IF THERE'S one thing Jackie Evans detests it's injustice - in any way, shape or form. For such a softly spoken, inoffensive-seeming woman, her stance against it is impassioned - witness the regular letters she writes to this newspaper's editor.

Invariably many champion the underdog, although she's never timid at taking a tilt at authority if she considers authority deserves it.

She's that rare combination: a compassionate activist, not one of the strident, in-your-face kind. Her social conscience is acute.

An oxymoron of ideals? Not if you're Jackie Evans.


Her concern for the mentally unwell is deep-rooted; she's served as secretary of the Schizophrenia Society for more years than she can recall. Three of those close to her suffer schizophrenic episodes.

As an elected community representative on the Lakes District Health Board, she spent six years on its disabilities committee. It was not a tenure that was incident-free for the crusading Jackie.

"I was in QE [Queen Elizabeth Hospital] recovering from a hip operation when I discovered the hospital had had an important contract terminated. I organised a petition, got 1000 signatures and was told off roundly by the [disabilities] committee chairman who said I had a conflict of interest. I didn't really care because part of the contract was reinstated."

Her link with QE led to a decade as patients' association secretary. However, it's as a long-time advocate for the homeless that the name Jackie Evans is probably most widely recognised.

As a founding member of the Rotorua Night Shelter Trust, she spearheaded the eventually fruitless campaign to find accommodation for the city's rough sleepers.

"We fought valiantly for 14 years, desperately trying to find a building that would enable them to have an independent living facility, but never succeeded against the red tape which repeatedly stonewalled us from renting or purchasing a suitable place," she said.

"We found an ideal eight-bedroom former boarding house in the CBD but the council said we needed to spend $60,000 to bring it up to standard ... for goodness' sake, these people were living on the streets, they weren't looking for a palace. That's when I resigned in disgust."

With her resignation the trust was dissolved and, by Jackie's estimate, in the two years that have followed the number of the city's homeless has trebled "at the very least".

All pretty serious stuff, so surely there's a lighter side to this woman with a passion for society's distressed and downtrodden?

Poetry's her release valve, the more so if there's a hint of humour about it.

It's a trait she inherited from her father, the late Tim Evans Freke, one of this country's pioneering television newsreaders.

A Kiwi who became a British-based World War II airman, he brought the then 6-year-old Jackie to his homeland where piloting aerial top dressing planes preceded his broadcasting years.

"Because of his flying work we moved all over the place, I went to eight primary schools."

But back to her love of verse. She joined the city's Mad Poets Society six months after its 1994 formation. "A friend took me along, I suddenly found that poetry, which I had always loved, can be a healing process for people who need support in any way, especially humorous poetry which can be very helpful."

From its original 12 members, the society's current roll is 30.

"When it started it was remarkable for a place like Rotorua. People said 'you'll never succeed here, Rotorua's not an intellectual city, it doesn't have a university', but we've proved them wrong - 22 years later we're stronger than ever with weekly meetings and 11 publications, including children's poetry."

Jackie's a former president and the current secretary with a slew of published works which include her own verse, anthologies, three biographies and co-editor of other collections.

When one of the society's founding members, John Bailey, died he bequeathed his unpublished works to Jackie to produce in book form.

"But there was no provision in his will for money to publish them, so the Mad Poets kindly funded it."

Our People's been bursting to know how the Mad Poets name came about - it's one of those mind-boggling ones that conjures up all sorts of connotations but the answer borders on the prosaic in its simplicity.

"John Bailey came up with it, he thought it was a good idea because its members were mad about poetry," Jackie imparts with an air that indicates ours is a question highly lacking in originality.

We turn to safer ground - her own work and what inspires it. The answer to that is life, with all its quirks and foibles.

Take the time her foot slipped off the brake and on to the accelerator as she backed out of a Hinemoa St parking space. "Another lady and I were reversing simultaneously, gently collided - I had jandals on, when my foot slipped I shot across the footpath into a thankfully unoccupied cafeteria. That was 17 years ago, I haven't driven since. I've never been fitter and have a lot more disposable income."

This newspaper takes credit for Jackie's subsequent verse in which she pokes fun at herself for her "wee mishap".

"The next day you people [Rotorua Daily Post] had a picture of my car embedded in the cafe with the headline 'Look who's come to dinner', so that's what I called the poem.

"I have to say the incident was one of those life-changing experiences, I was devastated to begin with but was gratified to see a week later another woman had driven into Subway."

While she's delighted to laugh at herself, Jackie Evans' empathy for her fellow man is deep-rooted and profound. "People and their problems mean everything to me, I will continue to do as much as I can for them while I'm still healthy and well."