed in welfare payments to the lower-waged was something of a shock. In my world it is now an absolute given – to go into work is to leave direct welfare behind. Free or subsidised health care is not viewed as welfare, but as a right, derived from the shared value that access to healthcare being dependent on wealth is immoral, an anathema.
So why is it seen as necessary in the UK? On the face of it, you could call it the good old British sense of fair play, simple compassion for the strugglers. But scratch the surface and we see a deeply unpleasant underbelly: a hidden subvention for British industry and agriculture, direct support being under the firm and ungenerous thumb of Brussels.
Suppose the housing benefit, the winter fuel payments, the child tax breaks and all the rest of it were swept away in one fell swoop. What would happen? Housing costs would white ant the rest of the family budget. Then what – imaginable, if unlikely, rent and mortgage default on a huge scale, hundreds of thousands of simultaneous evictions? If that were the only consequence, well, rents would simply have to drop. So what? The consequences of that are not hard to calculate – thousands of highly geared landlords going bankrupt, for a start. A squeeze on the income of thousands of retirees living off investment properties.
But that would not happen, because experience shows that most people will freeze and starve before they give up their home to go – where? If there were any slack in the system, the lowly paid might stand some chance of enduring the shock. But there isn’t any, at least not nearly enough. My son-in-law and his family simply could not survive on their meagre earnings alone. Most people would simply choose unemployment and continuing welfare support. And it would be a valid choice. You can’t hold your job if you can’t afford to get there. You can’t put in a day’s work if you’re constantly hungry. You can’t show up to a retail or office job in shabby old clothes. Of course the first to go would be the Smiths, the Perkins, the Jameses. The Wronskis, the Odungas and Wachikes would hang on longer, the ones who will live six to a room and subsist on rice and beans, a dynamic already observable under the current system. Cue deepening hatreds, the oppressed turning on the oppressed. So often ‘taking our jobs’ really means doing our jobs under conditions we refuse to accept and should not have to accept.
Shutting down workers’ welfare could not be made without declaring the whole plan, being an intention to divert those billions into supporting capacity and advancement in agriculture and industry, into research and development and where necessary direct price support. The British public has become so used to ubiquitous welfare it is likely that, even if the scheme were openly described as a reallocation of resources, the reaction from the street, the pulpit and the leader page would still be to flay the heartlessness of the politicians driving them. The British sense of entitlement to welfare has become endemic. I suspect very few see workers’ welfare for what it really is. From the other side of the fence, the beneficiaries of these hidden subsidies would howl about the unavoidable wage increases which would follow, ignoring or not trusting the intention to replace them in a more open and targeted manner.
It is a fact that, failing that strategy forbidden by treaty, many British products and services would become more expensive than those of their competitors. So we see what this really is all about – international competitiveness. A deeply dishonourable covert subvention that reduces its recipients to the role of part-time beggars on their knees before the armies of bureaucrats employed to administer their welfare. Their day-to-day existence haunted by the spectre of The Cuts. Perfectly honest hard-working workers who deserve decent wages and the respect due to those who thrive by their efforts are often driven to become cheats, sharing with their mates every new wrinkle to work the system, escape deductions, drive up entitlements through falsehood and secrecy. Absolute loss of belief in the political process and the law.
It is a terrible price to pay for staying in Europe and exalting the Holy Grail of free trade. This is the hidden cost of Europe: the humiliation of the British worker.
It is too high.

