Paul Little: Stiff upper lips no good for King's or in quakes

The funeral for King's College student David Gaynor. Photo / Dean Purcell
The funeral for King's College student David Gaynor. Photo / Dean Purcell

"How we ended up in a situation where the drinking age was lowered to 18 I just don't know," King's College board of governors chairman Peter Ferguson said this week in the wake of the death of David Gaynor on the night of his school's ball.

Nearly everyone else knows how we ended up here. The drinking age was lowered so more alcohol would be sold, governments could collect more tax and the powerful alcohol lobby be appeased.

Ferguson thinks the minimum age should be lifted. It's ironic that someone who represents the ultimate in elite educational institutions has taken his lead from the underclass and decided to blame the Government for the problem of alcohol abuse.

He is right, of course. The same Government has resisted a mountain of expert advice showing the age should be raised again. There is a direct correlation between the drinking age and lives lost due to alcohol-related causes.

At the same time, Ferguson says his board is happy with the way headmaster Bradley Fenner has been tackling youth drinking. King's has a zero tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol. It may have, but it's not working.

I know at least one King's teacher who despairs that efforts he and his colleagues make to give their pupils a sense of discipline and self-restraint are constantly undermined by the people paying the fees. The school can't be blamed for what has happened, but it can be blamed for not showing leadership now. It needs to face up to the fact that not enough has been done to reshape a culture that encourages excessive alcohol and drug consumption.

Ferguson will have to start by acknowledging that there are problems at his school. King's is not the only institution with these problems. But its high profile and standing in the community put it in a good position to show leadership.


It's all very well for the rest of the country to gaze benevolently at Christchurch with an expression of pained sympathy and tell the residents to kia kaha, keep their chins up and remember the Blitz. We don't have to do it. We don't have to watch what was the most beautiful city in New Zealand falling to pieces around us. We don't have to wonder what the future will be for our children. We don't have to wait for the almost inevitable next quake.

Yet, reading between the lines of the messages of encouragement that poured into Canterbury following this week's tremors, there was the faintest hint that the rest of us think people who leave town are wimping out and generally letting the side down.

Surely the people of the region have enough to worry about without the pressure not to disappoint us because their upper lips aren't stiff enough.

One of the more paradoxical facts to emerge post-quake is that people whose buildings have been destroyed are doing better emotionally because they can get on with their lives. For most, however, action has been agonisingly slow to come. More than sympathy, Christchurch needs manpower, money and decisions. Then perhaps the residents won't need encouragement to keep their chins up.


Now that the Daily Show has thrown us a bone of attention, perhaps Sky TV could consider restoring it to the daily broadcasts which so mysteriously and frustratingly ceased some time ago.

- Herald on Sunday

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