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Memories of a stubborn, charming man

Friday 11 May 2012 | Published in Regional


Barbara Dreaver, former Cook Islands News reporter and now Pacific correspondent for New Zealand’s ONE News, reflects on her contact and conflict with the late Sir Geoffrey Henry during her time as a journalist in the Cook Islands and through her life.

For a moment when the news came that Sir Geoffrey Henry had died, the world stood still for me. I first met Sir Geoffrey when I started working as a rookie reporter for Cook Islands News in 1990.

I can’t remember what the story was about but it resulted in an angry order to present myself to his office immediately.

Righteously indignant about the freedom of the press, I went to defend the story. It was a reasoned but scary meeting and to this day I am not sure who came out of it the best.

It was to be the start of an often fractious relationship.

And it became even more so when Cook Islands Press started – a weekly newspaper I edited and co-owned with Jason Brown.

It was at a time when the economy was collapsing, there was an ongoing parade of opportunist carpet-baggers, dodgy schemes abounded and corruption raised its head on a regular basis.

It was a young journalist’s dream.

Cook Islands Press broke some major stories – we quite often had documents slipped under the office door in the dead of night. We were fearless in a small community where we knew all the people we were writing about. The government didn’t take it lying down. We were banned from press conferences and I remember Sir Geoff yelling at me to ”GET OUT“ of a joint press conference with himself and New Zealand foreign minister Don McKinnon.

Threatening phone calls were the norm.

Then there was the special phone call I got from the PM’s Office saying they had made a police complaint about Jason and myself.

Apparently the night-watchman had witnessed us delivering a newspaper to the PM’s Office around 9pm on a blue motorbike and breaking into the office to steal documents.

Fortunately the motorbike in question was at the mechanics and we were at a major function with 200 other people that night. Needless to say no charges were ever laid.

But my personal favourite was when Sir Geoff went on a huge rant in parliament – broadcast live to the nation – that Cook Islands Press was funded by the CIA to bring his government down. It was thrilling times. But here’s the thing. The man who could be stubborn with a vindictive streak and made some spectacularly poor judgements, was also charming, strong and loyal with an enduring love for his country and family.

He stood strong against nuclear testing and was considered a regional leader. He could belt out a song with the best of them, had an infectious laugh and was a keen sportsman. It was hard not to respect the man. Through the years after I left Rarotonga we got on well. It’s amazing how relationships can evolve.

When I was invited to Rarotonga as a guest speaker at the Business and Professional Women’s Association meeting, he bought a ticket and came along ”to hear how our girl is getting on“.

He later told me he was proud of my achievements. The feeling was mutual.

It’s times like this that homesickness strikes like an arrow through the heart.

It all feels so incredibly sad, like the end of an era. I can imagine the Henry family and the nation banding together to give a great send-off to the man who dedicated so much of his life to his people.

I hope it’s a good one. RIP Geoff.