Monday, 3 February 2014

Obituary Pete Smith

by Amanda Morrison


On 28 December 2013 Peter Maxwell Forbes Smith lost his last battle. Unknown to many of his friends he had been quite sick for most of the year, fighting cancer. He was 73 years old and had been living in Waitati for the past 40 years.

Pete was born in Wellington on 1 April 1940 to Forbes Smith and Kathleen Muriel née Goodenough. He had one sibling, a younger sister, the late Pam Maloney. Pete attended Newtown Primary School, South Wellington Intermediate and then Rongotai College. He left there in 1956 having gained school certificate.

Pete worked at various jobs including in parks and reserves, waterside work and quality control at Red Band Brewery in Wellington (surely every man's dream job!). In 1960 he was appointed sole technician in the Botany Department of Otago University. Pete made the move south and over the next eight years worked and studied at the university. He achieved BSc (Hons) 1st Class in botany and in 1969 went on to Teachers' College in Christchurch. He then worked for two years as a science teacher and two years lecturing in plant science at Lincoln University.

Over the years he was also employed as an alpine guide, scientist at the Bluff aluminium smelter (as a spectrometer operator), consultant biologist, some work for a Canadian timber company and was self-employed as a drainage contractor. He founded two companies: the Escherichia Coli Drainage Company and Waitati Green Ltd. The work done by these companies was quite diverse and included a management plan for Maraweka Station, the development of a moveable rugby field for the Auckland Superdome, a catalogue of 'interesting and valuable trees' in Dunedin city for the DCC Planning Department and a study for Silverpeaks County on the possibility of controlling gorse by oversowing with the seed of timber-producing species. This led to an ongoing (15-year) study of European ash as a possible timber crop in East Otago.

The bulk of Pete's working life and interest lay in the broad field of land management and applied biology. The income he generated from this allowed him to spend time overseas chiefly looking into forest die-back phenomena in the northern temperate zone. Based at the Forestry School, University of Gottingen and later at the University of Freiburg in Germany, this lead to some advisory work in Korea and occasional lecturing on the subject in New Zealand.

Pete also found time to build his home, an energy-efficient (solar) house in Waitati which took him two years in the late 1970s. His hobbies included expedition-type mountaineering (from age 16), sailing, gardening, music (classical and jazz), history, masonry and the military.

Mountaineering was his great passion and Pete was very fond of the Mount Aspiring area and maintained a long time relationship with her. He had many other loves in his life and the product of these are his beautiful daughter Lucy and son, the late Paul Smith. Pete is the proud grandfather of Willow (daughter of Paul) and also Rose, Sophie and baby Emily (Lucy's daughters.)

Pete was a unique character, a very interesting, well-travelled and well-educated man. He was also somewhat of a hermit, known best by those close to him. This tribute touches only a little on the many facets of his personality. Perhaps Pete's greatest claim to fame is as founder of the infamous Waitati Militia. Forty years ago in the spring/summer of 1972 Pete created a lasting and unusual legacy.

It was the hey-day of the Waitati Yacht Club, a group of senior students and staff of Otago University and Lincoln College who made recreational use of Blueskin Bay. A major concern of the times was the Vietnam War and many were active in anti-war efforts. The Wellington Returned Services Association chose to support the stance on the war taken by the National government of the day. Plans were made to disrupt the Anzac Day parade in Dunedin with rotten eggs, flour bombs and the like. A week before Anzac Day the Otago RSA publicly disassociated themselves from pro-war sentiments eminating from Wellington. Of course, the protest was then abandoned and a decision was made to have a trial battle amongst themselves with the ammunition assembled. This proved to be successful and enjoyable and so they became the Waitati Militia in name and intent.

Over the next few years there was much discussion over what the militia would develop into. One side was buffoonery and another was a paramilitary organisation which could be useful in times of need. In a parallel evolution Alf's Imperial Army had established itself in Melbourne around the same time. The Wizard of Christchurch brought this with him to New Zealand, setting up a detachment of the ALF in Christchurch. Many of their interesting ideas were adopted and the ALFs made excellent allies but the Waitati Militia insisted on retaining its independence.

This eventually led to the incorporation of the Independent State of Waitati into the International Council of Independent States in November 1991. If you would like to know more details of the many battles and activities of the Waitati Militia check the local history section of the Blueskin Bay Library. We are very fortunate that Pete made all his correspondence files available, and also The Waitati Militia: An abbreviated historical outline of the first twenty years (the content of which is where this information is abridged from). It makes for a very interesting and amusing read that dispels any myths surrounding the history of this organisation.

In the words of Captain Smith, 'The Waitati Militia is a vehicle for the promotion of buffoonery and it can be whatever its current members (i.e. The buffoons of Waitati) want it to be.' Additional information is also in the Blueskin Days book, and for recent battle footage from the Otago Daily Times you can look up 'Waitati Battle' on YouTube. (As a general rule, the Waitati Militia does not exist on the internet and is a thriving and well-kept secret.)

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