In his 92nd year, Pat Magill seems as sprightly as ever on his near daily walk on the 3km track around the Ahuriri Estuary in Napier, and living for the future.

Not that he expects to be around for a great deal of it — he tends to adjoin details of upcoming pursuits, such as walks up and down the country, with the people and in support of their causes, with such phraseology as "it'll probably be my last" but adding: "We've got to keep going. You can't give up. "

"You're looking well, Pat."

"We've got to, don't we. We've got to soldier on."

Advertisement

The relevant parts appear to be in good working order, and the evergreen social justice campaigner carries on to fight another day.

Some may say it's been an enigmatic path, from the days when he was president of the Hawke's Bay Rugby Football Union at the time of the Magpies' near-record 1966-1969 Ranfurly Shield reign, having in younger days worked three years as a shepherd for Lou Harris on Mangatutu Station before returning to town to help his father in the drapery business which became big in carpet.

As he moved through roles with the YMCA, and projects aimed at addressing the needs of youth, at a city venue known as the Downtown Y, social needs and justice reform, through an often misunderstood vehicle known as the Napier Pilot City Trust, some of the mission didn't fit so well with some long-time friends and associates.

He recalls, bending to pick up another piece of litter and placing it in a bin beside the walkway, one introducing him one day as "Napier's biggest shit-stirrer".

Not so much big in physical stature.

He's short, and in his rugby playing days was a Napier High School Old Boys halfback who made played a game and a half for Hawke's Bay, the debut being against Wellington on the same day great All Black wing Ron Jarden made his debut in the opposition.

In any case, having walked into the caverns of some of the most deprived and struggling, he's been called worse, by those he sees as not prepared to take the same time to care.

Those who have walked with him on his voluntary crusade, might say "biggest" applies directly to the size of his heart. But shit-stirrer...? One has to define what the matter is in the first place, and then if it is actually that matter that is being agitated, he says.

He is used to long and drawn-out battles on behalf of the underdog, generally railing against forces of wealth and greed or anything which creates bereft or relatively hopeless positions for those at the other end of the social spectrum.

The first, and on reflection the most successful, was an eight-year battle which scuttled 1956-1974 Napier mayor Peter Tait's dream of a marina for "his wealthy mates" in the estuary, in an area which would have been dredged west of Meeanee Quay.

He does highlight, as he would, it's a "team effort" and "you don't get anywhere if you do it on your own."

The most prolonged campaign rides the motto "Build communities, not prisons!" — and with the nationwide prisons muster now well over 10,000 he agrees it's not looking good, other than that he foresees a Labour Government will realise that for a great many of those being sent to jail there are cheaper, rehabilitative and more productive options.

"They shouldn't be there," he says, having travelled abroad to dozens of symposium and events. "When you get educated a bit you find out what really the truth is."

"In Scandinavia," he says, for example, "they would say: How did he slip through the cracks? " We say [well, not Pat Magill, personally], lock the bastard up and throw away the key."

At King's College in London, he heard New Zealand described as "a young punitive country that doesn't understand it's own history."

Immediately, he sees more future for the cradle approach, having, unsuccessfully, for two years tried to encourage the Napier City Council to get on board with UNICEF's Child Friendly City ideal.

It's based on his own undying determination that young mums need all the support they can possibly get, dads need employment and aspirations, and all children need the best of nurturing and opportunity. He's not just talking about money.