A long road but worth it.

25 March 2011.

The West Asian Championship Club Rugby Final. Doha RFC v Dubai Hurricanes. Six and a bit years’ ago.

It was set to be a good day – a home final for Doha, the team I captained passionately at the time, and going for the club’s first silverware in 40 odd years of history.

The day didn’t turn out as planned. You always remember the day and date. I dislocated my knee in the 10th minute of the final and tore everything (ACL,PCL, Lateral ligament, Hamstring, IT Band, Medial ligament) and was rushed to hospital.

The damage? I have never really gone into it – don’t talk about it at all – it’s been my challenge to own and meet. No one else’s.

 But this week, I have sat back and reflected on it after hitting a bit of a milestone.

It’s been a long road.

Going back six years, to when it happened, I was playing at No.8 tracking our 7 from a scrum. The Hurricanes 10 and 12 did a cut. Our 7 got him and swung him, a big lad, around. I planted my knee and the guys’ legs came around and basically axed my knee in half.

Initially it was the pain. I have a pretty high pain threshold I reckon but when that knee was dislocated out, I was screaming. For a good 5 mins. It was out for two hours until it got put back in when I was in hospital and xrays had confirmed what the scenario was. By then the screaming had quietened  to a dull whimper. The reason was my common peroneal nerve was being crushed by my femur which had shifted an inch down and was close to compound. I put the pain up there with being electrocuted – true story – an indescribably horrible feeling that you can’t escape from because the electricity has got hold of you and you can’t let go. 240 volts for 10 seconds back in 2007.  That story is for another day. I still touch any door before I open it so I don’t get one of those little shocks when I touch the handle.

Back to Doha. When the knee was finally put back in the damage was done. Seven centimetres of nerve was crushed. What this meant was that I was numb from the knee down and couldn’t pull my foot up from the ground. If you sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground and then pull your foot up, mine stays flat.

It means I walk with a little bit of a jilted gait and have to flick my foot a little before I put it down. It has taken a while to get used to it. Six years.

We lost the West Asia Championship final by the way, 24-20. Devastated would be a way to put how the season ended up for the DRFC. Losing is hard to take when you put so much effort into something. But such is life sometimes.

And life had thrown me a challenge.

In those first two years, because the nerve wasn’t working (and still doesn’t), my calf muscle had atrophied (wasted away a lot). After two ops I had to get used to walking again, and was living in New Zealand at the time with a young family, on Whangaparaoa Peninsula. They were hard days on the recovery front. I would try and go for a jog from Big Manly Around to Little Manly and would pull either calf muscle within a couple of hundred metres. It was always a slow, frustrated walk back to the house, especially during winter.

After this had happened a few times, and frustration levels were sky high, I resolved to start off slowly and walk before I could run so to speak. With a very understanding and supportive wife, and  spirited two and one year old daughters at the time, I started walking initially, needing to  build up the muscle again on the calf. We would go out to Shakespeare and Tawharanui Regional Park, and hike the hills. There were a few mishaps, falling over with my daughters and rolling down the hill a bit. The family was key. Sometimes you have to go down to get back up.

At the time and feeling like I was making progress, I made two goals, this was back in 2012-2013. The first was to surf some solid waves like I used to pre injury, and the second was to try and play a high level of rugby again. Both were looking doubtful at the time.

On the surfing, in January of 2013 a solid cyclone swell hit the East Coast of Northland. Six to eight foot. Offshore. I had a mare of a session. Every time I would go to take the drop, I’d  be thinking, ‘Up, flick foot, stamp, then go.’ I must have fallen on 9 out of 10 and got absolutely rinsed in what was a sizey swell. Like those initial runs when I pulled my calf, I was so frustrated. The two things I loved doing the most – and used to be pretty good at – surfing and rugby, I couldn’t do either.

Northland. Surf.

That swell. Northland, New Zealand. Things didn’t go according to plan.

For me there was nothing more frustrating than not being able to do what I loved.

Over the next six months I worked hard. Morning and night I would be doing exercises to strengthen the calves. Walking and then running a slow jog around Shakespeare or around Big Manly Park. I had to stick to the grass as the road jarred too much. I also learned to balance on a paddle board.

I would catch up with people and I got the feeling that they felt sorry for me because I walked with a bit of a limp. Stuff that. No one was going to feel sorry for me. Pride can be a good motivator.

Worked harder. And harder and harder.

About that time we made the decision to return to the Middle East, Abu Dhabi. I was due to have a third operation a month before this; this time to tie my foot into neutral with a ligament from another part of my body.

A big winter East Coast swell hit – bigger and hairier than the failed January session. Me and a mate hit the coast. I was feeling pretty good although it was huge. My mate got injured early and sat on the beach so I was out there by myself. I went for it, didn’t overthink it, just charged and backed the hard yakka that had been put in over the previous two and a half years, and particularly the preceding 6 months.

It was a special day that. I surfed for six hours straight.

I was back.

I saw the doctor the next day for the pre-op check up. I told him I didn’t want to have the op anymore. I told him about the surf. He told me that another op, to permanently alter my foot would be another year of recovery and rehabilitation.

“I’m not doing it,” I said. He shook my hand and backed me.

“Good on you,” he said.

I think my family were pretty surprised I didn’t have the op. I’m pleased I didn’t. I was getting where I needed to go.

Fast-forward to 2014. And not being satisfied with the status quo, I travelled to Indonesia with a good mate and pushed the surfing harder at Gland, East Java, a renowned big wave spot. After a couple of near drownings, including my fin nearly chopping my wrist off, and getting coral cut fever, I got in the flow and got some good waves.

Winston Cowie surfing GLand, Indonesia

Getting back in the mix. GLand, Indonesia

Goal 1, achieved. I could surf again.

And then there was the rugby dream….goal 2……

We moved to Abu Dhabi with our young  family. I helped coach one of the local footy clubs, the Harlequins initially. It was good for me that, and the knee rehab. I would do the fitness with the boys – and after Year 4 since the accident had reached a pretty happy medium.

Occasionally I would get a bit of nerve flaring, and the numbness was always there – at night it would annoy me a bit, but it was manageable. Through regular exercising I could just hold the foot in neutral.

With the goal at the back of my mind, to play some good rugby again (not really having defined to myself what this meant), I tentatively started again. Admittedly I was a lot edgier about playing a game of footy than surfing – the landings in rugby are hard, especially on the pitches in the Middle East.

