George Dibbern: His Life and Quest
Adventurer ~ Sailor-Philosoper ~ Free Thinker ~ Self-declared Citizen of the World
BOOK TOUR IN NEW ZEALAND: 19 June TO 7 July 2004
It was a very busy, very intense, but wonderful—and I hope successful from the standpoint of getting books out to readers—book tour in New Zealand.
Certainly the trip was a great success with respect to my meeting many of the devoted people who helped with research and support throughout the process of writing Dark Sun. The weather was a different story. My advice is not to travel to NZ in their winter! I know, it sounds ridiculous—a Canadian suffering from cold while in NZ—but we won’t go into that. Nevertheless, the very warm reception accorded me made up for any discomfort I endured. I arrived in Auckland on Friday, 18 June and, as previously arranged, was met at the airport by my Auckland hosts, Helen and Kaye Lamberton. We had no trouble finding and recognizing each other. A pleasant surprise was the fact that Joyce and Dan Luther also were there to welcome me. Since the first event was planned for 25 June, I had plenty of time to recover from jet lag. I was very comfortably and conveniently housed in Browns Bay on the North Shore by two generations of Lambertons, i.e. the juniors, Jeanette and Wayne as well as the seniors, Jeanette’s parents Helen and Kaye, living on the same property in Browns Bay. This meant, I’m sure to everyone’s relief, that neither had to deal with me full time. I was also very warmly received into the extended Lamberton family—and when I returned from my North Island travels, felt distinctly that I had come ‘home’.
Saturday, 19 June:
Mostly sleep. Excitement at first review—by Margie Thomson, NZ Herald Weekend Supplement “Canvas’. A welcoming, family dinner of introduction at Jeanette and Wayne’s.
Sunday, 20 June:
Heidi and Don Bowick in Howick—on the opposite side of Auckland to Browns Bay where I was staying—invited Helen & Kaye Lamberton and me to an exquisite lunch. Heidi holds all the copies of the WWII Internment Camp newspaper, the Deutsche Stacheldraht Post, published by her father, Kurt-Wilhelm Schmidt. Later this year she will decide on a repository for these valuable papers. Both she and Don are piano teachers/performers and treated us to a very special impromptu piano recital.
Monday, 21 June:
Morning: Phone interviews with Marty Sharpe of Hawkes Bay Today and Paul Mulrooney of Dominion Post in Wellington.
Afternoon: First ever face-to-face with publisher, David Ling. Amazingly we brought Dark Sun into being without ever once speaking on the phone, let alone meeting! Photo shoot with John Selkirk for picture to accompany article by Paul Mulrooney destined for Dominion Post.
Tuesday, 22 June:
Morning spent at University of Auckland reducing number of slides in planned PowerPoint presentation—at the advice of Dr Chris Tindle, who greeted my intended number of slides with an incredulous, ‘You want to show how many slides?!’ Chris had participated in my French classes at Defence Research Establishment Pacific in Victoria in 1993; he and his wife, Carole, had put up Walter and me during our stay in Auckland in 1998. He generously provided and set up the projection equipment for the Friday event.
Wednesday, 23 June:
Throughout the week, whenever I wasn’t keeping some appointment, I was making—and receiving—phone calls, connecting with people I had hitherto known only by mail or e-mail and inviting them to planned events.
Afternoon: I was invited to tour the Auckland area by Ed Stranan, the brother of Cortes friend Alois Stranan. I saw many areas of the city, the names of which I was familiar with, but which I’d never had the opportunity to visit. Ed’s daughter, Vanessa, who along with her father had visited us on Cortes two years ago, joined us for a quick coffee downtown, where we bought a copy of the Dominion Post with Mulrooney’s article, ‘Drifting with the tides’, accompanied by a colour photo that satisfied even me!
Dinner at Janice and Evan Lamberton’s—in the cliff-hanging house they built themselves, with a spectacular view over Browns Bay.