Thatcher – Saw Everything But the Utterly Obvious

Thatcherism and Populist Capitalism. Virtually synonyms. The idea is that you turn everyone into a grocer, funding the project out of the sale of all those enterprises put together in over two centuries for the public good – water, power, broadcasting, railways and much more. Create shares for them to own, and trade in, giving everybody a chance to become even wealthier grocers.
It’s a brilliant idea and it works. Unless you’re no good at being a grocer. Then, you’re stuffed.
Well, the grocer economists respond, people must accept that if we are to be a strong and prosperous society people must get up to speed, stop expecting the state to watch out for them. We have provided the means, now get on with it.
Unfortunately Thatcher in England, Reagan in the US, and Roger Douglas in New Zealand who, it can be strongly argued, did it first and gave those other big fish the idea in the first place, were all blind to one toweringly obvious fact, something that any first year psychology student could have told them. Some people are just too thick. Low IQ. Born that way. Hardware, not software, and unfixable.
The old system had a place for those people, and not just paternalistically. It gave them simple, lowly paid but utterly secure jobs in the public service. The man behind the counter at the Department of Railways was dull, unambitious, knew his place and was happy to stay there stamping pieces of paper. Actually, the pieces of paper did need to be stamped, so we had a society that had an honourable use for everyone from the high flyer to the lowly plodder. It was a perfectly good system, and it worked.
Until, let’s be frank, greedy, selfish and corrupt unions wrecked it. Take careful note of the qualifier corrupt; I’m certainly not anti-union, but corruption will ruin anything. In the post-war era we had rotten trade unionism and it needed to be taken out. For that the United Kingdom owes Margaret Thatcher a huge debt, although the pendulum, probably inevitably, swung too far and needs correcting. Strong, honest unions are an essential component of a fair and successful democracy.
But back to the thesis. The neo-capitalists respond that society can take care of the incompetent with welfare support, a specious idea shot full of obvious holes. For one, a supply of money that can be ratcheted freely up and down is no substitute for essential services, because the services tend to be absolute, rather than unitised. You either see a doctor, or you don’t. In NZ if you don’t have any money you, or your child, simply does not get to see a doctor. The visits may be subsidised but they are not free. There’s no such thing as a part of a doctor’s visit, or a tap out of which water partly flows, in the way that a pound or a dollar can be reduced or increased in infinite fractions. So there’s that.
Then, there’s the opprobrium. Sure, we used to look down on and make jokes about the dummy behind the railway counter. But we did not vilify him as a parasite.
Worst, there’s the fear. When there is a real possibility of falling into utter destitution simply because you’re not bright enough to make the right choices at the right time, you feel fear. Fear which further cripples the already compromised ability to comprehend and succeed.
By creating the society we have to day, in which the least talented have no place, the neo-capitalists have worked evil.
Since the brightest and most avaricious will never choose to work for the Inland Revenue, there will always be an echelon of human swine smarter and more motivated than those we hire to collect their share from them. They may always make obscene amounts of money and pay little or no tax, growing inexorably wealthier at the expense of the rest. But in creating a society which venerates the individual acquisition of money as the greatest of all goods, the neo-capitalists have removed the stigma from these people, the true parasites. In this too they have worked evil.
Trust me – they were and are not stupid. They surely foresaw this, and see it now, and choose it. It is a simple, moral truth that these people, the Thatchers and Camerons of this world have been the agents of a great evil, and not unwittingly either.
Actually, there was another aspect to the great and failing neo-capitalist experiment. It was the choice to reject as superstition the old saying that money is the root of all evil, and instead turn to money for a single yardstick by which absolutely anything could be measured. And yes, they added, absolutely everything can in fact be numerically measured. Who is the best doctor? Why, the one who treats the most patients for the least amount of money. Reward that man or woman. Which is the best school? The one that educates the most pupils for the least amount of money. It may be squalid. The teaching might be rubbish. The doctor’s patients may be sick and in pain. No matter. The providers are heroically productive (and wealthy), and there is no greater good than that.
It is surely time to recognise that the experiment is a failure. The patient is miserable, possibly dying. Call it off.
If only we could unbreak that egg. In a better world we might set our minds to rebalancing the operational structure of society so that we intentionally created honourable work for everyone. I refuse to believe that human beings, who have learned to manipulate systems of far greater complexity than a modern economy, can’t do this. The solution is actually as simple as it is apparently unachievable: end the worship of money. Although in fact money is just the measuring stick. The underlying dehumanising principle is that idea of universal measurement, the belief that absolutely everything can be quantified. In business it is a time-honoured principle – if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. In that limited sphere the proposition stands, but you simply cannot measure the kindness of a nurse, the ability of a great teacher to inspire. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applies even on this scale: it is impossible to absolutely measure anything without altering it, so it is theoretically and practically impossible to know everything about anything. Teachers preparing reports into the small hours, teachers who are restricted to dispensing named and quantified units of information according to an iron-clad curriculum cease to be great teachers. Nurses and doctors, a similar lot.
There are societies which seem to have a better grip on this – Sweden is one. And what do you know? They are not only happier places than most, they are also wealthier. Odd, that. I believe – no, observe – that a caring society where no-one has to live in fear of destitution enjoys a collective lightness of spirit which transcends the crude maths of economics and produces genuine prosperity.
A synonym to start, a tautology to finish.
Goodness is good.

