Meet three famous Kiwis you've never heard of

By Alan Perrott

Alan Perrott meets three famously anonymous New Zealanders.

Cheryl Rowles Waetford has spent her life as a 'professional sister' since her big brother John hit the charts with Cheryl Moana Marie. Photo / Natalie Slade
Cheryl Rowles Waetford has spent her life as a 'professional sister' since her big brother John hit the charts with Cheryl Moana Marie. Photo / Natalie Slade

Fame's a funny bugger. You can be part of something known and loved by millions of people yet remain completely and utterly anonymous.

Take Paul Cole. There he was, boring a London bobby to death about British traffic control, when he noticed four guys crossing the road. "A bunch of kooks, I called them," he said, shortly before his death in 2008.

He didn't think anymore of it until a year later when he saw the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album and there he was standing in the background. "I had a new sportscoat on and I had just got new shell-rimmed glasses ..."

Now you can't get much more famous than appearing on one of the biggest-selling albums of all time.

Then there's dear old Homer Mensch. You've all heard him play ... Those "dah dum, dah dum" notes at the start of the Jaws theme? That's him.

So, what is it like to have done something, made something, or be associated with something that absolutely everyone you meet knows, yet no one knows it was you?

Canvas tracked down a few to find out.

NICK OLD

He got into a schoolyard scrap when he talked it up and a punch from his wife when he kept it quiet.

What's a guy to do?

"I guess I never talk about it as anything special," says Nick Old. "(Poi E) will always be a good thing and definitely something I'm proud of, but all that stuff was just what we did back then. So yeah, if anyone asks me, I'll say 'yeah, that was me', but it's important to be humble about it."

Fair enough - but let's give him his dues anyway. Old stole the show in the video for the iconic Poi E song and didn't have to sing a note to do it. And he was only 6 years old. He's the boy you see part-way through the video, shirtless in the crowd of youngsters watching the Maori Club performers, and striking a mean haka of his own.

The Patea Maori Club were filming the Poi E video at the Pariroa Marae and Dalvanius Prime invited all the local kids along to watch.

"So I was there with my mates - you know, just kids having fun - and the women were all singing while the men practised their haka. We just sat their arguing among ourselves about how it should be done better."

One by one the boys would have a crack at offering up the definitive haka.

"Then one of my mates said 'this is how it's done' you know, as kids do, and I said 'nah, that's stink.' Then I hopped up on to one knee and gave it the full curry because that was what our grandparents had drilled into us. I never knew the cameras were on us."

He had thought his mates would join in, so he was annoyed to finish and see they were still sitting down.

"Yeah, none of them did it. I was a bit pissed off about that."

Then the song and its video went gangbusters. But if it was the gloved bopper Joe Moana who turned us on to breakdancing, it was pint-sized Nick Old's haka that stuck in the mind.

There was no chance of it going to his head though. His family had already moved to Australia.

Then one of his new friends made it known that he'd appeared in the video of a chart-topping song. When his classmates found out what it was, they laughed. A quick blue later ("I told the principal they'd been running down my tipuna") and Old was being lectured on how he wasn't in Patea anymore.

So he decided to leave that part of his life behind him. To the extent that his ex-wife didn't hear about his brush with fame until they'd been married for four years. "She said, 'That was you? Why didn't you tell me?' Then she thumped me."

Then came a party held in Sydney for local Maori just before the movie Boy pushed the song back into the charts.

Old was talking to some friends when he overheard a young guy trying to impress the girls.

"He said 'you know the Poi E video? Yeah, well I was the boy doing the haka.' I just cracked up laughing. 'Was that you?' I said. I thought it was cool that he thought pretending to be me would get him in with the chicks, so I left him to it. But I went up to him a bit later and said, 'Man, that was back in the early 80s, how old were you? Sperm?' He just laughed."

Such appropriation doesn't seem to matter to Old, who now lives in Melbourne. What does matter is that his children understand what Poi E, and the spirit behind it, means.
Which is why he brought them back to New Zealand five years ago to spend some time in a kohanga reo.

"I was fortunate to get a real grounding in Maoritanga from my family but my kids didn't have any of that, so that was the next best thing. I mean, growing up in Patea ... to us it was the capital of New Zealand and our marae was the Beehive. It was a place that made us feel bulletproof."

CHERYL ROWLES WAETFORD

It isn't easy when everyone knows your name.

"No," says the woman known throughout the country as Cheryl Moana Marie. "I'd just say that you should be careful what you wish for ..."

Half the problem is that anyone recognising the name often has a pre-conceived idea of who Cheryl is. I know I did - she's the devoted sister of a devoted brother who must love that song with every atom of her being while being terribly humble about the whole thing.

Pretty much the last thing I expected was to be offering her a comforting hug as her brother, John Rowles, strummed a 12-string to a reupholstered version of Ten Guitars in the next room.