I started with Sevens, and with a group of mates we set up the Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors – a charity team to support our mate, Mike Ballard, who suffered a serious spinal injury in 2014. Mike’s story is inspirational – the guy is incredibly mentally tough – since his injury, and six operations, he moved back to Abu Dhabi to take up his old job and now is a huge part of the fabric of the community. Mike epitomises the words ‘positive attitude.’ He inspires all around him and has certainly inspired me on this journey. Four and five years on from the injury I played in the Dubai 7s with the Conquistadors. It felt good to be playing footy again and the body got through ok, with Mike and a great bunch of lads.

In 2016, five years after the injury, I moved over to coach the Abu Dhabi Saracens, a good bunch of lads with a real family vibe. I started the season as coach – that was the intention initially. I still wasn’t one hundy into Goal 2. During Match 2 of the 2016 season that all changed when we travelled to the same field that I had initially got the injury, to play my old Doha mates.

Eight of our team’s visas were rejected, so we had a bare 17 to play Doha in Doha, including our physio. Not having too much time to consider it, I went for it, not wanting to forfeit. Not in the DNA. I played 80 minutes at No.8 in 40 degrees.

After getting through that game, and the knee feeling solid, I sat back and after knocking that monkey off the back, I wanted to play better.

A good article on that Doha shift was written by Paul Radley at The National.

We had a few injuries during the course of this season – 2016-2017, so I ended up playing at least 20 minutes of every game – 12 in total.

Admittedly at the start I was a little tentative, and I think naturally so after the rehab frustrations and the numbness, but by the start of this year, 2017, I was throwing myself into games like I used to. Six year’s older, a little slower, but getting stuck in. While the numbness was still there, I ignored it and got on with it. Goal 2, playing a high level of footy, was starting to look like a possibility.

At this time I had just clocked over three years in the United Arab Emirates, which made me eligible for the national side.

Like surfing at Gland, I thought Stuff it, I was going to have a crack.

I pitched up to the first UAE trial training in January 2017. The UAE, ranked No.72 in the world, was coached by former Samoan dual international superstar Apollo Perelini, and had earned promotion to Division 1 in Asia, where they would be competing with Malaysia (54), Sri Lanka (40) and the Philippines (58).

Attending that initial training, and as a loose forward and hooker, the quality of players was high – I thought that this was going to be a hard team to make – there were good players in all of these positions.  I went hard, trained hard, doing a lot of extras on the grass field at the compound our family lived in. I must have done over a hundred set of sprints on that 80 m patch of grass under the Palm Trees.

There and back. There and back.

Apollo, an outstanding coach, asked me if I could play prop. In day’s gone by, a loose forward may have taken such a query to heart – prop is not the most glamorous of positions. I was just stoked to be in the mix.

Yes I said, only having played it a couple of times 10 years earlier when at Oxford University in the Varsity Match campaign.

I started watching a lot of footy, in the evenings when the kids were in bed. I mainly watched the scrums, trying to learn as much as I could. I also enlisted the help of my team mates at the Abu Dhabi Saracens for some technical scrumming tuition. I also started smashing the gym.

Rather quickly I found that playing prop is hard. Respect to all props around the world. You don’t get a rest. When its scrum time, you are pushing with every ounce of energy you have, and then you have to get up and run around the field as well. It’s physically challenging. You walk off the pitch absolutely shattered.

A long story, short, after six years since that day in Doha, on 20 May 2017, numb knee and all, I made my international rugby debut as a loose head prop, representing my adopted home, the United Arab Emirates v the Philippines.

Winston Cowie rugby UAE

Winston Cowie. International rugby debut for United Arab Emirates v Philippines. May 2017.

Goal 2 knocked off.

A really well written article was written on the journey by Matt Jones at Sport360.

A big thank you to everybody who has supported me in eventually getting there over the past six years.

My family, Lucy Jones, who must be the most understanding wife in the world, and our kids Issy, Evie and Zac for not rolling their eyes too much when Daddy had to go to another rugby training, especially the past six months.

My friends who have kept me motivated and consistently pushing myself.

The Doha Rugby Community were incredibly kind in supporting me with my operations back in 2011. I am always indebted to you. And this year the Abu Dhabi Saracens family have been just that, a family of mates.

And four months ago I met a great bunch of gents from the different clubs in the UAE. We became a team, a close knit bunch who for the past 10 days have represented out adopted country, the United Arab Emirates, in Malaysia with pride. Thanks to all of these gents, now mates, for sharing that journey. Thanks to Apollo Perelini, our coach, and management for doing an outstanding job in preparing us. While the results didn’t go our way, we learned how competitive this top level in Asia is, and will be better for it next year….there is always next year….

UAE Rugby Team v Philipinnes. May 2017.

UAE Rugby Team v Philippines. May 2017.

This was a story I was keen to share.

A long road but worth it.

Never say never.

If it’s your challenge, own it, work hard. And nail it.

Onwards.

 

 

 

 

 

Conquistador Puzzle Trail translated into Spanish and gifted to 350 schools and universities in New Zealand

The Embassy of Spain in New Zealand and author Winston Cowie have collaborated and translated Cowie’s book, Conquistador Puzzle Trail, into Spanish. Conquistador Puzzle Trail proposes that Spanish or Iberian navigators may have been the first Europeans to voyage to New Zealand, over 100 years pre Abel Tasman. 

The Spanish version is entitled “Nueva Zelanda, Un Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanoles,” which means: “New Zealand, a history puzzle: After the traces of the Spanish Conquistadors.”

As part of the celebration of launching the Spanish version, the Embassy of Spain and Cowie are sending a free English version to 350 secondary schools and universities in New Zealand.

Former Ambassador of Spain to New Zealand the honourable Manuel Viturro De La Torre; author Winston Cowie; and Dr Juan Pineiro. at the launch of the Spanish version of Cowie’s book in La Coruna Spain.


The Ambassador of Spain comments that “this book focuses on the cultural relations between our two countries that despite being in the antipodes they might have shared a common history. It is really a food for thought not only for scholars but also for students in the schools of New Zealand”.

Author Winston Cowie, states “I am incredibly grateful to the Embassy of Spain, New Zealand for their ongoing collaboration and cooperation. To have Conquistador Puzzle Trail now translated into Spanish and distributed across Spain, and the English version now in most secondary schools and universities in New Zealand is a proud moment. My hope is that students will read the book, and in time become teachers themselves, and perceptions changed in respect of the European discovery of New Zealand. What is needed is a robust public debate on the subject, and more research, in order to move knowledge forward. Everybody has a role to play.”

The Embassy of Spain and Cowie have also offered a free personal copy to the first 10 history teachers that volunteer to write their own objective review on Conquistador Puzzle Trail.

The Embassy of Spain and Winston Cowie look forward to the ongoing discussion on the theory that the Spanish and other Iberians were the first Europeans to voyage to New Zealand.