The Fencible Girl, Chapter 13: First Encounter

In less than ten minutes Rawiri and Winnie were at the beach called Waikowhai. The tide was racing out – with perhaps two feet of water left in the bay they would soon be cut off by half a mile of mudflat. There was not a moment to lose.

Rawiri plunged into the undergrowth and returned dragging a light dugout canoe some twelve feet long. A single outrigger like a solid, miniature canoe was attached to the hull by two poles lashed across it. The design was simple – double-ended, the craft could travel in either direction to keep the outrigger on the side away from the wind, making it stable in all weathers. He returned from a second trip carrying two paddles.

Wasting not a moment they threw their loads into the hull. Winnie jumped in while Rawiri heaved the craft forward and threw himself aboard, leaping into position and paddling in long, strong strokes. The light craft shot forward and within minutes they were out of the tidal flats, on the edge of the channel.

While Rawiri kept the craft steadily into the wind, in water deep enough to not run aground but still clear of the outgoing tidal flow racing towards the distant harbour mouth, Winnie passed the holstered musket and cartridge case to Rawiri and untied the mat. Taking Rawiri’s largest bone fish hook with its finely woven flax line attached she swiftly, using a long running stitch, fastened the long edge of the mat to the pole.

She loosely tied the four strongest cords to the top of the long pole. One she tied to the stern outrigger arm, another looped around the pointed bow of the waka and a third to the side opposite the outrigger, where the arm at the front crossed the hull.

Then she changed places with Rawiri, loosely tying off the final cord around the pointed stern. Although Winnie had never used a paddle before, it was quite simple to paddle this way and that to maintain a steady position pointing into the wind so the sail, which Rawiri now erected, would not catch.

As Rawiri set to work securing the lines with his deft and powerful fingers they heard cries from the shore, now some two hundred yards distant. Winnie’s heart sank. It was her parents, with three of Edward’s men. She could hear them clearly across the water.

“Winnie!” called her father. “Come back. Please don’t do this! Come back now.” She glanced at them, feeling her heart wrench with the conflict between the desire to obey her parents and her compelling need to help Rawiri. His face hardened as he went on rigging the mast.

Now Winnie’s agonising dilemma threatened to overwhelm her. While her original impulse to join with her friend in bringing back his mother still held the upper hand, almost equally forceful was the inner voice of what she felt to be reason demanding, ‘Have you gone mad? How can you imagine this makes sense? You are defying both your parents.’

“Winnie! Come back this instant, young woman. How dare you!” She could see her father touch Freddie by the arm, shaking his head. She shook his hand away, repeating her demand. Spurred by her mother’s anger Winnie gritted her teeth and looked away. Rawiri, who had only his mother, lost his resolve and looked at Winnie with pleading eyes. He knew very well that if it had been his mother on the shore he would have turned back.

When Winnie had told Rawiri her plan he had made it clear that she would have to manage the sailing. Now she tried to think of some way he could carry on without her, and failed. If she returned, if that is she could persuade him to take her back, it was all over for him and his chance of rescuing his mother.

Then she realised that with or without her, Rawiri would attempt the sailing and carry on. By coming up with the sail she could end up being responsible for his death. Winnie’s conflict was at an end; now she saw there was no choice – she had to stay with him, at least for a while.

She fixed her gaze on the boy as he lashed the mast tightly against the front outrigger arm. He needed no instruction; once he saw what was needed he set to at speed. Lacking hammer and nails the Maori were masters of lashing.

She watched him for a couple of minutes, during which he looked at her twice, seeing her struggle against her father’s calls, saying simply, “Please. Please, Winnie.” She could stand it no longer. Plunging the paddle into the current, she drove the canoe along parallel to the shore, powering the boat forward until her parents were almost out of sight as they followed the boat’s path along the shore. Just before she lost sight of them around a point, she turned and saw her mother with her head in her hands, sobbing, with her father’s arms around her. At that moment she came closer to turning back than at any point in the escape. Digging in for the final push that would take them out of sight, she turned to wave. Her cry “Don’t worry – I will be back. I love you. I love you,” choked in her throat. Shaking her head she turned and dug the paddle in hard. Within seconds they were gone. Seeing the tears pouring down her face Rawiri said, “Thank you. Thank you, Winnie. It is all right. They will forgive.”