Thursday, 24 June:
Joyce and Dan Luther, invited me to the Skytower for an elegant lunch accompanied by spectacular views which emphasize Auckland’s connection with the water. Dan, collector of NZ yachting memorabilia, had helped on so many occasions verifying dates and looking up articles. It was a treat to spend time with him and Joyce. They kindly chauffeured me to the Akarana Yacht Club where I was to meet David to look over the place in preparation for Friday’s book event. I also squeezed in a brief visit with Chris O’Brien, the editor with whom I had exchanged many e-mails but nary a word on the phone. He wasn’t the ogre that I at times thought him to be!
Friday, 25 June:
The big day! Waited all afternoon for a phone call from a newspaper interviewer—which never came.
6:00 p.m.: The book event at Akarana Yacht Club was well attended. I was introduced by Harry Pope, a friend of George and my (reduced) slide presentation was well received — ‘spellbinding’ according to the words of one observer. Present were mostly those I have come to refer to as ‘George people’—some of whom I had tracked down, others who had been led to me through this web site. I met many for the first time and was frankly somewhat frustrated that there was no time to really visit with them. To cap the evening, the surprise promised by Brian Watson, whose family were the first owners of Te Rapunga after George’s death, surpassed what expectations any of us might have had. To me fell the honour and privilege of unpacking the ship’s bell and a copper cylinder containing line drawings of Te Rapunga. Ken Moss and Barry Cawson, also a former owners of George’s ketch, brought memorabilia as well. Dark Sun was now officially on its way.
Saturday, 26 June:
Morning: Live interview with Kim Hill on NZ National Radio, a much listened-to program. The scheduled 15 minutes turned out to be closer to 30 minutes. I found sitting in a studio conversing through a microphone and far-too-big headset, which fell off just at the start, with someone in another studio in Wellington, very disorienting—not at all like talking on the telephone. I flubbed one question—my mind went blank. I only spent 10 years researching and writing the book! Otherwise it went well and feedback from all corners of NZ was encouraging.
Afternoon: I wandered Auckland and summed up the courage to look for Dark Sun in bookstores. Everywhere, Bill Clinton’s face smirked out at me! Still, it was exciting to locate my book in Whittcoulls and Unity books; to walk up to the sales people, introduce myself, and offer to sign the (unfortunately few) copies they had on display. I took the ferry (a bit of nostalgia for home) to Devonport, was able to show my copy of Dark Sun to a bookseller there who had Margie Thomson’s review — but hadn’t gotten around to ordering. Also tried casually and seemingly disinterestedly placing my book on the table while I savoured a long black in a café, but no one came up and commented on what a beautiful book it was, and how interesting it looked. Hmmm… Still a lot of work to do…
Sunday, 27 June:
9:15a.m. To Napier by bus. En route I recognized the Loose Goose Café in Tirau where we had stopped for a break on our trip down from Auckland in 1998. My host, Robert McGregor, head of the Art Deco Trust in Napier met me at the bus depot at 4:45 p.m.. He runs a lovely B & B, a short 5 minute walk from the centre of town, providing all comforts and a room with a view—highly recommended. Marty Sharpe’s article ‘Vagabond’s quest led him to Napier’ appeared in that day’s Hawkes Bay Today. Ian Sharp’s half-page article based on an interview conducted by phone before my departure from Canada also appeared in the Sunday Times under the inch-high title ‘Free spirit or selfish sod?’.
I began to accept it as a given that newspaper articles will include some misinterpretations and inaccuracies, that it is as much a challenge to be a good interviewee as interviewer. But the main thing was to get into the papers, to have some free publicity, and that I did.