Conquistador Puzzle Trail is available through Paper Plus stores, good independent bookstores and online at Fishpond.co.nz. Those overseas can contact Bookreps.co.nz to order a copy.

 “Plus ultra,” ‘Beyond’, as the Conquistadors would say. Onwards.

Conquistador Puzzle Trail translated into Spanish and launched in Spain!

Nueva Zelanda, Un Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanole by Winston Cowie.

Proud moments in La Coruna, Galicia, northern Spain.

 The Embassy of Spain in New Zealand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, the Spanish Organisation for International Cooperation on Development, and author Winston Cowie have collaborated and translated Cowie’s book, Conquistador Puzzle Trail, into Spanish. 

Winston Cowie book

Conquistador Puzzle Trail proposes that Spanish or Iberian navigators were the first Europeans to voyage to New Zealand, over 100 years pre-Abel Tasman, in circa the 1520s.

The Spanish version is entitled “Nueva Zelanda, Un Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanoles,” which means: “New Zealand, a history puzzle: After the tracks of the Spanish Conquistadors,” and was launched on 24 March 2017 in the Spanish coastal city of La Coruna. The port is the same place that the Spanish ‘Loaisa expedition’ embarked from on its 1525 around the world voyage of discovery, and also the place where a large New Zealand pohutukawa can be found.

Nueva Zelanda, In Puzzle Historico by Winston Cowie

 

Winston Cowie at the La Coruna pohutukawa with both versions of his book: Conquistador Puzzle Trail

Winston Cowie with the two versions of his book at the La Coruna pohutukawa

The La Coruna police officers who look after the tree and the Greenstone taonga gifted to it on Cowie’s 2013 visit.

The initiative to translate Conquistador Puzzle Trail into Spanish has been a collaboration between the Spanish government and Winston Cowie since the successful launch of Cowie’s book in 2015. Conquistador Puzzle Trail has since been added as a source on the early discovery of New Zealand on Te Ara, the online Encyclopedia of New Zealand, and praised by Spanish and Portuguese governments.

 The launch was attended by the honourable former Spanish Ambassador to New Zealand, Ambassador Manuel Viturro De La Torre; the honourable Maria Garcia, Vice Mayor of La Coruna; Spanish historian Xose Alfeiran; Juan Pineiro, who has helped Cowie tremendously over the years with his research and a number of other Spanish dignitaries and members of the public.

La Coruna Book Launch – Nueva Zelanda, In Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanole

The current Ambassador of Spain, the honourable Manuel Pradas Romani, comments that “this book focuses on the cultural relations between our two countries that despite being in the antipodes they might have shared a common history. It is really a food for thought not only for scholars but also for students in the schools of New Zealand and Spain”.

Author Winston Cowie, states “I am incredibly grateful to the Embassy of Spain, New Zealand for their ongoing collaboration and cooperation. To have Conquistador Puzzle Trail now translated into Spanish and distributed across Spain, and the English version now widely distributed is a proud moment.

 And to be able to travel to La Coruna after research trips here in 2009 and 2012, and share the moment with some of the lovely Galician people that have helped me over the years, I am very grateful. It was a really special and proud moment.

 Looking ahead, my hope is that students will read the book, and in time become teachers themselves, and perceptions changed in respect of the European discovery of New Zealand. What is needed is a robust public debate on the subject – in both Spain and New Zealand, in order to move knowledge forward. Everybody has a role to play.”

Nueva Zelanda, Un Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanole, is available in Spain through the Liberia Arenas bookstore. Email info@libreriaarenas.com to order. The English version is available in good New Zealand bookstores, online at Fishpond, or through http://www.bookreps.co.nz/.

Liberia Arenas, La Coruna, where Nueva Zelanda, In Puzzle Historico: Tras la pista de los conquistadores espanole by Winston Cowie is available. Owner Manuel Arenas, Juan Pinerio and Cowie.

“Plus ultra,” ‘Beyond’, as the Conquistadors would say.

And another exciting initiative just around the corner….

 

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors set for the Dubai 7s 2016!


Manager Mike Ballard and coaches Ed Lewsey and Winston Cowie are pleased to announce the Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation rugby team for this year’s Dubai 7s!

The team includes the three Lewsey brothers playing together for the first time! England World Cup winner Josh Lewsey, UAE international Ed, and former London Welsh representative, Tom.

Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors and the Lewsey brothers, Ed and Josh, at Dubai 7s 2015.

Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors and the Lewsey brothers, Ed and Josh, at Dubai 7s 2015.

Squad:

The Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors team, for the Dubai 7s 2016, includes:

Forwards
Winston Cowie (Oxford University Blue, Abu Dhabi Saracens).
Graham Murphy (UAE International, Abu Dhabi Harlequins).
Phil Brady (UAE International, Abu Dhabi Harlequins).
Tom Lewsey (London Welsh).
Misinale Taukolo (Abu Dhabi Harlequins).

Backs
Ed Lewsey (UAE International, Exeter Chiefs, Abu Dhabi Harlequins).
Josh Lewsey (England International, World Cup Winner).
Tom Calnan (UAE Rugby and Rugby League International, Abu Dhabi Harlequins).
Joe Teasdale (Abu Dhabi Harlequins).
Malcolm Greenslade (Abu Dhabi Harlequins).
Fraser Knox (Abu Dhabi Harlequins).
Fraser March (Abu Dhabi Harlequins).

Managers
Mike Ballard (Abu Dhabi Harlequins).
Phil Cronin (Doha RFC).

We are very much looking forward to putting in a good showing. A big shout out and thanks to all of our sponsors over the past year:

  • Air Seychelles
  • Hill International
  • McGettigans
  • Kukri
  • Live Nation
  • Alec – Building Excellence
  • Go Sport
  • Khansaheb
  • King & Wood Mallesons
  • The One Group
  • Picnic Basket

And we are delighted to have the support of the following new sponsors for the Dubai 7s!

  • Vogue Fitness
  • Digital Farm.ae
  • Speranza 22

voguefitnesslogo

digitalfarm-social-media-agency

speranza

 

For those wanting to support us, our timetable  for the first two days is below, Day 1 matches on at 14.20, and 16,00 Pitch 5.

 

screenshot_20161122-131508-2

screenshot_20161122-131517

See you at the 7s!

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors

Kindly supported by:

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation

Hill Claims Group Logo

ALEC logo

Live Nation Middle East

Mcgettigens Mike Ballard Conquistadors

Model

GoSport QBJ ok

King&Wood Mallesons

The One Group

Kukri Mike Ballard Conquistadors

Open Letter to the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage re the European discovery of New Zealand. No II.

