Twenty years ago it was Bring Back Buck. Now, as far as many in the top of the south are concerned, it is Bring Back Sherp - and unlike the case of the dropped All Black loose forward, this really could be a matter of life and death.
Since starting as a search and rescue volunteer during the 1960s, Sherp Tucker's influence on the organisation and value to this region has grown to the point where he has become world famous in his own, expansive backyard. His creativity, organi sational skills and passion for SAR and - beyond that - for people, has helped save many lives and reduced pain and suffering in countless other rescues.
Now, whether for budgetary, operational or some other reason, he has been deemed surplus to requirements by the Tasman Police District. The paid position of assistant search and rescue co-ordinator which he has filled for 12 years is being "disestablished".
The district's commander, Richard Chambers, has clearly agonised over the decision, and says he consulted widely before making it. Mr Chambers does not come across as an overly bureaucratic, pointy-headed type who would blindly follow rules he didn't agree with. So presumably he sees sound reasons for what is a bigger call than it might seem to those from outside of this region.
One thing counting against Sherp is the fact that he has been the only non-sworn SAR assistant commander in the country. Non-sworn police jobs are coming under the spotlight around the country in a move to cut costs and increase efficiency, with a move to centralised file management centres seen as easing the paperwork burden on frontline officers.
That's not Sherp's domain at all, but one area where new technology might be a negative influence - at least on his position - is the increasing use of personal locator beacons. More and more people are taking them along on their outdoors excursions, usually meaning comparatively straightforward rescue exercises, should they be needed. Sherp would not have a problem with that. He's bluntly described those who go bush without them as idiots.
He might also be seen as a victim of his own efficiency. The organisation that has been set up and developed largely under his guidance is recognised around New Zealand for its practical, logical, no-fuss methods. As with any good team, Nelson SAR is bigger and better than any individual, and more than capable of notching up some good wins even if the skipper is on the bench.
However, Mr Tucker has been more than inspirational leader, tireless worker, passionate teacher and driven rescuer. He's been the face of SAR in this region and its prime driver, and his creativity will be missed if he does opt to find other things to do with his time.
Clearly, Mr Chambers recognises the significant know-how and leadership qualities he is "disestablishing", and hopes to continue to draw on Sherp's advice and guidance in the future. It is wrong to take people for granted, and Sherp is not commenting for now, so time will tell what involvement, if any, he will have with SAR in the future. Why not engineer a creative solution? They could always find a way to swear him in and offer him his job back.
- © Fairfax NZ News