Sunday, April 13, 2008

On nature vs nurture...

One of the more plausible politicians of any party in the House at present (and what a shame that he chose Winnie the Pooh as his leader) is Ron Mark. Now be clear here, I do not agree with everything that he says politically, and I have a very decided dislike for the views of his Leader. I say again, he strikes me as a fairly plausible guy.

This morning's Sunday Star Times has a fairly lengthy "human interest" story focussing on Ron the MP and his brother Tui the ex-leader of a criminal gang.

Some excerpts -
It was the neighbour who found the two small children late one night, sitting on the back doorstep of their darkened Carterton home, alone, locked out. Ron Mark was not much older than three, his sister Angela was seven.

"We'd been put on a goods train, and had walked from the railway station to home.

"This lady took us over and tried to find us some clothes and food and everything and found nothing in the house," says Mark.

Their parents? Mark shrugs. "Out somewhere, partying."

There is Ron, 54, the scrappy, energetic New Zealand First MP, who enlisted as a soldier at 16 and found his path out of the chaos. Now law and order is something of a personal calling, with his insistence that gangs should be outlawed, that the age of criminal responsibility should fall to 12, and his passionate attacks on "scumbag, low-life gangsters".

Also here, under a New Zealand flag and a wall of armed forces memorabilia, is Mark's little brother Tui Mark, now 50, who tried to follow his brother into the army but was rejected. Instead he rose through the criminal ranks to become a Black Power president.

And then one day when Ron was 11, and Tui was seven, the boys were told Ron would be going to a new foster family. Tui would not be coming.

"It was the only connection, it was the last connection. He was the only one in my family I was brought up with," says Tui. He remembers feeling lost.

But Ron found himself in a whole new world of opportunity and affluence. His new foster parents were Gordon Thorburn, a big wheel in the agriculture business, and Gordon's wife Sylvia. Ron and the three Thorburn kids were treated to holidays away, fishing and hunting.

All the same, Ron Mark struggled at school, and was at times wild and rebellious. He believes ultimately what saved him was the order and self-discipline he learned in the army. Even there, he was initially close to being thrown out, before finally settling down.

Meanwhile, Tui too was showing early signs of a life at odds with authority. Was there a fork in the road that ultimately led to the gangs?

Tui Mark is right back there in his mind. He is about 14, and trying to follow the brother he rarely sees into the army. But he is wearing a cast on his upper body because of a congenital back problem.

"When I went to apply to get into the army, they refused to consider me ever, EVER again," he says with great vehemence. Then he flicks back into wry detachment. "I think I might have taken offence."

Within a few years of leaving school at 15, Tui Mark was in prison. Then in 1977, not long after emerging from jail, he passed a recruitment test of a different kind.

Visiting an Upper Hutt pub known to be a Black Power haunt, he came back from the toilet to find his jug of beer gone.

"So I stepped them all out. I got my jug back, and drunk it and left. They arrived at my place the next day and wouldn't go until I came along with them to see their president. He just offered me a patch straight away," says Tui.


BUT IN about 1996, as Ron Mark entered parliament as a New Zealand First MP, Tui Mark's life was also changing. After 20 years in Black Power he began to doubt the path he had taken, and decided the whole chapter should retrain and join the trades.

Tui Mark wanted them to earn the respect of their town in a new way, "which seemed a lot better than waiting till your neighbour goes out and ripping them off".

He began training for a qualification in boatbuilding, working with steel and marine welding. But his brothers in arms didn't want a new life.

"They don't seem to want to think for themselves, or get ahead by themselves. They seem to want to be held up by both shoulders and carried through life. That's their excuse to stay patched up."

In frustration Tui Mark closed down the chapter, depatched his members, and headed to the South Island to try to make a new life. He failed to get the qualification he was seeking. A prison term interrupted.

Ron Mark of course has called for the law to be changed to make it a criminal offence to belong to a gang, saying it would be a condition of coalition with New Zealand First at the next election. Would such a policy work?

"Of course not!" says Tui Mark.

"Because people like Ronnie and Michael Laws are making it easier for the gangs.

"Take the patches off and put the suits on, and then we won't know who youse are any more. You're still a pack of criminals, but we're not going to know that any more, are we?"

But he does agree with his brother that education and real rehabilitation in prisons are keys to turning around lives. So is he impressed by what his brother Ron has achieved?

"Well, do I impress him? Did I impress him when I was president? That was meant to be impressive for him," says Tui, looking at his brother. Then he flashes a grin.


"There are no excuses in my mind for the life that he's led actually. He had very good foster parents. Out of the two of us he had more stability. Ten or 11 years with the same foster parents. Come on," he [Ron] says.

"But to the day I die, I will wonder whether moving from the Fields to the Thorburns was good for Tui.

"Who knows. Maybe I could have, as an 11-year-old boy, changed that. Maybe I could have said `no, I don't want to leave my younger brother'.

It is a quiet and fascinating image of two separate lives.

Two brothers - two very different paths.

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