14 August 2016

Re: Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand – recent updates to the summary on the European discovery of New Zealand

Dear New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage,

I refer to our recent correspondence in respect of the European discovery of New Zealand and the updates to your venerable online resource in respect of the Portuguese and Spanish theories on the discovery of New Zealand.

The forward thinking changes made by Te Ara sparked a welcome literary debate on the genre, with articles in the New Zealand Herald, Te Wahanui, and recently in the New Zealand Listener Magazine.

My responses to those articles include:

A previous article in the Northern Advocate, also provides a good overview.

The result: We are in the midst of an intelligent debate about the European discovery of New Zealand and Australia. The glass appears to be cracking around the negative stigma that has surrounded the theories on the Portuguese and Spanish discovery of Australia and New Zealand for the past 30 years. These theories appear to be moving from being presented as fringe ideas to being discussed in the mainstream as real possibilities. And they are now being taught and assessed as possibilities, probabilities or otherwise in schools and universities. Dr Ross Ramsay, for example, at the Southern Institute of Technology is leading the way in this regard, putting the literature in front of students and asking for their assessment.

From my end, it is pleasing that societal knowledge and interest on this element of New Zealand history appears to be moving forward, and with that, further research will be completed, and the Portuguese and Spanish theories developed further.

Progress.

History wasn’t written in a day.

Sincere congratulations to the team at Te Ara and the Ministry for your major part in inspiring this discussion and I do apologise for the delay in getting back to you, it has been a rather busy period with family, profession, and a recent charitable goodwill mission to Seychelles and Madagascar. The modern day Conquistadors have been active in the Indian Ocean. Further details can be found here, if interested.

Now, to the updates in Te Ara on the European discovery of New Zealand.

I do have some comments and a query for you, if I may, and propose some alternative text for your kind consideration.

……………………………………………………..

Reference: The Short Story: The European Discovery of New Zealand

1)    The map presented in the encyclopedia is preceded by over 100 years by the Dieppe maps.

In my earlier letter dated 8 October 2015 I previously provided comment that the map that commences this section on the website, the Henricus Hondius 1641 map, is not the earliest map of the Terra Australis Incognita or of Australia and New Zealand. I provided an alternative below based on the 228 year old, well researched theory, that the Portuguese and / or  Spanish may have discovered Australia and New Zealand, a theory that has been taken seriously and believed by some of the top cartographers and historians of their time, from Alexander Dalrymple (1786); the British Admiralty (1803); Richard Henry Major (1859), George Collingridge (1895), José Toribio Medina (1918), Robert Langdon (1975 and 1988), Kenneth McIntyre (1977 and 1982), Dr Helen Wallis (1981), Roger Hervé (1983), and Peter Trickett (2007).

The literature is written by credible sources. As an example, the late Dr Helen Wallis’ (OBE) credentials included:

  • Map curator, British Museum (later British Library) (1967-1987).
  • Chairman of the standing commission on the history of cartography of the International Cartographic Association.
  • President of the International Map Collectors’ Society (1986).
  • Founder of The Geography and Map Section of the International Federation of Library Associations.
  • President of The Society for Nautical Research, 1972-1988, and President of the British Cartographic Society.

She was the top of her field, and completed a very detailed review of the maps. Her conclusion:

“… it is notable how many of these names are descriptive of physical features … others seem to record the events and personal associations of an exploring voyage, including saints’ names … It is clear that the land represents a discovery made on a European voyage or coastal exploration. Secondly, it was apparently not a region of settled and civilised populations whose peoples would tell a visiting expedition the names of towns and other places (in fact there is no sign of towns). Thirdly, the number of Portuguese names suggests that the voyage was made, or at least recorded, by the Portuguese. The flags on Desliens charts of 1561 and 1566 are more explicit, indicating a Portuguese discovery.”

Question: I would be grateful if you could let me know what the reason is for the venerable national encyclopedia appearing to ignore these maps and the literature (particularly Wallis’ experienced view) surrounding them.

Pending your response, and to assist, I have drafted for your kind consideration an alternative section for ‘The Short Story’ section, that provides a reasonable assessment of current knowledge and literature.

Alternative proposals:

In summary, I propose that the map that is currently presented in this section be removed as it is doesn’t represent current knowledge and literature. I propose it be replaced with the ‘Jean Rotz’ map of 1542, presenting the great southern continent in the global context, with a close up of the Vallard Map of 1547 to provide the New Zealand context. I also propose for consistency that a paragraph be added above the Abel Tasman section mentioning the Spanish and Portuguese theory – as it is included in the ‘long story’.

The alternative proposition is:

Proposal: Short Story: European discovery of New Zealand

In their search for the vast ‘terra australis incognita’ (the unknown southern land) thought to lie in the Pacific, explorers made daring journeys across uncharted waters.

They did not find the fabled continent, but they did find New Zealand.

Circumstantial evidence points to the possibility of the Portuguese and Spanish being the first Europeans to voyage to New Zealand, however the Dutchman Abel Tasman is first recorded as having sighted New Zealand, and the country was later mapped by James Cook, the British captain who dominates the story of the European discovery of New Zealand.

 

Jean Rotz Circular Chart - 1542, which it is theorised includes some of the eastern coastline of Australia and some of the North Island of New Zealand.

Jean Rotz Circular Chart – 1542, which it is theorised includes some of the eastern coastline of Australia and some of the North Island of New Zealand.

Vallard Map 1547 - the eastern coast of Australia with portolan realigned. Part of the North Island of New Zealand may be the island the 'Illa do Magna'

Vallard Map 1547 – the eastern coast of Australia with portolan realigned. Part of the North Island of New Zealand may be the island the ‘Illa do Magna’

Vallard Map 1547. The North island of New Zealand?

Vallard Map 1547. The North island of New Zealand?

The Short Story

Portuguese and Spanish voyages

There is a possibility that both Iberian nations voyaged to or were wrecked in New Zealand in the 1520s, with sixteenth century maps with coastlines similar to New Zealand and Australia, appearing on world maps from the 1540s. On the most detailed map, the Vallard of 1547, over 120 Portuguese place names appear on landmasses where modern day Australia and New Zealand are located, and in some places, the place names describe physical features that still appear in places on those maps today. There is, however, currently no ship’s journal making these discoveries definitive – a sighting of New Zealand was not recorded by a European until 1642.

Abel Tasman

In 1642 the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sailed in search of the southern continent, which sixteenth century maps indicated was located in the South Pacific. Dutch merchants hoped this land would offer new opportunities for trade. Tasman discovered New Zealand on 13 December 1642, but after a bloody encounter with Māori in Golden Bay, he left without going ashore.

