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June 6, 2017 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Those who come before

Written by the Scotney family (with thoughts from Laura and Tim)


Where do we stand? Responsible for a publication with an 80 year legacy, here for eight months, then gone — the responsibility deferred.

Albert H. (Bonk) Scotney founded Salient in 1938, and he did so within a specific historical context. His words: “Salient was born on the night of 8–9 March, 1938. Fathered by a progressive Executive, its mother was the tense uncertainty of the years 1937–1939. A group of students, of whom I was one, acted as a collective midwife.” (vol.11, no.1). The tone is humorous, but the gravity of those foundings years — WW2 on the horizon; the Spanish Civil War a bitter defeat — cannot be ignored.

There is an unbridgeable gulf between then and now, but Scotney lingers in these pages. Even if indirectly, we’re informed by the words that have preceded us, including those penned and edited by Scotney himself. So we thought we should try and find him, find out who started this all.

Thankfully, his family was willing to share some parts of his life with us. He was born in Island Bay on April 24, 1912. He trained as a primary school teacher and spent some years teaching before attending VUW (then Victoria College). He completed his Master’s thesis in history, on the theft of Ngāi Tahu land by the New Zealand Company. Scotney achieved much in his career, and was loved dearly by his family. His daughter, Rire, would tell us that he passed away at the age of 79, “too young, but after an illness that allowed us to see that he was brave humble and determined. He didn’t want us to suffer and minimised his own.”

His granddaughter Ana interviewed her family over coffee and lemon cake in front of the heatpump at her Aunty and Uncle’s place on Mother’s Day. The conversation jumps all over the place, but her family talking paints more of a picture of Scotney than we ever could. We’ve weaved excerpts of their conversation with fragments of his writing and our thoughts as the current editors  — somewhere among these letters is the person who started all this.


The People

Rita Scotney: 91, wife of Bonk, mother of Tere and Rire.

Rire Scotney: 58, eldest daughter of Rita and Bonk, Ana’s Mum.

Tere Scotney: 56, youngest daughter of Rita and Bonk, Ana’s Aunty.

Mike Salmon: 60, Tere’s Husband, Sefton and Nydia’s dad.

Ana Scotney: 22, Rire’s daughter, eldest grandchild of Rita and Bonk.

Sefton Salmon: 18, eldest grandson of Rita and Bonk, current VUW student.

Nydia Salmon: 16, youngest granddaughter of Rita and Bonk.


Bonk and Rita on their wedding day. Aug 3, 1956.

Bonk and Rita on their wedding day. Aug 3, 1956.


Ana: Do you know when Bonk started Salient?

Tere: In the 1930s probably.

Rire: I’ve got the first edition. It was definitely after the Spanish Civil War was on, ’cause one of the early editions was about the Spanish Civil War.

Rire: So, round the time of the Spanish Civil War ’cause I know that he wrote an early editorial saying that war was coming. I’m sure it was 1936 [the Spanish Civil War].

Sefton: According to the website it was 1938 [the founding of Salient].

Tere: He went into the NZ navy and spent high-time in the war in the Pacific. The Spanish Civil War was just ignored by the mainstream media so that’s what lead to the rise of Franco, so it was a hardcore Civil War—

Rire: Do you want some more food Mum? Do you want a bit more cheese?—

Tere: …which in some ways was the hard thing ’cause its neighbours and villages, and the way it was ignored is what annoyed him so much. He gave debates about it and started Salient.

Sefton: I guess that back then in New Zealand there was far more of a sense of belonging to the Commonwealth than there is now, and England was far more concerned about the rise of Hitler than the Civil War, because the Civil War was kind of—

Nydia: Within that country as well, like—

Sefton: Yeah, exactly, and Spain is a long way south compared to Germany. Far further away from England


In 1938 (vol.1, no.3) Scotney interviewed Tom Spiller, a Lieutenant from the International Brigade (British Battalion) who fought in the Spanish Civil War against the Nationalists, who were led by the fascist Francisco Franco and supported by Hitler and Mussolini.  Ending the piece, he reflects that “we could have gone on for hours. Every question clearly answered: but time and space had reached their limits.” And while he could have questioned him for much longer, Scotney was firm about where to stand on the Spanish Civil War — against fascism. “There is no question as to which side in the struggle is being supported by the majority of the representative of modern Spanish culture.” (vol.1, no.8).

Ten years on, in 1948, Scotney reflected on the importance of these events in changing the nature of university life: “As the invasion of Manchuria was succeeded by Mussolini’s Ethiopian escape, and the cynical mockery of the Spanish War was followed by the rape of Austria, it was inevitable that a more serious mood should appear at [Victoria University College]. The change from SMAD [the previous student magazine] to SALIENT was one symptom of the changed outlook, shown elsewhere in the passing of more radical motions at debates, in the formation of new clubs, and in a widespread doubt regarding the honesty of the prewar political set-up in Europe.” (vol.11, no.1)


Ana: His motivations for starting the magazine?

Rire: I think it was a voice and I think it was a really strong belief that there were things happening in the world that people needed to know about, and that it wasn’t coming out. This notion of voice.

He was a debater as well and he won the Plunket medal, the debating medal at VUW, with the first denunciation — ’cause usually you win when you praise somebody — but he won it with the first denunciation of Hitler. He saw what was happening and he was able to put them together and know that there was a sea change in the world that people should know about. And that young people, students, had something to say and should be able to say it. That’s why he started it. I mean the word salient — doesn’t the word salient mean like, germane, like relevant, or salient point, or valid—

Rita: Yes, salient point is I think the main point.