Monday, 28 June:
Morning: Walked to Art Deco office and shop. To Hawkes Bay Museum to set up equipment in beautiful auditorium. The thought to ask about a microphone flitted through my mind, but I assumed the people there knew what they were doing. Met with Peter Anderson (who visited us in 2000) and his wife Maureen (both of whom had driven down from Gisborne) for a lunch of reminiscence and catching up. Afternoon: Experienced the high and the low of authorship. Stopped in at the Hawkes Bay Today office to purchase 2 copies of Sunday’s issue with the article by Marty Sharpe and as I was paying, the receptionist endeared herself by asking with a hint of awe and respect, ‘Oh, are you the author?!’ Then I proceeded to look for a Sunday Times with Iain Sharp’s piece. None at the supermarket, so I tried the Shell station. ‘Follow me,’ she said, and led me to the metre-high recycle bin. ‘It’s ok, it’s clean. You can crawl in and get one out.’ Back to reality!
6:00 p.m.: Again it was a thrill to meet many of the people with whom I had connected by mail. To greet Lani Morris and her mother Eileen Morris, 6 years and a completed book after our first visit was for me a moment of joy — tempered with trepidation. As I stood on stage delivering my presentation (without a much-needed microphone as it turned out) I looked over to where they sat, and wondered by what right I was standing there telling them about the man they knew better than anyone. After a successful event, we returned to their home for a long-anticipated visit and discussed their feelings—and mine. Fortunately, we all agreed we are OK with the fact of Dark Sun!
Tuesday, 29 June:
Morning: Wandered through shops and art galleries, wishing I had room to bring home examples of the exquisite jewellery, ceramics and artwork.
Afternoon: Dick McAvinue came to pick me up; we collected June Simpson, formerly from Dannevirke, who had taken the bus up from Wairoa, and headed back to Dannevirke where Dick and his wife Shirley generously provided my accommodation. Jill Mills, too, was there to greet us. All had participated in research for Dark Sun. Dick was exceptionally organized and had arranged interviews for that same afternoon. First was with Maurice Wright of the Bush Telegraph (don’t you love it?!). Next came a live radio interview in the studio of the Dannevirke Community Radio. On return to the McAvinues, another interview with journalist Sue Emeny of the Manawatu Standard.
Wednesday, 30 June:
The most wicked weather encountered so far; reminiscent of the worst kind of November day on coastal BC, i.e. blowing furiously and dumping rain—and cold. All photos (for Fiona Dickinson provided a photo record of the day!) show this author windblown and in disarray—despite the use of ‘product’ as recommended by the hairdresser in Campbell River.
9:30 a.m. Reading for Friends of the Dannevirke Library. Some arrived with photos and with personal memories of George. It was a delight to see Ann Green, our first Servas host of 1998, again—and to meet, for the first time, Palmerston North historian Val Burr, whose MA thesis on Somes Island in WWI had been of immense help—and with whom I had covered a lot of personal ground as well.
11:00 a.m. Signing of books at PaperPlus. A total of 22 Dark Suns sold (Jeremy Meid was very happy) as opposed to 0 for Clinton (I was very happy indeed)!
12 noon: Welcome ceremony and lunch in honour of me and Lani Morris who joined us from Napier (Eileen would have come, despite her 90 years, had the weather been kinder), extended by Maori at Makirikiri Marae. It was very moving and an honour for both of us to meet people and descendants of people (Hepa Tatere, Manahi Paewai, Edith for example) who had known George and had received him into their community.
Despite the horrible weather, we were escorted to the places where George would have lived and visited, to the cemetery where Rangi Rangi Paewai—his ‘spiritual mother’—is buried.
Thursday, 1 July:
Quick visit to Dannevirke Gallery of History before departure by bus to Wellington.
Arrived in Wellington at 1:30 p.m. Stored luggage at Backpackers’ Hostel. Because it was Canada Day, visited the Office of Canadian High Commissioner whose Carolyn McMaster, acting deputy High Commissioner, I had previously contacted. She send out an e-mail announcement to all Kiwi-Canadians on her e-mail list re Dark Sun events on Matiu/Somes Island scheduled for Saturday, 3 July. Subsequently I visited every bookstore I could find, signed books and talked up events.