Shortly afterwards, a Dutch map maker gave the name Nieuw Zeeland to the land Tasman had discovered.

James Cook

The English navigator Captain James Cook sighted New Zealand on 6 October 1769, and landed at Poverty Bay two days later. He drew detailed and accurate maps of the country, and wrote about the Māori people. His first encounter with Māori was not successful – a fight broke out in which some Māori were killed. However, after this Cook and his men had friendly contact with Māori.

The naturalists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, who sailed with Cook, gathered a great deal of information about the country’s plants and animals. Their records formed the foundation for the modern study of New Zealand botany.

On two later voyages, Captain Cook used New Zealand as a base to prove that a great southern continent did not exist in the Pacific.

Citation: John Wilson and Winston Cowie ‘European discovery of New Zealand’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 10-August-16.

………………………………………………………………………………………

Reference: The Long Story: The European Discovery of New Zealand

I have some comments on the ‘Before Tasman’ section. As always, comments are well intended with a view of bringing knowledge forward.

An earlier discovery?

The sentence: ‘Spanish or Portuguese ships sailing out of Callao or Acapulco, or from the East Indies, may have reached, or become wrecked on the New Zealand coast.’  

My view is that this sentence can be improved a little semantically – as the way it reads, it could be interpreted to mean that both Spanish and Portuguese ships sailed out of Callao, Acapulco and the East Indies. As you are aware, given the treaties of Tordesillas and Zaragoza, it was the Spanish that sailed out of Callao and Acapulco with the Portuguese sailing out of the East Indies.

Alternative proposal: ‘Spanish ships sailing out of the Philippines and Central and South American ports (Acapulco, Callao and Concepcion), and Portuguese ships sailing from the East Indies (Malacca and Ternate), may have reached, or become wrecked on the New Zealand coast.’

…………………………………………………….

The sentences: “But there is no firm evidence of Europeans reaching New Zealand before Abel Tasman in 1642. Although fragmentary information found in Portuguese and Spanish archives suggests at least the possibility of earlier arrivals, no one before Tasman reported the discovery of new land that can be identified as New Zealand.”

My view is that these two sentences can be improved by referring to the circumstantial evidence that support the Portuguese and Spanish case – maps, the existence of artefacts and a skull, and oral tradition, as opposed to ‘fragmentary information found in Portuguese and Spanish archives’ which doesn’t reflect what the evidence is or where that information is located.

Similarly, none of the navigators put forward as the navigators who may have voyaged to New Zealand are included – Christopher Mendonca (Portuguese) and Juan Fernandez (Spanish).

Taking into account the above my proposal for the ‘An earlier discovery?’ section is as follows:

Alternative Proposal: An earlier discovery?

Spanish ships sailing out of the Philippines and Central and South American ports (Acapulco, Callao and Concepcion), and Portuguese ships sailing from the East Indies (Malacca and Ternate), may have reached, or become wrecked on the New Zealand coast.

Whilst no one before Tasman reported the discovery of new land that can be identified as New Zealand, circumstantial evidence including maps, references to voyages in archives, oral tradition, and artefacts suggest at least the possibility of earlier Portuguese or Spanish arrivals.

It is theorised that the ships that came closest to New Zealand before 1642 may have been those of the Portuguese navigator Christopher Mendonca (1522-24), that of the Spaniard Juan Fernandez (1576-78), with the wreck of a Spanish caravel, the San Lesmes, also a possibility in 1527. The expeditions of Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendaña de Neyra (1595) and Portuguese mariner Pedro Fernandes de Queirós (1605–06), which touched the northern Cook Islands, are also possibilities.

It is unlikely that Arab or Chinese ships, which were trading in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean, were ever off the coast of New Zealand.

…………………………………………………………..

Terra Australis Incognita

My view is that the way this section is written, it appears to try and distance Portuguese and Spanish navigators from the south to make room for the ‘Terra Australis Incognita’ myth. E.g.

“…the tracks of European navigators like Mendaña and Queirós lay well to the north of New Zealand, leaving plenty of space for cartographers to place a terra australis incognita (unknown southern land) to the south.”

This Terra Australia term has its origins in theory with the likes of Aristotle, Ptolmey and Cicero – centuries before this –  there is no need to suggest that space needed to be left for it – as consistent with the theory that the southern continent was needed to balance the globe, it was already appearing on maps prior to Mendana and Queiros’ voyages.

As such, I propose that the following wording be used to describe the Terra Australis Incognita.

Alternative Proposal: Terra Australis Incognita?

The discovery of New Zealand and Australia has always been bound up with speculation about the ‘Terra Australis Incognita’ – the ‘great southern unknown’ landmass, originally theorised about by the likes of Aristotle and Ptolmey. It was considered that a southern landmass was needed to counterbalance that in the north and even given the existence of the sixteenth century Portuguese maps and Tasman’s maps in this part of the world, it wasn’t until the voyages of Captain James Cook that the myth was finally dispelled.

Citation: John Wilson and Winston Cowie ‘European discovery of New Zealand’, Te Ara – the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, updated 10-August-16.

……………………………………………

I would be most grateful for your view and response, Te Ara, to my question and proposed text amendments.

May I also state how professional and responsive I have found you in this korero, Te Ara. When-ever I have messaged there has been a prompt response. I am grateful to you and thank you once again for serious consideration of what has become an important national korero.

 

With Kind Regards,

Winston Cowie

Author – Conquistador Puzzle Trail

United Arab Emirates

 

 

 

New Zealand Discovery History: Cracking the myth and moving from fringe to mainstream: the Portuguese and Spanish exploration theories

Good news. We are in the midst of an intelligent debate about the European discovery of New Zealand and Australia. The glass is cracking around the negative stigma that has surrounded the theories on the Portuguese and Spanish discovery of Australia and New Zealand for the past 30 years. These theories appear to be moving from being presented as fringe ideas to being discussed in the mainstream as real possibilities.

Why?

Because of you – society – it is changing. People are information and knowledge hungry – you want to know the arguments for and against a topic and make up your own mind – as opposed to being told ‘this is what happened or this is what you should believe,’ or in academic circles, not having the discussion around the theories at all for fear of being criticised.

With the glass cracking, those that have written about the Spanish and Portuguese voyages theories over the past 228 years – the likes of Alexander Dalrymple (1786), Richard Henry Major (1859), George Collingridge (1895), José Toribio Medina (1918), Robert Langdon (1975 and 1988), Kenneth McIntyre (1977 and 1982), Helen Wallis (1981), Roger Hervé (1983), Ross Wiseman (1996), and Peter Trickett (2007), must be saying ‘about time.’

