The Boy from Evans Bay

Late last month we hosted the launch of Sir Michael Hardie Boys memoirs The Boy From Evans Bay. A beautifully written memoir that recalls not only a remarkable life but also a New Zealand childhood that is so different from that of today.   He writes of his childhood, school days at Hataitai School and Wellington College, university days at Victoria University, his time practising law in the firm that his father founded, family life, his time on the Bench, and of the five years when he was Governor-General of New Zealand.

Dame Sian Elias, The Chief Justice of New Zealand spoke eloquently about Sir Michael and we were lucky enough to get a copy of her speech to reproduce below. 

The Boy From Evans Bay is available exclusively from The New Zealand Portrait Gallery and retails at $40.00. All proceeds from the book will go to continuing the work of the Gallery.

 

 

ADDRESS ON THE OCCASION OF THE LAUNCH OF:

 

“The Boy from Evans Bay”

The Memoirs of Sir Michael Hardie Boys

 

I am honoured to be asked to help launch this memoir.  It has also been the greatest pleasure because I was given an advance copy of the book and have read it with delight.

“The Boy from Evans Bay” is not what you might think.  He threw stones and did not always behave.  He sometimes failed to do the right thing by others.  As he grew older he does not seem to have strained or sweated over academic achievements.  Nor does he seem to have set himself high goals even in terms of social or sporting accomplishments.  Mary was a much better dancer, tennis player and skier.  He was a menace with boats and tents and practical accomplishments.  From these pages he does not emerge as someone who had much ambition or sense of direction.  Or even any burning causes to push.  The sense you are left with is that what was achieved came easily or was just luck.

Of course, that cannot be right.  You can get a long way in life with luck and talent.  But not as far as Sir Michael Hardie Boys - and talent and charm alone does not account for the solid school achievements, the Senior Scholar in Law, the successful legal practitioner, the Judge and the Governor-General.

Although the memoir has reminiscences from the faithful years of involvement in community and church bodies, in particular the Boys Brigade, leadership in the Methodist and Anglican Churches, the Trust Board of Marsden College and the Law Society, what you have to read between the lines to realise is how much reliance people placed in this man and what organisational and business skills he clearly possessed as well as a lively and engaging mind.

This then is not a memoir about the author’s accomplishments and triumphs over challenges and adversity.  It is not a memoir about work and successes.  It is not a boastful book or an attempt at justification or explanation.  It is a memoir about a life lived with optimism and enthusiasm and about the people who touched it and the places that stay in the author’s heart.

It is a great story, because it is the story of our country at a time when things were changing fast and it is seen through the people who lived through those times.  For someone like me who remembers many of those mentioned in this book and saw something of the values of those days before the sense of community retreated a little under modern conditions, it is a vivid depiction and set me off on a number of recollections of my own.  But even the descriptions of people and events I knew nothing about were absorbing and thought-provoking.

Sir Michael has a wonderful memory for names and events and a great sense of what matters.  The book is a portrait of an age and of the changes to New Zealand society during this lifetime, changes that can seem imperceptible to those living through them but come to life in the stories related here.  In addition to the people, the book is peppered with references to music and art and the outdoors and fishing which indicate the very many interests of a highly cultivated man.

The memoir is a sustained romp.  It is informative and colourful and the pace never slackens.  It helps of course that the offices Sir Michael held gave him opportunities to observe so much.  There are some pointed comments about a few deserving targets, but for the most part what strikes you is the evident enjoyment Sir Michael takes in people of all sorts and the deep appreciation he demonstrates for family, teachers and the enormous circle of friends he has had.  No one has so many friends without having a rare capacity for friendship.  But for me a considerable part of the charm of this book is the portraits of the remarkable families into which Michael and Mary were born and Michael’s evident delight in his good fortune at persuading the beautiful, talented, and socially accomplished Mary to be his wife.  And his happiness in the life they built together with their four children.  It is a story of love and belonging.

Any memoir by someone of the eminence of Sir Michael would be worth reading.  He is one of the great New Zealanders of our time.  But he has done something marvellous in this book.  He has shown us a portrait of ourselves.  In his reminiscences what comes out are the values of a life well-lived.  Certain and stedfast as the motto on his coat of arms, echoing that of the Boys Brigade, proclaims.

In his marvellous BBC lectures, EM Forster at one stage quoted an imagined dialogue between Jesus and Buddha.  Jesus asks Buddha, “Lord Buddha, was your gospel true or false?”  Buddha replies that it was true and false.

What was true in it?   Selflessness and love.

What was false in it?  Flight from life.

Selflessness and love are truths that emerge from this book.

Flight from life is not a trap the author could be accused of ever having fallen into.

 

-  Dame Sian Elias, Chief Justice of New Zealand