Met up with hosts Marianne Doczi (daughter of a WWII Somes internee, whom I located through an inscription George had written in a copy of Quest once belonging to her father, now owned by Dan Luther who bought it in a used book shop), and Julie Craig. They live in Seatoun, an area from which there is, significantly, a view of Matiu/Somes Island.
Friday, 2 July:
Took the bus from Seatoun to downtown Wellington. Dropped in at the National Library to see Margaretha Gee in Special Collections whom I’d met in 1998. Was delighted to hear she had already seen Dark Sun. Enjoyed a post Canada Day lunch with fellow-Canadian, Carolyn McMaster. Walked to the German Embassy (I’m convinced Dark Sun will be of interest to German readers) and stood disappointedly in front of the gate as I noted opening hours from 8:00 -12:00.
Determined to visit Te Papa—which was a few days from its grand-opening in 1998—I headed in that direction. En route, stopped in at Museum of City and Sea which was to be the alternate venue should ferry service to Matiu/Somes be interrupted due to inclement weather. My so-called visit to Te Papa consisted of simply walking through and getting a feel for the place. It’s huge!
Saturday, 3 July:
With hosts Marianne and Julie, to wharf from which ferry to Matiu/Somes was to depart. While waiting, had ~10 minute live radio interview with Garry Ward from Newstalk ZB covering the Wellington region. Val Burr drove down from Palmerston North to be there and to later drive me back with her. Beautiful crisp, clear day for crossing. Major undertaking to transport projection equipment, books and lunch. Delighted to see Elizabeth King, Servas host from 1998. Talks including PowerPoint presentation scheduled for 11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
First talk was somewhat disorganized—I confess I travelled with neither cell phone nor laptop, and using other people’s equipment, as well as the fact that I was new to operating a laptop (I know, a no-brainer), resulted in a few hiccups. Reception of presentation/s was nonetheless good. A welcome surprise was the fact that Herr Erich Riedler, German Ambassador, and his wife were among the visitors. I mentioned my frustration at finding the Embassy closed the previous afternoon. Frau Riedler said emphatically: ‘You simply press the bell!’ Again there was the frustration of not being able to visit with folks who had gone to the effort to come and were now rushing to catch the next ferry back to Wellington. On the other hand, following the afternoon event, we, too, were rushing to get back, as the wind was increasing in velocity and dark storm clouds were in view.
Dinner courtesy of Val Burr’s sister Pam and her husband, Denis. An example of persistence: Fay Smith in Auckland had tried to contact me a couple of years ago as a result of my NZ Memories article. Unfortunately the email address given was incorrect and her message returned. After hearing the Kim Hill interview, she phoned the station, was referred to David Ling who passed her on to the publicist Sandra Noakes, who forwarded the call to my Wellington hosts (from whom I’d already taken leave) who suggested my next host Val Burr whose cell phone rang during dinner at a Chinese restaurant—and was handed to me by Val who soon learned to answer her phone with ‘Erika’s answering service’! Pelting rain drive with Val Burr and son Kieran back to their home in Palmerston North.
Sunday, 4 July:
Invited with host Val Burr to delicious lunch at president of Goethe Society of Palmerston North, Cornelia Grant, and husband Stuart, their award-winning vocalist daughter, Helen, along with Val’s co-organizer of the event, Rolf Panny. To beautiful, restored historic Caccia House for presentation (no equipment, so no slideshow) at 2:00 p.m. Attentive audience and even one woman, who had once known George and Eileen, who had driven over from Napier. According to Val, for whom this was now the third presentation she heard, this was the best, despite there being no slides. Interesting how sometimes pictures can be a distraction—which is precisely why George relied on words and gestures only. The Society’s thank-you consisted of a beautiful bouquet of flowers.
Supper at the home of Russell Burr (who was a bachelor when he visited us on Cortes in 1999), his wife Jenna, son Tommi and as yet unborn Alina. Throughout it was wonderful to renew ties with those I had already met. Now I look forward to so many more such renewals on my next visit to New Zealand.
