I stood and watched this old man shuffle along the concrete footpath that he had travelled over many times during the last forty years.
Slightly built, to the point of frailty, with thinning silver hair he stoops forward, takes another few steps and pauses. He has in his hand a brown paper bag containing a few choice tomatoes.
In the other is a walking stick …no ordinary stick this. It is an old branch of manuka that he has sanded, varnished and capped with a piece of old shoe leather. He will point it at you and proudly tell you, that "Sir Harry Lauder had twenty-two, similar crooked sticks".
I asked him how he came to get hold of it.
"It comes with the compliments of the Whakatane Council. In forty years it was the only bloody thing I ever got out of them’.
He had in fact picked it out of the street gutter. It says a great deal about his character …always the individual, always the innovator, but mostly the thinker.
For what seemed like an eternity, I could not move to help him. As the emotion of the moment rose within me, tears streamed down my face. It was a jewel of a moment, touched with sadness …and pride. I was witnessing the passing of a great New Zealand poet, whose work was lauded by many …including such names as Eleanor Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II, one time Governor General of New Zealand Lord Bledisloe and Jasper Calder, to name but a few. To those old enough the name 'Uncle Scrim', Rev. Colin Scrimgour ,will bring back nostalgic memories. The days of 1ZR, in Auckland. Yet Bill Whiteside possibly one of New Zealand's finest poets is not known in his homeland
I pondered wondering what it had all been for. I remembered the Savage Memorial poem ‘I stood before a monument’, more tears flowed. New Zealand Cameo of Beauty, of which Lord Bledisloe wrote "…the inspiring poems of your own composition, they are full of delightful imagery, patriotic fervour and poetic skill". Jasper Calder the great social commentator of the 40’s likened his work to Robert Service with a touch of Rupert Brooke. There are many poems and indeed short stories that he has penned over the years. Few of them have ever seen the light of day.
During the period of prolific writing the old ‘Standard’ the Labour newspaper of the day published a few that were then topical. The expensive glossy journal New Zealand Mirror, were given the opportunity to run a couple. Last but by means least the then Bay of Plenty Beacon, being the local newspaper printed considerably more.
It says something of this old man that at the age of fifty-three, he gave a way his lively-hood trade, that of painting and paperhanging to join the Whakatane Beacon, and went on to become its sub-editor.
Writing was always in his blood and but for a father who removed him from his first job with the old Lyttelton Times, he might have been more prolific.
Through blurred eyes I could see that soon he would be crossing Salonika Street. As if by inspiration, I found myself mouthing the lines of that little gem, that seemed to say it all …Apathy. The fleeting opportunity, that once was theirs to grasp’. I walked beside him, not helping him for he was too independent for that. He looked at me and grinned, "You know Harry Lauder had one like this".
At the time of writing, Bill Whiteside is going on eighty-four. It is my wish that before he passes on that he sees the fulfilment of his late wife's most fervent wish; the publication of his work. I hope that one day his poems will be recognised for their true literary merit. It has taken me half a life-time to realise that this old man living alone in a council flat has given us a little piece of history, a little bit of literary gold.
I make no apology for the tears, I make no apology for the pride, I am only grateful that the moving moment removed the apathy and allows me to share with you the poems of my father.
Bruce Whiteside on holiday in Whakatane 1987.