Some examples from these venerable historians.

New Zealand first.

In 1894, over 120 years ago, two of New Zealand’s most gifted historians, Dr Thomas Hocken and Dr Robert McNab, theorised that further research might reveal that the true story of the discovery of New Zealand had yet to be told, writing:

“Doubtless before Tasman, there were voyagers who had visited New Zealand … We are justified in thinking that there are buried in the old archives of Portugal and of Spain journals which, if found, would give an earlier account of New Zealand than those which we consider our earliest … The iron-bound chests of Portugal and of Spain are the probable repositories of these treasures, or they may have been emptied into the Papal and monkish libraries … and may lie covered with the accumulated dust of centuries.”

Similarly, the late Dr Helen Wallis, United Kingdom based and the president of every cartography organisation imaginable, and who reviewed in detail the sixteenth century maps that are purported to indicate a discovery voyage of Australia and New Zealand, wrote, “The answer to the enigma may be regarded as non-proven, but with the balance of evidence in favour of a Portuguese discovery of Australia,” (1988).

What the likes of Hocken and McNab and Wallis indicate, and they are just examples, is that across multiple generations people have reviewed some of the evidence of Portuguese or Spanish exploration to New Zealand and Australia – the likes of the sixteenth century Dieppe Maps – and seen the same thing and drawn the same conclusion – that being that the Portuguese probably discovered Australia and New Zealand, and the Spanish may have also voyaged to New Zealand pre-Tasman.

And there are plenty more examples from some of the top writers of their generation.

In 2016, it appears that their work is finally coming to the fore.

Where have we got to in 2016?

  • Three government institutions in three different countries consider the Spanish and Portuguese discovery theories a possibility
  • We are currently in the midst of a debate on that possibility

Three government institutions in three different countries (New Zealand, Spain and Portugal) now consider the Portuguese and Spanish theories a possibility, and some a probability, following a review of the evidence presented in Conquistador Puzzle Trail, which presents both the excellent work completed by historians over the past two centuries and new original research.

New Zealand:

New Zealand’s well-respected and forward thinking national encyclopedia, Te Ara, have a high threshold for making changes to the encylopedia and seek to avoid the inclusion of content that is speculative or highly contentious. Ministry for Culture and Heritage chief historian Neill Atkinson recently stated: “after considering Winston Cowie’s recently published research, we felt that small changes to the text [re the Spanish and Portuguese] would improve the European discovery entry.”

Spain:

Well-structured and impeccably researched, this important work [Conquistador Puzzle Trail] will have a strong impact on the academic representation of conquistadors as well as a wide array of consequences for the future understanding of New Zealand history. We feel incredibly fortunate to witness such a thorough investigation into the history of New Zealand in which we can really appreciate the links shared with Portuguese and Spanish explorers. In our case, the confirmation of these ties between Spain and New Zealand will undoubtedly strengthen the positive relationship that our two countries already share and cherish. At the same time, we would like to acknowledge all of the time and energy devoted to the research that has gone into this investigative work. Throughout the pages, we discover new elements of New Zealand culture and history that invite us to truly believe that Mr Winston Cowie´s theory is correct. Congratulations on the completion of this excellent work.”

Pablo Mateu García, Educational Advisor of the Embassy of Spain, New Zealand.

Portugal:

A fascinating book and an important contribution for the investigation about the Portuguese having been the first Europeans to reach Australia and New Zealand almost 500 years ago.”

Paulo Cunha Alves, Ambassador of Portugal to Australia and New Zealand.

Both the Spanish and Portuguese embassies to Australia and New Zealand also kindly gave permission for their logos to be included on Conquistador Puzzle Trail as a sign of the cooperation and collaboration shared whilst researching and writing.

Conquistador Puzzle Trail - Back Cover Reviews

Conquistador Puzzle Trail – Reviews

Following the addition by Te Ara of Conquistador Puzzle Trail to the national encyclopedia’s references, in 2016 the Portuguese and Spanish discovery debate became a topic of discussion at the national level.

The New Zealand discovery debate

Following the recent forward-thinking initiative of Te Ara, the first recent nationwide article in the debate appeared, good news, although the presentation of the news was presented as a negative – with comments that were described as ‘rubbishing’ the Spanish and Portuguese theories dominating the national headline. That article and those comments can be found here.

My response to that article entitled ‘About that rubbish: The Portuguese and Spanish voyaged to New Zealand Pre Tasman,’ is located here, and provides a case study as to how the conversation in the media in respect of the theory has played out over the last 30 years. The conclusion – society deserves better than the dismissive rhetoric that it has been served up on this subject for the past 30 years. It is no longer relevant.

What is required is intelligent and respectful debate in order to move knowledge forward.

The New Zealand Listener Article

Enter the New Zealand Listener magazine, ever relevant and on point, who were the next to run a national article on the debate, entitled ‘Did the Spanish or Chinese visit New Zealand first?’

Winston Cowie Listener

It is an intelligently written article by Matthew Wright, a New Zealand historian and fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and as per the approach of the various government institutions, it well and truly brings the Portuguese and Spanish European discovery of New Zealand and Australia out of the shadows and into the plausible.

On this genre, it considers the Spanish Juan Fernandez discovery theory (1576-78), the Portuguese Christopher Mendonca theory (1522-24), the wreck of the fabled lost Spanish caravel, the San Lesmes theory (1527) and puts forward Wright’s view on them.

What a breath of fresh air to have those theories debated in New Zealand’s on point current affairs magazine and have a well-respected historian put forward his views on them.

With the comments of the three government institutions and the likes of the New Zealand Listener article, it appears that in 2016, the theories in respect of the Portuguese and Spanish discovering Australia and New Zealand are moving out of the shadows and into mainstream when discussing New Zealand’s European discovery history. As Wright writes in respect of history, this is not because of one reason or another, “mainstream historical theories by which we understand ourselves are not dictated from a central source. Historical understanding grows organically, from wide intellectual trends held across the field, in which New Zealand, usually, also reflects international thinking.”

And in this case study, the paradigm shift does exactly that and reflect international thinking – Spain and Portugal. I am also working on engaging with the relevant institution in Australia.

And so back to the debate – the interesting part.

Overall, once again, what a great article in a great magazine. There are always differences in opinion in historical debates, and Wright and I differ on four key points:

  • 1)    The Dieppe Maps;
  • 2)    The Juan Fernandez Spanish theory;
  • 3)    The San Lesmes Spanish theory; and
  • 4)    Where the Portuguese and Spanish theories should sit in Australian and New Zealand discovery theory.

The purpose in drawing these points to your attention, is to assist you in forming a view on the subject either way.