And hers were angry tears. You see, Cheryl Moana Marie, that big hit from 1970, has shaped her life. "It's like it's become part of my essence, my identity, and it's meant that I've lived as a professional sister for years."

She was only 10 when it dropped on her without warning. A television crew arrived at her family's Kawerau home to whisk her off for a shoot. Rowles was already famous for If I Only Had Time and Hush ... Not a Word to Mary and Cheryl Moana Marie looked likely to top both.

"They wanted me to get dressed and come down to a local pond to film me kicking sand and the water ... I was in a pale blue twinset with lace edging. That was the first I'd heard of [the song]. Then Dad started travelling around to play it to all the relatives."

What confused her more was that it wasn't her name exactly. Moana is her sister Tania's middle name, and while she now prefers going by Cheryl Rowles Waetford, it's a name that's stuck like glue.

For his part, Rowles says he chose the names because they were a great-sounding hook for his chorus, there wasn't any particular intent to celebrate his sister.

Waetford admits she does feel ownership of the song, however. "I do feel very protective of the song, of the brand, if you like. If anyone makes fun of it or puts it down well, it's like they're putting me down ...

"I've lived really quietly, I was always the girl sitting in the corner reading a book. So it's hard when people have all these ideas about me - and I'm really not wanting to sound ungrateful, because that song is a beautiful thing - but there are people who think I've been on a ego trip about it for years or that I'm stuck-up and rich because of it."

It's not the case, she says. Which is where she discovered another unusual side effect to a life of relative fame. "Apart from my old school photos, I don't have any family pictures at all. We sort of lived in a fishbowl back then, so when we talk about a photo, it's always like: 'Oh, that was in the Herald, or was it the Bay of Plenty Times?' All my old photos come from newspapers and magazines."

When she wanted to show her children a picture of her grandparents, the only shots she could find came from a documentary that's kept in the National Archive in Wellington.

While she is proud of her brother and what that song means to people all over the world, Waetford would like people to understand that the Maori Miss waiting patiently on the shore isn't really her.

"People assume a lot and when they meet me it's like they're disappointed because it's not enough. It's like they're trying to connect with something that isn't there."

PHILIP YOCK

They should have called them Yocks. That way, the family behind the Jandal might have got their fair dues.

Since the 1950s Kiwis and Jandals have been best mates. So, by rights, the man behind the Jandal should be a household name. But there are no statues of Morris Yock, his face isn't on our money, nor even on our cheapest stamp. And there are no roads or mountains named in his honour.

Something's not quite right there.

For the record, on October 4, 1957, it was Morris Yock who named, then trademarked the humble Jandal (inspired by an Asian example, the name is a blend of "Japanese" and "sandal") and began making them in his garage with his son Anthony.

"I was only about 15 when it all started," remembers Anthony's younger brother, Professor Philip Yock, an astrophysicist at Auckland University.

"Until then we either went barefoot or wore roman sandals. I thought [Jandals] were much better."

As an importer/distributor, Yock snr was a regular visitor to post-war Asia, and it was during one trip that he noticed how the Americans had begun making traditional wooden Japanese sandals out of synthetic rubber and wondered if they'd catch on at home.

The problem was that New Zealand regulations banned him from importing them, so they'd have to be made here.

With the help of his Hong Kong agents, Tom Baker and John Cowie, he snared 30,000 rubber sheets and the footshaped moulds, along with the tools and a week-long stay in a Japanese sandal factory for his eldest son, Anthony.

When Anthony returned from Hong Kong, Philip was recruited to help out after school and the pair started cranking out Jandals in a Te Papapa garage.

"Dad just went back to his own business and left it to Ant," says Philip. "I remember they took off pretty fast. There was no trouble selling them, we sold everything we could make."

Still, it was very much a backyard operation, with only one full-time employee, which meant homespun solutions to any problems. For instance, the process of drilling holes into the rubber soles for the thong to be fitted was long and tedious, so Philip started strapping two drills together, halving the time it took.

It was hands-on work. Every piece left the moulds with bits of unwanted rubber hanging from them - and there were thousands of them every day. It became Philip's job every night to trundle boxes of them around a network of women living in Onehunga on his scooter and then pick them up, cleaned, in the morning.

"We had a real production line going but what I remember the most was the foul smell. We used a really powerful glue and you smelled it all the time. I never really got used to that."

After five years, Philip left the country to become an astrophysicist.

When he returned, he found the country had gone Jandal-mad and his brother had more than 100 employees.

"They'd become a way of life really ... and I'd made, oh I don't know, tens of thousands of them, I suppose. It doesn't comes up in conversation much, but when it does people just look at me like they don't believe what I'm saying. But then I've got quite used to seeing them everywhere over the years. Every so often I'll think, 'you know, my family brought those here'."

Footwear isn't the family company's only contribution to Kiwiana. The Yocks were also responsible for trucking buzzy bees and hula hoops throughout the country.
That's one hell of a pop culture trifecta.

- NZ Herald

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