Merv Aoake



Tena Koe Ms Lamb and thank you for the invitation to offer a few words around my time at and after attending Matamata College

I had 5 great years at Matamata College culminating in the first ever trip by the college First XV to Wales. What a great way to celebrate your years of schooling. As an aside we celebrated the 40th anniversary of that tour 2 years ago. Only our captain Kevin Magill – sadly passed away; Peter Wills, Trevor Vowels and John Williams were unable to attend from the team. What a great occasion to be back together significantly older but none the wiser for it.

In my time at Matamata College I was fortunate to be involved in sport quite heavily. Summer meant athletics – competing at inter-school comps, regional comps, the North Island champs and as a member of the college team to attend the original Colgate games in Christchurch in 1974. I competed in the field events – discus, shotput, javelin and the hammer – when it was first introduced into the youth / junior grades

Winter came rugby. This occupied a lot of my time and energies. That was a privileged time as well to play alongside future All Blacks and Provincial players as well as be mentored and coached by George Simpkin – coach extraordinaire. We also dabbled in field hockey, volleyball, soccer when time permitted.

On the cultural scene well I managed to secure a role in the annual school production. I am sure this was an arm twisting intervention on the first XV members by aforementioned coach to put us outside our comfort zones. It worked and certainly gave me confidence for a role in another play in another country in another language at a later time in my life.

So my years at Matamata College were the foundation years for the rest of my life and I cannot thank enough the staff, students, community as a whole and whanau for giving me that start to adult life. In 1974 I made up 50% of those who sat UE to pass. Pretty proud of that

On returning from our trip to Wales I was greeted three things. Two were very influential in sculpturing my life further and one that all of us have felt before. The two were gaining entry into the School of Phys Ed at Otago Uni and the other was getting into Selwyn College Halls of residence. The other was the realisation that I would be leaving home, my family friends and support network. You say it will be easy, I am ready but secretly are packing bricks. Then you have to say bye to mum and dad – things just got real.

Dunedin – city but not like Auckland, smaller and not as scary. Would I meet anyone, make friends? Three years pass quickly and I say why move just now. Another year will be sweet right. No-one tells you about the person who will impact your life – but it had happened earlier and hence another year.

Maree Allice Jones came into my life and things have only been better since. I still played abit of rugby, age group rep stuff and varsity A & B in teams that won championships. I have been blessed to be fortunate enough to be selected into brilliant teams full of amazingly gifted players.

Anyway I moved upto Christchurch to attend Teachers College in 1979 after gaining a Diploma of PE, Maree was finishing her Bachelors of Ed at Otago, and spent the year trying to become a teacher. Graduating I managed to secure my first teaching position at Papanui High School in Christchurch starting in 1980. Maree had graduated and moved to Christchurch where she had secured a teaching job also a Kendal Ave school. I played rugby for varsity in Christchurch and again was fortunate to be in a team that won 5/6 championships out of 9.

Maree and I married in 1981 in Gore. I love teaching but on a varsity trip to Japan I was offered an opportunity to go back there and play rugby for a company team. I returned to NZ and discussed this with Maree and we decided that we would give it a go, so signed up and along with another 2 couples from the varsity rugby team, we all went over in September of 1987 to a small city called Kumamoto in southern Japan.

Talk about rice and bread, how different do you want it. Communication being the biggest obstacle. It is amazing how sign language becomes your “go to” option. So we have 3 couples signed up as the first foreign contracted players into Japan, training and playing rugby on sandpits basically. They have local rules and lying on the ball is ok.

You could take the boy out of the ruck BUT it was hard to take the rucking out of the boy. Caused a few interpretation issues but nothing a rice balls and a sake couldn’t fix. By day the boys all worked in one of the company department stores. Usually wrapping things and only after a few years serving customers who were shocked about a Gaigen serving them. Still same as when they come here right.

After 2 years the company through the rugby boss offered Maree and I an extension for an unlimited time. Decision time – pack up and go home OR stay.

Decided to put eggs into one basket and said we wanted to stay. Getting a handle on the language abit now. Maree had a very successful English language teaching business going by then and then BANG – we are having a baby. Thought we had a pretty good handle on conversational Japanese but where do you learn about contractions, epidurals etc. whole new language. For me working was paying dividends as it helped my Japanese as no one spoke English. Also had a few of the rugby boys working there as well so got to know each other well. Ana our daughter born 30 June 1989. Suddenly we have a rush of babies. The other two couples had babies as well as our rugby boss. Great family support club happening now. The rugby was progressing as we got stronger and stronger. 2 years later – wham our son was born on 16th June 1991. Life is pretty good. Kids are welcome anywhere in Japan so they went where we went. Lots of great memories from that time. Lots of amazing people befriended and remain so.

1992 we decided to return to NZ to be with family. The kids were needing to spend more time with their grandparents so home we came settling in Queenstown where we have been for the last 24 years. Our kids were raised here, schooled here and have both attended Otago Uni.

Work wise I returned to teaching at the local high school here in Queenstown when we came back from Japan. I continued to have a presence in Japan as a coach for a number of university teams as well as a couple of company teams. After 3 1/2 years I again left teaching and went back over to Japan as a coach for a company team near Osaka. Maree had a business in Queenstown so that as time went on the kids and Maree would come to Japan about 4 times a year. I worked 6 months there the rest at home. Team success came slowly but was very satisfactory to get them into the top league. I also managed a Barbarians team that played against the All Blacks when they visited Japan.

After 9 years I again quit there and returned home. I took up positions teaching Alternative Ed, as a youth worker whilst also coaching back in Japan periodically. For the last 15 years I have been volunteering by helping coach the Osaka Police team which can’t have foreign players I sometimes get invited to other teams for short periods.

For the last 10 years I have been working for Jigsaw Central lakes, which is a support agency for victims of family violence. More recently as part of my role I also facilitate non-violence programme for men.

Having lived overseas for 15 odd years we certainly have travelled a lot. With the kids we kept to Asia mainly to leave the rest of the world for them to explore. Maree and I have travelled extensively throughout Europe, Asia but look forward to the Americas and Africa in the future.

I am looking forward to attending this reunion. To see how people have changed or not, shrunk or not, aged or not but most of all to again be reminded of where all those dreams were born and share them again with people who helped in their formation.