A phone call from Lani who hadn’t managed to come to Matiu/Somes as intended, but had noted on her flight to Christchurch that Dark Sun was one of two books, both published by David Ling, featured in the NZ Air in-flight magazine. That was good!
Monday, 5 July:
A morning of contrasting experiences—a visit to the grave of Tanya Burr, Val’s daughter who was brutally murdered in September of 2002—and a stop at the downtown bookshop, Bruce McKenzie’s Books (Louisa McKenzie had been at the previous day’s event and was most enthusiastic). Dark Sun‘s position was highlighted after our visit. It pays to go in person!
Fortunately I had conceded to the luxury of flying back to Auckland (one hour vs the better part of the day by bus), as that morning the bus route was closed due to snow. Was met at the airport by Robin Elliott (another acquaintance from 1998, helper with dates and photos, source of on-going encouragement) because now David had been laid low with inexplicable—not because of me I hope—spontaneous flu-like symptoms. Due to the rush hour traffic-challenge of getting from airport to North Shore, we headed downtown and flogged—rather ‘promoted’—Dark Sun in shops in the Sailors’ Corner area.
As I mentioned earlier, returning to the Lambertons felt like returning home—to my home away from home!
Tuesday, 6 July:
Final phone calls, By now I was able to find my way to downtown Auckland by bus. More trips to bookstores and shops. A downpour spurred the decision for me to return ‘home’. A final farewell dinner with the extended/blended Lamberton family. My photos show us all wearing the same woolies and jackets inside the house as outside. We in Canada consider this to be odd behaviour.
Wednesday, 7 July:
Confronted with a terrible mess and major packing challenge. More last minute phone calls and suggestions for the future of Dark Sun. Finally a block of time with David Ling as his life during the 3 weeks of my stay was complicated by one crisis after another. Fortunately I had lots of friends to step in with offers of transportation, etc. Delightful lunch at the Lings. Another reminder of where I was: their north facing deck is so hot in summer while for us up here, north is the cold side! In minutes a shift from brilliant sunshine to dark thunderclouds and dump of rain—which caused us to leave for the airport earlier than planned—in anticipation of snarled traffic. Flight out at 6:50 p.m.
The biggest challenge aboard Air New Zealand was to resist the temptation to order everyone to reach into their seat pocket for the Air New Zealand magazine, turn to page 84 and note that the I, the author of Dark Sun featured there, was standing before them and would be only to willing to help pass the time with an impromptu talk about the book! As it is, I only pointed it out to the person sitting beside me.
Erika Grundmann 2 September 2004
• • • • • • • • •
On my return, months worth of filing awaited me as did a full year’s worth of emails that required sorting. I have also been preparing proposals to submit to North American publishers and a German one. Moreover, it’s summer here—until a week ago exceptionally hot and dry—and I have tried (not very successfully I might add!) to take some time out.
As I stated at the outset, the trip was a super experience of friendship and acceptance—very similar to what George Dibbern himself experienced and espoused. Were it not for the generosity of all my hosts, who housed, fed and chauffeured me hither and yon, the trip—if it had happened at all—would have been very different. I brought home with me many wonderful memories and a sense that the decade of work (which was more passion and obsession than ‘work’) to produce the book was worth the effort! I thank everyone for the support and encouragement accorded me, and especially for the positive feedback regarding Dark Sun.
What next? Now the focus is to line up a US and/or Canadian and a German publisher in order to make Dark Sun more readily available to North American and German readers. In the meantime the book is available for purchase through NZ booksellers or through me. In addition, it is my intention to bring about a reprint of the much sought after Quest —anyone who has looked to buy a copy recognizes the need! A reprint of the German translation Unter eigener Flagge (Hamburg: Claassen Verlag, 1965) is also on the agenda.
And then there are the short stories George Dibbern wrote in the 1920s in German, some of which were published in German magazines and newspapers, describing mostly his experiences as a young man in NZ. I have begun to translate them and hope one day to make them available as well.
Erika Grundmann July 2005