Winnie wasn’t so sure. She sat glumly in the stern, letting the sail swing free for the five more minutes he took to complete the task.

Satisfied with his work, Rawiri returned to the paddle and brought the waka around into the wind. As the wind drew the sail across the boat Winnie grabbed the free-hanging cord at the corner. Rawiri turned the waka stern to the wind, the sail swung out and filled with a powerful jerk.

The effect was so dramatic they were taken by surprise – for a second, as the boat leapt forward, the outrigger reared up in the air and only Rawiri’s lightning reaction in throwing his weight onto it prevented their expedition from ending then and there. Once steadied into the wind the little waka took off like a horse under the spur, but they soon discovered that with Rawiri and the paddle in the stern steering was so erratic that they could make little progress. Winnie thought back to her holiday in Devon, messing around in a sailing dinghy with her uncle. A centreboard – that was what was missing, to act as a stabilising pivot. By sitting amidships holding the second paddle vertically beside the hull Winnie solved the steering problem, but Rawiri struggled to manage both the paddle and the sail.

Her friend, as ever, immediately saw the problem and set to work with cord. Within minutes, the spare paddle was lashed firmly in place.

This time, with Winnie controlling the sail and Rawiri steering in the stern, the improvised yacht handled perfectly. Within seconds they were flying along at a speed that unnerved them both, certainly faster than Rawiri had ever travelled on water before. An exultant grin lit up his face and, for the first time since Winnie had met him, he roared with laughter.

At last Winnie’s head cleared. The thrill of speed, the realisation that her plan had worked perfectly, gave her the extra push to squash all her worries and anxiety into an imaginary box somewhere inside her head and shut the lid. This was to become a familiar struggle in the days ahead; for the moment there was only their mission and it would demand all she had.

They sailed for almost half an hour on the heading taken by the raiders, during which time Rawiri fed Kura and the two bagged tui from a large bottle of honey water. The wind, as Rawiri had predicted, held true and steady and even increased in strength on the open water, driving the little craft across the westerly breeze at a strong clip. They constantly scanned the distance, desperately hoping that the big canoe would still be under way and visible. If the raiders had gone to ground behind a headland or in any of the many ways they might conceal their presence, the pair could sail around the broad Manukau harbour all day with no result. Suddenly Rawiri gave a shout and pointed. Sure enough, squinting into the distance Winnie made out the form of the great waka taua, wet paddles flashing in the sunlight as they rose and fell in perfect unison.

Rawiri’s face was a picture of exaltation. He looked at Winnie with an expression of ferocious glee. They had done it. The hunt was on.

As she gazed at the extraordinary sight, awestruck by the majesty of its lines evident even at such a distance and the almost dance-like quality of the flashing paddles, Rawiri turned the little canoe into the wind, causing it to rapidly lose speed. With a flick of his head he gave Winnie to understand that he wanted to pause and take stock. She released the line at the corner of the sail and they glided slowly to a standstill.

“Well?” she asked.

“I do not know. They go away. Maybe go out from Manukau. After…” He shrugged, his face creased in a worried frown. They proceeded to discuss the options, using a mixture of Maori, English and gesture that would become almost their own private language as their journey progressed.

Rawiri had believed they would make for the Hauraki region. Clever as he was he had deduced that there was nowhere else for such a large group to operate. South of Auckland was densely populated by the well-organised Tainui tribe. North was held by a variety of smaller tribes dominated by the Ngapuhi, a federation of independent sub-tribes. Although not as organised as Tainui, with frequent feuds and inter-village raids, their territory was still too thickly populated for so many warriors and slaves to remain hidden.

The final point was the question of why they were taking so many slaves. Not just those of Rawiri’s village, but the others her father had told about. The raiders were up to something needing at least a hundred workers, so they had to be based in some unpopulated region within reach of the waka. Only one place for a long way in any direction met that description – somewhere in or across the Hauraki Gulf, the wide body of water between the east coast of the mainland and the long mountainous peninsula that stretched north, twenty miles away on the other side of the water. The gulf contained numerous islands but the larger ones were inhabited, the smaller too small to conceal any sizeable undertaking. But the peninsula itself had been so emptied of population by the infamous spree of musket slaughters led by the Ngapuhi chief Hongi Hika that large tracts were still uninhabited thirty years later.

