Principal overwhelmed by Anzac honour

KATIE KENNY
Last updated 20:31 04/04/2014
Banapa Avatea, principal at Huntly West Primary School
CAMERON BURNELL/ Fairfax NZ
ANZAC RECIPIENT: Banapa Avatea, principal at Huntly West Primary School, gained inspiration from the school motto.

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One heroic principal has a rather exciting object to share at assembly on Monday: The 2014 Anzac of the Year award. 

Banapa Avatea, principal at Huntly West Primary School, was awarded the prestigious trophy by Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae at Government House this evening.

Earlier this year, Avatea, from Papakura, prevented a likely fatal accident after the driver of a 29-tonne truck blacked out behind the wheel.

The award was founded by the RSA in 2010 to honour New Zealanders who best represent the Anzac spirit.

Mateparae said Avatea had demonstrated extraordinary compassion, courage and commitment, and was an inspiration for young New Zealanders. 

On 14 February, as Avatea was heading to school with his son Jordan, 5, he saw the driver of a truck, carrying a digger on State Highway 1, appeared to be asleep behind the wheel. 

He called police, turned on his hazard lights and drove in the middle of the two southbound lanes to prevent other cars passing. 

After the truck crashed into a barrier and slowed, with help from another motorist Avatea climbed aboard and took control.

He quickly realised the unconscious driver was diabetic, and stabilised him before paramedics arrived. 

Waikato police said his response prevented a tragedy. 

The governor-general also acknowledged Avatea’s ongoing commitment to Anzac values in his everyday life as a principal. 

In his acceptance speech, Avatea said his actions were in part influenced by his school’s motto: "Kuhu mai ki te ako, haere ki te awhina - Enter to learn, go forth to serve.”

He said his parents were his heroes, because they had taught him that it was good to help others. “The most important heroes in life are mums and dads.”

His eldest son, Logan, 12, had tissues ready as Avatea stepped away from the lectern, and his daughter Deljhe, 17, and younger son Jordan gave him a hug. 

His wife and parents also attended the ceremony. 

Afterwards, Avatea described the award as “unexpected”, and “quite overwhelming”. 

He said it had been a natural response to help out in that situation.  

“At school we teach our children to try to help people every day.”

The winner of the Anzac award is nominated by the public and then chosen by a panel of judges chaired by the governor-general. 

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