 1) The Dieppe Maps

The Dieppe Maps are the starting point of Iberian discovery theory and have been put forward as evidence of a Portuguese discovery of Australia and New Zealand for 228 years. These maps date to between 1542 and 1566 (over 100 years before Tasman) and I have written about them at length in Conquistador Puzzle Trail. A summary discussion of them can also be found in the below recent articles:

  • In my open letter to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage entitled: ‘Open letter to the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage re European discovery of New Zealand,’ dated October 2015. Click here.
  • In my article, ‘About that ‘rubbish’. Yeah Nah. The Portuguese or Spanish probably voyaged to New Zealand pre Tasman, dated May 2016. Click here.
  • In the recent article in the Northern Advocate, entitled: Conquistador Trail From Portugal to Pouto, dated August 2015. Click here.

Wright states in respect of the maps “Those maps also have to be understood in context of the belief – long held in Europe – that a great Terra Australis Incognita (unknown southern land) had to exist as a kind of global counterbalance to the land mass of Europe. Maps produced before and after the Dieppe ones speculated on likely coastlines. These fruits of cartographic imagination – sometimes decorated with curious graphics of men with faces in their stomachs and wild fantasy animals – bore little resemblance to reality; any similarity to coastlines found later was entirely coincidental.”

My issue with the statement is that it uses definitive language and directs the reader that they need to do something or think in a certain way – i.e. in this case interpret maps in a certain way. I would like to politely suggest that the reader compare those sixteenth century maps to the modern coastline of Australia and New Zealand, and be aware that in some places what the Portuguese names state on the map are descriptive of the very things that define those places geographically today. As an example of some of the 120 Portuguese place names that appear on the most detailed map (from 1547), at Fraser Island in Australia where there are pumice deposits, the word pomezita (pumice) is written; similarly where the word camronron appears, which means prawns, there is a modern day prawn fishery today. Where the Great Barrier Reef is: Costa Dangeroza – Dangerous Coast. The list goes on. The coastline of the continent is also similar to that of Australia and New Zealand – not in all places sure, but taken as a whole and to use Wright’s words the ‘context’ of cartography at the time (the context of which includes details on Jean Rotz who was considered a cartographer who never ventured into speculative cosmology) – on the basis of these maps alone, the serious and very tenable theory can be made, that the Portuguese discovered Australia and New Zealand.

As a footnote, I would like to point out that only one of the Dieppe Maps appeared in the article, and that wasn’t in the global terra incognita australis context (i.e. in the context of what was considered known of the globe at the time) that Wright suggests.

I include this context below.

 

Desliens Map 1566

Desliens Map 1566 (The global context)

Jean Rotz Circular Chart - 1542

Jean Rotz Circular Chart – 1542. The global context – Rotz was not known to deviate into speculative cosmography.

 

Jean Rotz Map 1542

Jean Rotz Map 1542

 

Vallard Map 1547 - the eastern coast of Australia with portolan realigned

Vallard Map 1547 – the eastern coast of Australia with portolan realigned

 

Vallard Map 1547 The North island of New Zealand?

Vallard Map 1547 The North island of New Zealand?

 

In summary on this point in the debate, we can agree to disagree on the relevance or otherwise of the maps to Australian and New Zealand discovery theory. We are only two – and in New Zealand there are over 4 million others that may sway the argument either way.

2) Juan Fernandez.

The second point I would like to raise in the debate is Wright’s statement in respect of the theory on Spanish voyaging to New Zealand pre-Tasman, particularly those around the Juan Fernandez (1576-78) theory. Writing on Spanish voyages to New Zealand, Wright writes:

There was no direct proof for any of this, but the concept was alluring enough for the Spanish Government, in the 1880s, to ascribe a 1576 “discovery” of New Zealand to Juan Fernandez, an explorer of colonial-era Peru and Chile.”

This statement is not true. There is no discussion in the literature in the 1880s of a Spanish voyage by Juan Fernandez to New Zealand. The theory wasn’t made until 1918 – nearly 40 years after this.  In respect of the Spanish government ‘ascribing a discovery’ because they were ‘allured to’, again there is no evidence at all of this – the theory was first made by a Chilean historian Jose Medina in 1918, in a little known book entitled: The navigator Juan Fernandez. When Medina’s theory did become more well known, the Spanish government embraced the theory, and indeed on the wall of the Madrid Naval Museum, is a wall mosaic celebrating Spanish exploratory voyages, and the route of Fernandez appears.

Conquistador Puzzle Trail provides further details.

3) The San Lesmes

The third point I would like to raise in the debate is Wright’s statement in respect of the fabled lost caravel the San Lesmes. For those interested in Pacific discovery history, please read the late Robert Langdon’s The Lost Caravel (1975) and The Lost Caravel Re-explored (1988) – a brilliant review of early Pacific voyaging and which contains Langdon’s San Lesmes theory.

Wright writes in respect of the San Lesmes:

The ship was never seen again and its fate remains unknown, but competing theories by Robert Langdon (1975) and Roger Herve (1983) postulate that the caravel blundered west, reaching either New Zealand or Australia before, perhaps, being wrecked on Amanu, an island in the Tuamotu archipelago.”

The issue with this statement is that neither Langdon or Herve state that the San Lesmes reached New Zealand or Australia before then being wrecked at Amanu in the Tuamotu archipelago.

Langdon’s theory is that the San Lesmes hit the reef at Amanu before voyaging to Tahiti then New Zealand, where he theorises it was wrecked at Kawhia, not at Amanu (which is in the middle of the Pacific).

Conquistador Puzzle Trail takes Langdon’s theory further discussing the possibility of the San Lesmes not being wrecked at Kawhia, but further north at Baylys Beach, Dargaville.

4) The conclusion as to where the Portuguese and Spanish theories should sit in Australian and New Zealand discovery theory.

After canvassing the Spanish and Portuguese theories, Wright comments in respect of the Spanish and Portuguese place in New Zealand discovery history:

“In the end the issue is academic. A proven pre-Tasman Iberian visit is unlikely to disturb our wider sense of place. History, as a way of understanding our human journey from past to present, is about wider trends. In that sense, even a demonstrable Spanish or Portuguese visit would be no more significant for our history than Tasman’s brush past our shores in 1642. That was the first time we can be sure that Europe found New Zealand. And that visit gave us our name – Nieuw Zeeland, probably chosen by Dutch cartographer Johannes Blaeu.