If Rawiri’s theory was correct the big canoe should have been making for one of the points on eastern edge of the Manukau where the North Island narrowed to as little as a mile from the east coast.

These isthmuses had long been used by Maori as mainland crossings or portages for their canoes. They would beach their canoes on one side, drag or carry them across land and launch into the other.

The most important portage was at Otahuhu, the site of the shortest crossing. Both Rawiri and Winnie doubted the raiders would use this because of the Fencible fort that commanded a complete end-to-end view of the busy slipway and road.

A more likely destination they thought to be Papakura, although neither was certain that there were no others. Winnie remembered, from studying the map on her father’s wall, that the Papakura portage was at least five miles long but it ran across level ground, indeed the name ‘papa kura’ means ‘flat land’. For canoes making to and from the Hauraki Gulf it had the advantage of emerging at Wairoa, on the gulf. The Otahuhu portage came out on an estuary well inside the Waitemata harbour, leaving further to paddle.

However, as they spoke the big canoe drew ever closer to the southern shore well west of Onehunga; it appeared that Rawiri was mistaken. On its south-westerly course only a slight adjustment would turn the big waka towards the harbour mouth.

There was nothing for it but to stay within sight of the big boat and see what happened. Winnie grabbed the loose line at the corner of the mat sail and nodded to Rawiri, who dug in the steering paddle and brought them swiftly round across the breeze. So fast was their little craft that within minutes they were as close as caution permitted. Rawiri’s spirits soared; they were now in control of the situation and, short of an accident or failing wind, the waka could do nothing to shake them off. He leaned forward at the paddle, grinning intently with the expression of a hunter who knows he has his game cornered. They now began sailing back and forth, for all the world two youngsters playing with their clever little craft. Their intentions were in any case well hidden by the number of other craft on the vast harbour. The two hours before and after low tide were prime fishing time; at least fifteen boats of various design were scattered across the water, some parts mere channels between exposed expanses where groups were gathering shellfish.

Atlhough the big war canoe was avoiding contact in the sparsely populated southern reaches of the harbour, Winnie and Rawiri were under no such restriction and could go where they chose among the fishers, not all of them Maori. Winnie’s thoughts returned constantly to the tremendous trouble she was in with her parents. She hoped that one of the two or three European fishing boats would notice them and report their well-being to her father; she had no doubt Edward would put out the word for everyone to be on the look-out.

As they flew along Winnie noticed a sailing dinghy labouring along in what seemed to be the general direction of the great canoe. Keeping an eye on the boat she became certain that this was indeed the lone sailor’s objective. She could also see that he was facing difficulties. His sail showed an ugly tear about half way up the mast. Although also rowing strongly, he often paused to bail water.

Gradually Winnie started to feel this was the same lone European they had come across in the forest, a feeling heightened by a return of the weird sense that she recognised him. He was still too distant to be sure, but she kept her gaze on him hoping to finally recognise him.

She was roused from her staring by a shout from Rawiri pointing at the waka, now some thousand yards distant. The huge craft had started on a long turn to the east. If they held that course then they were indeed planning to cross the mainland to the gulf.

The long canoe did not turn easily, and the pair watched with bated breath to see whether its present tack was a minor adjustment or a true change of direction. But it continued the long arc of its turn and within minutes was running close in along the southern shore, back towards the east and the portages. It had also slowed considerably; only half the crew were paddling. This was puzzling; what were they up to? She looked to Rawiri, who was grinning in delight.

“What?” she asked.

“Hauraki. Sure. They wait for big water.”

It took her a moment to understand that he meant high tide. Of course! Now their actions made perfect sense. Their first move had been to flee at full speed towards the outer, less busy quarter of the harbour. They had four or five hours in which to make their way quietly along the southern shore, possibly even taking a break on shore at one of the few points clear of mudflats before running in on the high tide.

It was to be Papakura, or some other point unknown. Certainly not Otahuhu, under the guns of the fort.

