Not all travel is for fun – NZ army vets return to Malaya for unveiling

While in Kuching a month ago, immediately after the Rainforest World Music Festival, I unexpectedly met Dato Lim Kian Hock. He told me about a group of past New Zealand military personnel who were going to Sarawak for the commemoration, and unveiling, of a plaque honouring their help to Malaya at the end of August.  As my ex-husband (now deceased) was posted in Malaya (as it was then called) during that time, I was interested in what was happening.

He (Dato Lim Kian Hock) is the chair of Sarawak Tourism Federation Heritage Development Committee will be also sharing his wealth of knowledge on World War II and local war-related sites to ‘What About Kuching (WAK) 2017’ this October.

In an email sent to me and the New Zealand participants, he said “We feel blessed to share your happy moments in this historical commemoration and the successful unveiling of your MNZVA commemorative Plaque, your first memorial in the world, consecrated here in Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo on 29th August 2017. The morning shower has even failed to dampen your “combatant” spirit of gallantry” proudly displayed by your colourful parade led by Kaumatua in the Māori tradition. I feel so touched by your singing in Māori verses too and your explanation that the rain drops are the showers of blessing.

Above all, we shared your pride of the hour, when His Excellency the High Commissioner of New Zealand to Malaysia Dr. John Subritzky, officially announced the NZ decision to repatriate the remains of your NZ fallen heroes back home to NZ at Kuching, City of Unity in Borneo. A greater “spiritual rewards” to all your Kiwi veterans especially you all during the Confrontation period. You and your team has thus created a lifelong historical pride to your New Zealand Battalion. We wholeheartedly congratulate you and share this proud accomplishment of yours with all friends in the world.”

Twenty-Seven New Zealand veterans returned to remember their time in the Malaya and to see the commemorative plaque being unveiled at the Heroes Memorial Park. See this YouTube video of edited highlights https://youtu.be/4reMe8FYUHo 

The New Zealand High Commissioner to Malaysia Dr John Subritzky also attended and said it was easy for those not directly involved with the Emergency and the Indonesian Confrontation to forget how difficult and challenging those campaigns were.

He continued, “I want to acknowledge the sacrifices that were made during those conflicts. The veterans who are here today are living embodiment of one of the crucial foundations of this special relationship between New Zealand with Malaysia and Sarawak.”

As well as the Sarawak Tourism Federation (STF) Heritage Development Committee chairman Datu Lim Kian Hock, others present included the NZMVA president David Fenton and members of the Malaysian Infantry Veterans Division and the Malaysian First Infantry Division.  Many thanks to Bill Russell, VP of the MVA, for the use of his photos in this slideshow.

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I must be mad: this is not a bridge

‘You must be joking” I said.

There before me are the skeletal remains of something they tell me is  a bridge. Well it goes over a river, so maybe that qualifies it.

My mind paints a very different picture when visualising a bridge – solid, safe, secure,  enough material to ensure I can’t  fall through. This structure does not live up to expectations. Perhaps my friends were right.

“You’re crazy” they had said. “Why work during your holiday?”

“Not all holidays have to be in exotic places. Anyway, I’m investing in New Zealand” I’d loftily replied.  But now, reality has struck and my fears surface.

The wire ropes seem strong enough to hold the structure, but how, with my fear of heights, was I going to cross or do any work actually ON it. Most of the decking lies on the riverbank. The water looks clear, cold and fast – waiting for me.

This is the second time I’ve offered to help NZ’s Department of Conservation with a project. Previously I’d spent a week at the Te Anau Wildlife Centre helping with a visitor survey and it had not produced this level of anxiety. Other differences were  great weather compared to pouring rain and working alongside the delightful Takahe at ground level instead of on an ancient packhorse bridge surrounded by mosquitoes.

Convinced by my white face, the man from D.O.C relents and assigns me a land job; wire-brushing years of rust off the guy-ropes. Painting them with an oily mixture keeps me safe for another couple of days, time to get used to the structure, then suddenly I find myself looking down at the water that’s rushing by.  I’m on the bridge! My fellow conservation volunteers cheer.

And so the days continue. Water drips constantly  from the end of my nose and glasses, the track becomes more and more slippery as we struggle to the top with heavy timber planks.

So when you visit Milford Sound, take a little side trip. Wander down the sign posted track and think of the blood, sweat and my fears that helped restore part of our heritage.

Next time I become a conservation volunteer it will be with projects that won’t involve fear. I’ll go monitoring long tailed bats in the Eglinton Valley; or perhaps I’ll provide visitor information somewhere warm; however I haven’t explored the Caitlin’s nor Stewart Island . . . maybe they need me down  there?

Or will I  carry on as I am?  Pulling out pinus contorta seedlings when I go tramping in the Tongariro National Park, pick up plastic along the Napier foreshore or in the Arthur’s Pass National Park, recycle all I can. None will cause adrenaline surges like that packhorse bridge but all invest in New Zealand and  help with the clean green image we love to portray.

So, if you think a conservation holiday is something you want to be involved in. check the  Department of Conservation  web-site http://www.doc.govt.nz  then let me know about your adventures.