Rire: Yeah. So to call a newspaper Salient means that it’s the best sort of thing that you could say.

Tere: He’d be thrilled that it was continuing, and I don’t think that he’d be at all concerned if at times it was controversial provided there was a principle underneath the controversy.


In its early days, Salient was criticised by the student association for including “too much outside stuff” (vol.1, no.13) in its coverage of global affairs, and several readers expressed that there wasn’t enough trivial entertainment and easy laughs. Scotney recognised that there were those who found “the daily recital of tragedies, wars and rumours of wars, and other outstanding features of contemporary life a little hard to face up to, and who prefer, consciously or unconsciously, to turn their back on them, and to seek refuge in escape.” (vol.1, no.13).

However, he was adamant that Salient keep its critical voice and engage with difficult ideas and realities: “A humourless existence has nothing to recommend it, but if a person seeks humour, pleasant talk, and similar diversions to the exclusion of serious thought, an attitude of mind arises which when confronted with an unpleasant concrete reality, cannot adjust itself to the new circumstances, and renders the person upon whom it rests of little use to his fellow men in times of crisis.” (vol.1, no.13).


Ana: How did Salient impact Grandad’s career?

Tere: Probably wasn’t the newspaper itself, so much as the views Dad held which were expressed through Salient. Like, Salient was an outlet for them.

Ana: And what do you think those views were?

Rire: They were very egalitarian. He was a strong advocate for worker’s rights and for fairness. He would speak up on behalf of other people. What else Sissy?

Tere: Um. Kind of classic left wing stuff.

Rire: Without being extreme.

Tere: Yeah. He never belonged to any political party so he was able to retain that independence but be a critical voice. Or be prepared to be a critical voice, if there were things going on that he wasn’t happy with.

Rire: He was a very good writer, and a scholar always.


In 1968, while commemorating the 30th anniversary of Salient, Scotney reminisced about the motivations behind his and his team’s journalistic and editorial decisions: “It was agreed that the time had come at Victoria to try to link university life more closely with the world, that we should comment on events rather than simply narrate them, that we should openly abandon the traditional but usually phoney editorial attitude of Olympian impartiality. We would sign what we wrote and take the consequences.” (vol.31, no.1)


Ana: Okay, so, Mum and Aunty Tere, what was he like? Koro Bonk.

Rire: He was a very loving father and he taught us both to drive. He was very patient. He had a wonderful sense of humour. He was more musical, I think, than we may have heard ’cause he’d quite often sit down at a piano and little tunes would eventually get plunked out and he played the Cornet for the Last Post for…was it… George VI’s mother.

Tere: Or George VI.

Rire: Or the Queen’s mother.


Rita: The interesting thing was the origin of his name Bonk. He used to ask his father, who owns that? “Oh, Mr Bim-Bonkins.” Then, who owns that house Dad? “Mr Bim-Bonkins.” So he told the kids at school all these things that Mr Bim-Bonkins owned and the kids twigged and then they started calling him Bonk. And had nothing to do with the word, meaning what it does these days, when you’re bonking someone. So times are changing.

Ana: That’s crack-up. Was he a strict dad? Did you guys have to be home by a curfew or was he pretty cruisy?

Rire: I don’t remember that.

Ana: What about when you guys were in your twenties, you were at VUW.

Tere: Like courtesy first. If you said you were going to be home by midnight, be home by midnight or ring.

Rire: But I remember that I had a music teacher that wasn’t perhaps as nice to me as teachers would be expected to be now, and he came and got me on his motorbike — ’cause he had these little motorbikes.

Tere: One at a time, like a Kawasaki 100.

Rire: They were never very big but he would come and get me and you’d have to sit on the back of it and you’d have a helmet. In the end I didn’t have to go back to that piano teacher. He wasn’t having that. And on Friday night he’d go into town and he had this blue duffle bag and he’d go to the delicatessen and he’d get cheese and stinky salami and Rollmop herring and pickled cucumbers—

Tere: And something chocolatey from Queen Anne’s—

Rire: And then Mum would have a gin. One gin. A finger-full of gin and some tonic, I can’t remember whether you had tonic in your gin or whether you had cordial on Friday.

Ana: Gin and juice, eh Rita.

Rita: Mmm?

Ana: Gin and Juice!

Tere: It was a gin and tonic.


Here we are, halfway through this year. Another installment of Salient to add to the ongoing legacy of one of Wellington’s longest-running magazines. We look to the past for insight and hindsight. In some ways, we’ve come a long way. In many other ways, we’re facing the same problems as we did 80 years ago (and before that!). However, we keep moving forward, taking with us the lessons we learned from those who’ve come before us, those around us, and that which we experience ourselves.

“We believed then and believe now that any country is entitled to look to its educated young people to show a lively intellectual curiosity about all kinds of subjects. Salient tried to embody this idea in what it said; to rouse the indifferent, to question the orthodox, to stimulate discussion.” (vol.31, no.1).


Ana: Any final thoughts for the contemporary Salient reader?

Tere: I guess final thoughts for Salient readers would be along the lines of: think about the contribution you really want to make to society. And be respectful of others. Be very aware of the world you’re living in and strive to make it better.

Rire: Do your bit, and that everybody’s got a voice, and that how you conduct yourself has to be the way that you want the world to be, because, he [Bonk] used to say to me that, he wanted to leave, and he believed that every human should leave, the world a better place than how you found it.


About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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