The man in the dinghy, who had now turned away from the waka and set a course towards the Mangere headland, quit rowing, bailed a few billies-full of water and appeared to be fossicking out of sight in his boat. Soon she could see he was struggling with something under his arm. Suddenly he threw both hands in the air and released a bird, which circled the boat two or three times in an ever higher and wider arc before flying off towards Onehunga. It was a pigeon.

The man now seized the oars again and began rowing hard, almost desperately, straight for a headland about a mile away.

Another a shout from Rawiri, this time a cry of alarm. He pointed again at the waka. Horrified, she saw it coming about to pursue the stranger, all paddles flying. She tried to calculate whether he would reach the safety of the shore. He was a powerful oarsman with seemingly unlimited energy, with the following wind providing some push even to the broken sail, but the waka had picked up speed. She could see a man in a cloak prancing up and down the boat, obviously shouting, gesticulating with his spear and even, once or twice, striking a paddler on the back.

It seemed likely that he would be caught. He was rowing at a tremendous pace, pausing intermittently to frantically bail water. To Winnie’s alarm Rawiri had changed heading to intercept the canoe and was pointing at it and shouting, “Look! Look!”

Winnie’s heart sank as she made out the cause for Rawiri’s alarm. Two warriors were making their way through the captives, kicking them and striking them with what Winnie saw were muskets. They were going to shoot the fleeing stranger.

She looked back at Rawiri. He responded by nodding his head toward the musket holster now lashed to the mast. There was no mistaking his meaning. Winnie had taken the musket with no particular plan, simply to equip themselves as well as possible. The idea that she might use it to shoot a human being had never crossed her mind.

“Too far away,” she called. Rawiri clearly had no experience of musketry. In order for Winnie to intervene by opening fire, a thought which terrified her, they would have to come within range of the gang’s own muskets; one against dozens would be suicide. She was about to explain this when, glancing at the musket, the words died in her mouth, which suddenly ran dry from fear. Until this moment she had given the specific musket no thought. It was just one of the many muskets in her world, different only in that it belonged to her father. Now she saw it was not; this particular musket gave them a deadly edge.

Among Major Meldon’s various interests was a passion for military technology, including the various kinds of musket.

The previous year, not for the first time, he had been asked to field-test a new weapon from the Springfield Arms Company in Massachusets, America, receiving a dozen for the purpose. It was a musketoon, a shorter, lighter version of the standard musket. But these were special: the barrels, normally a steel tube smooth inside and out, came with long, spiralling grooves along the inside and had mounted sights, features normally found only in advanced types of sporting rifles. The grooves, or ‘rifling’ caused the lead ball to leave the barrel spinning rapidly, making the ball travel much further and in a reliably straight line – a huge advantage over the older smooth-barrelled weapons.

With these, instead of a group of soldiers blazing away in a barrage, the individual soldier could pick a target, aim, and expect to hit it. It was one of these state of the art guns that would change the nature of warfare that Winnie now had in her possession. The conditions were far from perfect, but the range was now less than four hundred yards and closing. Winnie, although no marksman, was trained in musketry. If, as her father had said, this new weapon was accurate up to an incredible five hundred yards, she had to admit that at this range she may well be able to hit the relatively large target presented by the two warriors.

Now she was confronted by a hideous choice – sit by and watch this man be shot or take up the musket herself and … She pushed the thought out of her mind. The Maori were shooting from the unstable platform of a moving canoe; they were still quite some distance away; reloading a musket took most people quite a long time and they may get only two or three shots away before he was safe.

Almost as they formed in her mind she saw the arguments fail. As she watched, she could not avoid noticing how the heavy waka cleaved rock-steady through the light chop and that the paddlemaster’s calls had produced another speed increase. The gunmen fired their first shots and, as expected, missed.

But the next shots came quickly – far too quickly. The Maori were doing something ingenious, something unheard of. The standard procedure was to pour gunpowder down the barrel, remove the ramrod from its groove underneath the barrel, use it to ram paper wadding down to hold the powder in place, drop in the lead ball, ram that home, return the rod to its groove, set a percussion cap and finally shoot. The average soldier could do this twice in one minute, a fast one thrice. She had counted on the Maori taking considerably longer, giving the stranger time to get away.

