Racial prejudice

In 1948, when I was six years old, I remember hanging around dad’s shop in Maungaturoto, when a rich farmer came in to buy a pair of binoculars.  In those days, most chemist shops sold just medicines and products like toothpaste and shampoo, but my father (known as Grampy to his grandchildren) had quite advanced marketing ideas and sold lots of other products, including cameras and binoculars.

Dad showed the farmer two pairs of binoculars;  a very expensive German pair and a pair of Japanese ones.  I heard dad trying to convince him that he should buy the Japanese ones, which dad said were better than the German ones and only half the price.  But, no matter how dad tried, he couldn’t convince the farmer to buy the better/cheaper binoculars.  The problem was that the farmer hated the Japanese, so he ignored dad’s advice and bought the more expensive German ones.

Now, to be fair to the farmer, this was only a few years after the Second World War, and during that war the Japanese Army had done some terrible things to our captured soldiers, including horrible torture.  The Germans had been our enemies, too, but they didn’t have this reputation for cruelty.  It might even have been that one of the farmer’s own family had been tortured by Japanese soldiers, so, in some ways it was fair enough that he felt that way.  But, even as a little boy, standing there listening to the grown-ups talking, it seemed terribly unfair that all Japanese people should be discriminated against even though they, personally, hadn’t done anything wrong.

When I remember this incident, I realise that my parents must have been very unprejudiced people, which makes me proud of them.  I have no memory of them making nasty comments about other races and I have no memory of myself feeling that way either.  In fact, I think they brought me up to be “colour blind”.  What I mean by that is that I don’t even remember noticing that some people were a different colour.  Now that I look back, I realise that there was a lot of prejudice and discrimination in those days, but somehow I didn’t notice it, and for that I thank my mother and father.

I don’t particularly remember having any Maori friends when I was at Maungaturoto District  School, although I must have had some, since we went to the same school and some would have been in the same class.  But I do remember lots of Maori and Pasifika friends, later, when I went to Whangarei Boys High School.  Cyril Harding (Maori) slept in the next bed to me at boarding school.  I invited “Charlie” Tutaka (Rarotonga) home for the holidays one year.  The Brown twins (James and Henry, also from Rarotonga) were great mates.  I played in the school basketball and softball teams with my good friend Graham Erceg.  And Bill Killen (half Maori, half Pakeha) became my best friend.

The picture below shows dad’s chemist shop (on the left), which he and the farmer stood outside while I was eavesdropping (picture courtesy of the wonderful Google Maps).  The brick building to the right of dad’s pharmacy are the Plunket Rooms, which I think Grampy had built at the same time as the shop.  The idea was to have what would now be called a “health hub” with a chemist shop, doctor’s rooms and Plunket rooms all next to each other.

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Finally, there’s an interesting 2014 film called “The Railway Man”, which tells the story of a British soldier who confronts his torturer many years after the war.  It’s a very quiet and very sad film, but enjoyable in its way, and in the end you feel sorry for both the British and the Japanese man.  Here is the trailer:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbS_dYEwf2M.

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