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Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

If you've missed reading Liberty Belle recently, I apologise, but the ACT leadership primary has bombarded you with missives from the four candidates and I didn't want to distract you from the campaign.

But now that I have your undivided attention, Liberty Belle will once again grace your inboxes.

It's often said that our greatest supporters are also our greatest critics. So I was interested when, after commenting on Newstalk ZB that I found the NZ Idol programme boring and an insult to professional musicians like Bic Runga who'd dedicated their lives to working hard and honing their talents and skills to be successful, I received a reprimand from someone who usually gives me great support. I listened; she had a good point. This programme was, indeed, good family viewing.

However, I still take issue with the name: NZ Idol. Should we take seriously the invitation to worship someone who, albeit with bravado and chutzpah, seeks acclaim through a popularity contest?

NZ On Air put some $400,000 of taxpayers' money into this programme. Justified, no doubt, on the grounds it made New Zealand youth feel good.

But consider a letter I received last week from a proud father. His son Nicholas (and this was written up in the Wellington newspaper so I'm not giving away any secrets here) was one of five schoolmates travelling by car towards the Huka Falls on 29 December 2003. A deluge of rain caused the car to aquaplane off the road and into the Waikato River. The car rolled five or six times, then landed upside down, windows broken, and sinking fast.

One of the boys, Hemi Conroy, was the last to escape but was swept by the current close to the falls. To cut a long story short, Nicholas Hendry, 18 years old and 70kg, saved the life of his friend Hemi, some 40kg heavier.

Two weeks later, in January 2004, Hemi wrote to the Prime Minister, nominating Nicholas for a Bravery Award. He has still not received a reply. This is some of what he told the PM:

"Unbeknown to me, Nicholas had surfaced from the water and was standing on the bank of the river some 30-50 metres upstream from where I was snagged. On hearing my screams for help in the distance, Nicholas decided to help. Not knowing where I was located he chose not to try and move along the side of the river bank until he found me, (which would have been the least risky option) he stripped off his shoes and trousers and blindly leapt back into the river on the basis that he could find me a lot quicker.

"By now I had been trapped and fighting for breath for at least 3-4 minutes and my condition was worsening. I was having trouble holding onto the tree while taking water in as I came up for air. When Nicholas did arrive at my tree, he slammed into the tree with such intensity that he was injured...he immediately started screaming at me, telling me to keep fighting and that I was not going to die as he was going to save me....he was hit by another large rapid, which blasted him off the tree. At the time it happened I thought that he was going to go over the falls before I was, but miraculously he managed to get hold of another branch with one hand and slowly pulled himself to the main trunk of the tree. He even managed to keep barking encouragement at me, as he was fighting for his life.

"If it were not for Nicholas displaying complete disregard for his own safety I would not be here today. I strongly recommend that Nicholas be considered for a Bravery Award in the NZ Royal Honours System."

Who do you think deserves acclaim? Could you ignore a letter like that? When most of the reports we hear about young people today are negative, and the reaction is to pass more laws banning youthful activities, how can this Government not seize the chance to celebrate publicly a boy who risked his own life to save his friend?

Nicholas Hendry didn't get $400,000 worth of television coverage, but he's the one who deserves the title of NZ Idol.

Yours in liberty,

Deborah Coddington

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