Even from this distance she could see that they were doing away with the ramrod altogether. They were simply pouring in the powder, adding wadding and ball, then compacting the load by slamming the butt of the gun once or twice on the decking before inserting the percussion cap and firing.

“Shoot! Shoot!” shouted Rawiri, not understanding her reluctance and gesticulating at the musket still in its holster. They could both now see that unless she did so, the stranger was a dead man.

Her heart pounded in her chest as she struggled to find some other way. She even tried to tell herself, a thought dismissed almost as soon as it was formed, that this person meant nothing to them, that he was responsible for his own predicament and must face the consequences. It was no good; she knew she could not just let the man be murdered before her eyes while there was any hope that she could safely make a difference. Her mind made up, she took a second to quickly but carefully scan the lashing – a failure at this point would mean death. Rawiri’s knots were rock solid.

Although scarcely able to breathe, she took the musket from its holster and spoke. “I’m going to put the barrel on your shoulder. When I am in place, let go the sail and bring the boat to face straight into the wind and waves. Do you understand?”

He nodded, pale under his brown colouring.

“When I’m ready I’ll nod. You must stay as still as you can. The shot will make a very loud noise. You might not hear properly for a few minutes. Do you understand?”

Another nod.

Winnie desperately fended off the thought that she was going to try to injure or even kill another human being, fixing her resolve by remembering the dead children at Pukekaroro.

She took a cartridge from her father’s case and quickly loaded the musket, going through the step-by-step routine she knew so well. In twenty or thirty seconds the gun was loaded and half-cocked.

Now she knelt on one knee before Rawiri in the front rank shooting position, lowered the barrel to rest on his shoulder and pulled the hammer back to the fully-cocked position. Two more shots rang out – four in less than a minute, Winnie guessed. Unbelievable. A quick look confirmed that they were still shooting standing up and had both missed, which was good, but the range between them and their target was closing fast, which was not. Luckily they were standing on the platform surrounding the majestic carved prow, giving Winnie a shot well clear of the captives.

Rawiri let go the sail and let the boat’s momentum spin it around into the wind, holding it as still there as he could manage. At the last minute, she thought of the possible effects of the recoil. The last thing they needed was for the barrel to kick up and knock her friend unconscious.

Leaning forward she gently pushed Rawiri’s head to one side, gesturing with the palm of her hand that he was to stay in that position. He gave a slight nod to show he understood, bending his neck even further to stay clear of the barrel. She extended her back leg, braced it firmly against the outrigger and prepared to fire.

As she gazed along the barrel she was surprised to see how effective the sights were. A small metal point at the end of the gun had to be lined up with a notch in an iron strip close to her eye. But the barrel moved about constantly with the movement of the canoe, although Rawiri instinctively understood the need to give her a solid rest and was managing to compensate for the worst of the instability.

Again and again she tried to settle on a target long enough to take aim and fire. Again and again she failed. Soon Winnie was in despair. The movement was too much. While she struggled with the seemingly impossible task, two more shots rang out, then two more. The big boat was now terrifyingly close. Time was running out – if she could not at least achieve a near miss, the man in the boat was in the last moments of his life.

It was now or never. In absolute desperation she took a deep breath, breathed all the way out and in the instant of calm at the end, swung the barrel smoothly up and the instant she caught sight of the warrior to the front she fired.

The recoil slammed her backwards but, ready for it, she held her position. Rawiri jumped with the shock but reassured her with a nod.

As the wind quickly blew the smoke clear she saw that she had missed, but must have been close enough for the man to hear the ball zip past. The waka was still closing on its quarry but now the warriors’ attention was divided.

Good. If she could keep doing that, everything would be all right. She now felt no fear, and neither reluctance nor eagerness, only relief. She had found a solution, the stranger was getting away, everything would be fine. These thoughts flashed through her mind as her hands raced through the familiar routine of reloading. They could hear shouts from across the water – a glance showed that many of the crew had spotted them and were pointing their way. One of the shooters had now turned his attention to them and appeared to be about to fire at them in spite of the range.

She nodded to Rawiri. Once more she went through the smooth routine – breath in, out, up, spot and fire. At the instant of the shot she registered that her target was taking aim in reply and a split second later, through the smoke cloud from her shot, she saw the puff of smoke from his gun. As she bent immediately to the task of reloading the sound of his shot reached them, followed by a triumphant roar from Rawiri crying, “Maté! (Dead!) Maté! Ta heke é!”

