Privacy commissioner proud to call New Plymouth home

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 08:52 13/12/2013
New Zealand's new privacy commissioner, John Edwards stand
New Zealand's privacy commissioner, John Edwards

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New Zealand's new privacy commissioner, John Edwards, has revealed a love for Taranaki's mountain and a deep admiration for the controversial kinetic artist Len Lye.

A Wellington lawyer, Mr Edwards, 47, has for two decades specialised in public law and policy and was this week named the new commissioner.

He spent most of his young life growing up in New Plymouth, enjoying the outdoor life on his doorstep and the burgeoning art scene.

Yesterday, Mr Edwards told the Taranaki Daily News his weekends when a teenager were spent tramping and he will always have a close affinity with Mt Taranaki.

"The mountain is obviously something that leaves a lasting imprint which remains with me today.

"I have a lot of lovely memories of the hills, the bush and beaches.

"I was pleased to have been brought up in New Plymouth. It was good to me."

His school books were covered with doodles of the mountain and ranges.

"If I close my eyes I can still sketch it perfectly."

He first arrived in New Plymouth from Te Kauwhata at the age of 4 with his parents Bernie - a secondary school English teacher, and mother, Ailsa, and his three siblings.

The family moved when his mother wanted to be closer to her mother, Agnes Bagley, when she became unwell.

His father taught at both Spotswood College and New Plymouth Girls' High School in the 1970s and also wrote regular columns and reviews for the Taranaki Daily News.

When his father died in 1983 his mother took over the role as reviewer.

"Dad had three different columns: Portside (the shipping news), TV reviews (Talking TV with Cosmos) as well as the theatre reviews."

His father enjoyed heading down to the port, talking to those on the ships and hearing their stories.

More often than not, he invited them to enjoy a home cooked meal and enjoy their garden in Timandra St.

As a boy, Mr Edwards Jr recalls spending much of his childhood in the nearby Avery Reserve, an extension of his backyard.

He attended Welbourn School, Highlands Intermediate and New Plymouth Boys' High School.

He remains an admirer of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and the "scandalising" work of artist Don Driver which left a lasting impression.

"Govett-Brewster was such an enormously important asset in those early days."

He has fond memories of being awestruck by the annual Len Lye exhibitions when the "enormous structures" went out on display.

He is now proud to be the owner of most of Len Lye's illustrated books from the 1930s.

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"I have a reasonably complete collection."

When he completed the seventh form, he headed to Victoria University. He cut short his legal studies to travel - mostly in South America - then returned to finish his degree.

It amazes him that young New Zealanders of his era were taught nothing of pre-European history, signs of which - such as pa sites - surrounded them.

It wasn't until he attended Vic that he learned of the rich history of pa sites such as Pukerangiora on the Waitara River.

"It was a revelation to me to find out what happened."

The young lawyer came back home to join New Plymouth's long- established legal firm, the former Nicholson, Kirkby Sheat and Co, now named Nicholsons.

But the brighter lights of Wellington beckoned and after a year, he headed back to the capital.

Mr Edwards has two children, Joseph, 10, and Rose, 13, with his partner Sarah Mackenzie.

Ms Mackenzie was herself a lawyer before branching out into a baking career after becoming part of the first intake of the Cordon Bleu cooking school.

Mr Edwards takes over the new role in February replacing current Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff.

"It's going to be a challenge," Mr Edwards said. "It's a topic that is increasingly prominent."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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