I was a Plunket baby.

Who wasn't?

I even have the "The Plunket" All Rubber Soft Nozzle Syringe, as it reads on the box, to show for it. The little rubber gadget within was for performing enemas on the nation's babies, and me, and the very thought of it gives me the shudders.

I get the impression that babies in my day had to poo on demand, eat at set times, be put down to sleep at set times, have cuddles at set times, because Plunket Said, and we must not be fed at night. It was good for us.


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My mother doubtless had to record my bowel movements, inflicted by the nasty rubber gadget, and would have been advised when to introduce Farex into my milky diet, a horrible porridgy muck that tasted much like the rusks we bonny babies teethed on, grinding its wallpaper paste into our lace-trimmed bibs.

How we thrived. Sir Truby King knew what he was up to when he founded the movement to ensure babies survived infancy. Eugenics was part of his philosophy, the breeding of a better class of person to inherit the earth. I feel so privileged.

Somewhere I have Box Brownie photographs of me sitting up in my pram under my grandmother's walnut trees.

We Plunket babies had to spend a required amount of time outdoors in all weathers, and I swear I remember how, when I was bigger, I was left in a canvas baby seat, hanging from a branch of a walnut tree, to be weathered.

It's looking up at the leaves that I remember, or think I do, before starting to grizzle.

Plunket was our shared experience for generations, so it's sad to see it corporatised by a management using terms like "stakeholder", "strategic direction", "strategic capability", and most of all, "transformational change".

How that echoes the constantly restructuring government departments we're assured are better than ever before, which communicate in management-speak too.


Your eyes glaze as you read the stuff.

The good side of Plunket was how it gave, and gives, mothers confidence. They knew they were doing right because the Plunket nurse said so, and thankfully its more Spartan beliefs changed over time.

Its website today reminds us that the organisation grew because of "the enthusiastic committed support of volunteers" who set up branches and sub-branches and fundraised for everything, including Plunket nurse salaries and expenses, building clinics, and also the old Karitane hospitals, where ailing babies were once sent like little animals to put on condition.

Plunket's site also says: "Funds raised locally stay locally and help to fund local services such as toy libraries and family centres."

But apparently not.

Or inconsistently.

The new management approach seems to have crept up slowly on families using its services, and some of its branches are challenging a new national body flexing its muscles.

Karori, Culverden, Waiau and Khandallah branches are seeking legal advice after the head office decided to take the cash raised by them without consultation.

Khandallah Plunket's toy library treasurer Kim Bannon is angry that $12,000 was taken from that branch without telling signatories, and the account peremptorily closed. Plunket has told the Karori branch to close its crèche, and taken $50,000 it had raised for renovations.

Meanwhile, Culverden and Waiau branches have discovered their locally fundraised and maintained buildings, on land donated for that purpose by local families, could be signed over without their knowledge next month, though chief executive Amanda Malu has said they will keep what money they have. Why them but not Karori and Khandallah? Are the Wellington suburbs perceived as too posh to need it?

Plunket's more than 400 buildings reportedly have a collective value of $30-38 million. Maybe that's relevant.

Malu says Plunket switched last November from its former federated structure. This, she says, was to ensure consistency, and reduce inequities between branches. That sounds like she wants to spread the money branches raise evenly throughout the country, which its website still says is not the way Plunket works.

If I know human nature that decision will knock the wind out of the sails of the very family volunteers who've always formed the backbone of Plunket.

Why would ordinary New Zealanders bust a gut to hand over funds to an organisation which now has 11 senior managers earning more than $180,000?

On top of which it seems strange that for all their high incomes, management can't read its own website and see any contradiction. It's there in plain English.