He was pointing at the waka; her eyes followed his hand and she saw, scarcely believing her eyes, that there was now only one warrior at the prow.

Winnie had no time to register the shock of killing. Pandemonium had broken out on board the big boat. At least half the warriors dropped their paddles and scrambled for their muskets. The waka slowed dramatically. Instantly they saw the big European from the forest leap to his feet, roaring commands. Some warriors responded, others didn’t. He fired one pistol in the air and levelled the other at a nearby warrior who had started loading his musket. The man quickly returned to paddling, as did his fellows, but the delay had given their intended victim the chance to widen the gap between them.

By now, Winnie had reloaded. Checking the stranger she saw that he was rowing more strongly than ever and was now within two or three hundred yards of the shore. She had improved his chances considerably but not enough to be certain.

She knelt again and lowered the barrel to Rawiri’s shoulder. The lone musketeer had recovered his senses and was raising his musket for another shot. Two more were coming forward to join him. As the waka was now closer to their little craft it was an easier shot. Once again she filled her lungs, breathed out, and in a single movement sighted and squeezed the trigger.

The remaining marksman doubled over, dropped his musket and, clutching his side, toppled off the bow into the water.

“Quick Rawiri! Let’s go!”

With the mat sail flapping stiffly in the wind by her side, she had no difficulty grabbing the line while Rawiri spun the little boat round away from the wind. The sail snapped tight and they shot forward. The big waka, now less than three hundred yards away, started a turn to chase them, but a few seconds’ observation reassured Winnie that as long as the wind kept up they would never catch them.

Her friend, so excited that he was rocking back and forward at the paddle as if to urge the small craft on, headed straight for the Otahuhu channel, now less than fifteen hundred yards away.

“No Rawiri. Not Otahuhu. Father may have sent word about us. Follow the wind and take the closest land.”

The landscape ahead consisted of a few farmlets among areas of second-growth forest; they were headed for one of the larger forested areas.

Winnie checked the waka again and was alarmed to see that it had stopped its turn to be broadside on to them. The entire crew dropped their paddles to get their muskets. With thirty or muskets blazing away in the quick-fire Maori style they were far from safe, even at the quickly lengthening range.

As the first shots rang out Winnie experienced a bizarre and terrifying sensation. She became acutely aware of the surface of her head and back, even the back of her arms, every square inch tingling with sensitivity, awaiting the impact of a bullet. At any contact, even the touch of a feather, she would have screamed in fright.

None came. At least half a dozen balls hit the boat and the sail, but not only were neither of them hit, she saw a ball fall into the boat after failing to pierce the sail. The range had grown by fifty yards, they were flying away, but the firing was constant. Suddenly Rawiri yelped and clutched his right arm, although still managing to retain his grip on the paddle.

He let go again and grabbed the paddle with both hands. Winnie saw a nasty bruise starting to spread out from a blackened spot on his arm, but there was no blood. Looking down she saw the ball rolling around at his feet.

She burst into a peal of relieved laughter. Rawiri glared at her, furious that she could laugh at his injury.

“I’m sorry, Rawiri, I’m sorry. But don’t you see – the bullet didn’t hurt you – they are too far away. Look!” She picked up the ball and showed it to him. “We’re safe! We’re safe!”

Now Rawiri joined in the laughter. For a good minute or more they shook with laughter, grinning hugely at each other. Rawiri clapped her on the back once or twice. It was the laughter of release from fear and it felt good. Even the sudden sobering recollection that she, a girl of twelve, had just killed or badly wounded two men could not dampen her happiness at having saved the stranger and escaped with their lives.

Even Kura seemed to share their delight, wheeling and diving around their heads, once giving Winnie a playful nip on the ear. As she watched she saw the crew on the waka take up their paddles and set it on its previous course, which relieved her completely. They were safe.

Then she saw in the distance that the European in the stern had a long spyglass to his eye trained directly upon them. Instinctively she ducked her head to conceal her face under her bonnet but knew that her move was too late.

They may be safe for the moment, but they were now also known. As they closed on the shore, Winnie felt the cold chill of returning fear.