Teamwork pays


Amid the hustle and bustle of Christmas Day, those in need of something soothing were able to tune in to Prime TV, which ran a replay – lasting 12 hours – of the acclaimed “slow TV” program “Go Further South”.

Viewers were taken – without voiceovers or commercials – on a journey from Bluff to Scott Base in the Antarctic; a journey which featured stunning seascapes, the occasional landscape and plentiful wildlife.

On the way, the vessel Academik Shokalskiy passed by, or anchored near, subantarctic islands, such as The Snares, The Auckland Islands, Campbell Island and Macquarie Island (actually part of Australia).

These are remote, windswept places. They don’t see much sunshine. When the weather is not stormy, it is usually bleak, cloudy and cold.

Among the few signs of human encounters with these wild places were shipwrecks, the most famous being the General Grant in 1866. The documentary mentioned this by means of captions, and also touched on two other wrecks in the Auckland Islands, not quite so famous, which happened two years beforehand, in 1864.

They were the wrecks of the Grafton, in January, 1964, and of the Invercauld, in May of that same year. The experiences of those who came ashore – at opposite ends of the islands – were similar in many ways, but very different in others. Out of the five people on the Grafton, all were rescued or made their way to New Zealand in an improvised boat. Of the 19 who came ashore from the Invercauld, only three were eventually rescued.

Many reasons have been advanced for the different survival rates of these two groups, with leadership, organisation, planning, and more favourable circumstances all playing a part.

But a Wikipedia entry on the Invercauld wreck stated that “the major reasons the Grafton five all survived, despite a much longer period as castaways, were their utilisation of opportunity, their planning, their ingenuity, and their dedication to the survival of the entire group”.

“The Invercauld crew, right from the time of the shipwreck, was dominated by an ethos of every man for himself. Individual crewmen, such as the cook, were abandoned to die just a few hundred yards from the rest of the group. Food wasn’t shared equitably, violence was commonplace, and the Captain was primarily interested in his own survival.”

One man from the Invercauld resorted to cannibalism.

Just a few days before the “Go Further South” documentary was replayed, the New Zealand Herald ran an article with the headline “What United the ‘Team of Five Million’ to Conquer Covid?”

The article was about a research project by Victoria University analysts looking at the local factors that led New Zealanders to decide that acting as a “Team of Five Million” was worthwhile.

Debate about the article ensued on social media, with suggestions that Kiwis had been frightened into their compliant response, or that they had acted with genuine altruism, or with enlightened self-interest, or had acted as “sheep”, trusting naively in authority. No doubt many factors came into play. There was a cost – the economy took a huge hit, and the Government debt skyrocketed.

But we have come a long way even in the few short months since those days. People overseas look with longing at the freedoms we enjoy in our southern summer.

While we bask in the sun, new vaccination programmes are on the horizon. It will be interesting to see to what degree the “Team of Five Million” unites over this.

But looking back on last year, it must be said that this the majority of the “team” let the side down and practised a type of “compartmentalised compassion”, with the End of Life Choice Act referendum result. Care for the vulnerable went out the window in the name of “choice”.

The “team” decided to stop being crew members of the Grafton, and put on their “Invercauld” caps. The same mentality can be seen in elements of the pro-choice side of the abortion debate, and indeed anywhere that radical individualism triumphs to the detriment of the common good.

Maybe a useful resolution for 2021 is to follow the example of the Grafton crew, both in our own circumstances and in public policy, rather than that of the unfortunate men of the Invercauld.


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Michael Otto

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