Pride of NZ: Ian Bailey's passion for social justice continues

By Christine McKay

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Josephine and Ian Bailey of Woodville. Mr Bailey has been nominated for APN's Pride of New Zealand Awards. Photo/Christine McKay
Josephine and Ian Bailey of Woodville. Mr Bailey has been nominated for APN's Pride of New Zealand Awards. Photo/Christine McKay

Woodville's Ian Bailey has always been community minded and isn't afraid to speak out.

Born in Dannevirke, he moved to Woodville in 1941, becoming a Tararua District councillor in 1994/95.

"Generally, I believe in speaking out on social inequalities and being the voice of the poor."

Mr Bailey said his passion for social justice probably started when he was involved with rugby.

"I was on the executive of the Bush Rugby Union for a number of years and when the NZRFU decided to send teams to South Africa without Maoris, I was at the forefront of those demanding 'no Maoris, no tour'," he said. "That was the beginning of my advocacy for those who have been unjustly targeted."

Following a 15-year stint with the Woodville Rotary Club, Mr Bailey later became involved in social justice issues within the Catholic Church through the Palmerston North diocese.

"I became one of the representatives on a national commission for the church for justice, peace and development, a role I carried out for six years," he said. "I'd learnt to stand up and speak out when I was on the council and then became involved with the Woodville Gorge Cemetery in 1996."

Devoting so much time to the cemetery and researching the history of those buried there is almost a full-time occupation and Mr Bailey admits he couldn't do the work without the help and backing of his wife of 55 years, Josephine.

"When I go out the door she jokes I'm off to golf. It's the same sort of addiction. I'm very lucky to have a wife who is so understanding," he said.

When the old gorge cemetery was full the Tararua District Council re-opened an earlier cemetery in Pinfold Rd, fencing off the old cemetery and leaving stock to run amongst the graves.

"The headstones were knocked down and when a genealogy group from Tararua College went there they were disgusted by what they saw. It galvinised the Rotary Club to have a working bee," Mr Bailey said. "As a district councillor I helped and after four working bees, five or six of us decided to form the Friends of the Gorge cemetery group."

A guided tour of London's Highgate Cemetery in 1998 by Mr and Mrs Bailey was the catalyst for the Friends group to start taking tours of Woodville's Gorge Cemetery where up to 1600 town pioneers are buried.

"We were able to get the council to assist in the upkeep at the cemetery and now people doing community service for the Corrections Department help," Mr Bailey said.

The cemetery which was once a ruin, is now acknowledged as being very beautiful and of historical importance.

But the turnaround in the cemetery's fortunes hasn't been without a few shaky moments, including the 6.2 magnitude Eketahuna earthquake in February.

"Headstones had fallen over and broken and it was like putting a jigsaw back together again. But we've saved them from being lost."

Mr Bailey, one of the founding directors of Dannevirke company Morris and Bailey, was able to use his bridge building experience to repair the headstones.

Last year, although close to 80, Mr Bailey visited the Solomon Islands to help build a hostel for trade trainees on Guadalcanal.

"I've five children and 16 grandchildren who are always asking granddad to help fix this and that," he said. For more information and to nominate, visit

- Hawkes Bay Today

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