But the first significant European impact on Maori did not come until the arrival of British ne’er-do-wells, convicts, whalers, sealers and traders, broadly around the beginning of the 19th century. They brought the products of Britain’s industrial revolution – and the detritus of a British society in flux – into collision with traditional Maori life. So began a cascade of events that led to the colonisation of New Zealand by Britain – and, eventually, to New Zealand as it is today.

So even if records of a Portuguese or Spanish journey to our shores are found in dusty archives, or compelling archaeological evidence is discovered, this can only ever be a footnote – fascinating though it would be – to the well-established realities of our wider past.”

There are two statements here I would like to query. The first, in the first paragraph that “even a demonstrable Spanish or Portuguese visit would be no more significant to our history than Tasman’s brush past our shores in 1642.” The second, in the final paragraph “even if records of a Portuguese or Spanish journey to our shores are found in dusty archives, or compelling archaeological evidence is discovered, this can only ever be a footnote – fascinating though it would be – to the well-established realities of our wider past.”

I would like to contest the ‘significance’ comment  – which, as with the Dieppe Maps comments above, is written definitively. The comment basically says – even if the Spanish or Portuguese voyages occurred, they wouldn’t be significant.

Significance is different for individuals, localities, countries. If one of the theories was proven, on the contrary, it may be very significant to the Spanish and Portuguese governments – a source of pride – as I am sure Tasman’s voyage is to the Netherlands. Similarly, I also imagine that those hardy sailors who made those early maritime voyages, and who suffered scurvy, hunger and disease, would hope that they were more than a ‘footnote,’ in history.

On the significance of the theories, let’s see….It’s up to society to decide whether or not the theories are significant or otherwise.

So what’s next?

On the Portuguese and Spanish discovery question, there are more questions to be answered, more research to be explored more widely – there just needs to be the interest from society, students and teachers.

On this point, Dr Ross Ramsay, a lecturer at the Southern Institute of Technology, has taken the initiative and is seeking his student’s views on the subject.

Is there another history teacher in New Zealand or Australia who would like to review Conquistador Puzzle Trail and perhaps teach it as a unit of work in school or university? The first history teacher to get in touch and volunteer for the review, I will send you a free copy.

Finally, the myth that there is nothing to the theory in respect of the Portuguese and Spanish voyaging to Australia and New Zealand appears to be cracking.

Discussing these topics appears to be no longer ‘fringe.’

Did the Spanish and Portuguese voyage to New Zealand and Australia pre Tasman?

And if they did, what is the significance?

What is your view?

We can have a mainstream conversation.

Once again, thank you to the New Zealand Listener for being ever relevant and on point in publishing on this subject.

The debate continues.

Sincerely,

Winston Cowie

Wheelchairs, rugby and lemurs: The Arabian Gulf rugby community spreads goodwill in Seychelles and Madagascar.

Wheelchairs, rugby and lemurs: The Arabian Gulf rugby community spreads goodwill in Seychelles and Madagascar.

It was the morning of 26 June 2016, two day’s prior to the departure of the Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors goodwill rugby mission to Seychelles and Madagascar. The Middle East based team, with players from clubs in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar, awakes to the news that there had been what was described as a terrorist attack at Mahamasina Stadium in Madagascar, killing two and wounding 80 people. The stadium was the very place where the Conquistadors were intending to play the Madagascar national side in a rugby match one week later.

To go or not to go – that was the question. We did a risk assessment – following the attack Madagascar was categorised as a ‘medium travel risk’ – the attack initially considered to be a ‘one-off’ associated with a national day rally. We asked the team – were they prepared to travel to Madagascar given the circumstances?

Two day’s later, and after monitoring the situation closely for any escalation, and after receiving assurances of increased security by the Madagascar Rugby Union, on the morning of the scheduled departure later that evening, 22 of the 24 person mission squad were ‘in.’

Excited and nervous we headed to Abu Dhabi Airport for the primary sponsor, Air Seychelles, flight to Madagascar via the Seychelles.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Seven months earlier the team had formed under the banner of their good mate, Mike Ballard, an American national from Michigan who suffered a serious spinal injury whilst playing for the Abu Dhabi Harlequins in the 2014 West Asian Club Championship final.

At the time and over the ensuing two years, the Arabian Gulf rugby community supported Mike, who that year was nominated for the prestigious UAE Player of the Year Award.  Now back on top his rehabilitation after two determined and inspiring years (he broke every rehabilitation record at the Mary Freebed Rehabilitation Hospital in Michigan), Mike has moved back to Abu Dhabi to live and work, taking up a place at his old school, the “New England Centre for Children with Autism”, where his teaching greatly inspired the Autistic children and their families.

The Conquistadors were set up initially to support Mike with his move back to Abu Dhabi – and Mike arrived the night before the Dubai 7s – making it back to lead the Conquistadors onto the pitch at the Dubai 7’s in December 2015.

Mike Ballard and the Conquistadors

Mike Ballard and the Conquistadors

 

Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors and the Lewsey brothers, Ed and Josh, at Dubai 7s 2015.

Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors and the Lewsey brothers, Ed and Josh, at Dubai 7s 2015.

With the success of the team at the Sevens where they reached the semi finals of one of the local leagues, Mike and the team took the initiative to embark on an annual ‘good will’ mission to have a positive impact on the lives of others, through rugby union.

Mike Ballard comments:

“The support of the rugby community was a major driving force in getting me through my darkest hour when I was injured in 2014, and we formed the Conquistadors team soon after so we could help out other rugby communities around the world. On top of being a good a chance for us to further the sport of rugby, this trip is also an opportunity to improve the lives of people who may have suffered a spinal injury or have mobility problems for other reasons.  I want to thank Air Seychelles for making this goodwill mission possible.”

And so it was that we were enroute to Seychelles, six months after the Seychelles and Madagascar vision.

Seychelles and the Air Seychelles Press Conference

After a very comfortable flight (the management team were grateful to fly business class much to the team’s chargin), we were greeted upon disembarking by no other than the Seychelles Minister of Health, the honourable Mitcy Larue, the CEO of Air Seychelles, Roy Kinnear, members of the Seychelles Rugby Union and others. A fantastic press conference ensued and the team donated 20 wheelchairs to Seychelles hospital.

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors with Government Officials

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors with Government Officials

The honourable Mitcy Larue, the Seychelles Minister of Health, commented:

“We are thrilled to receive this generous donation of wheelchairs, which will go a long way towards improving the quality of life for people with disabilities, the elderly and other patients with mobility problems in Seychelles. The fact that it is coupled with the promotion of sports, which are an essential component of healthy living, makes this initiative doubly positive.”

Roy Kinnear, CEO of Air Seychelles commented:

“Air Seychelles is extremely proud to support this goodwill mission, which will benefit many people with mobility and physical impairments in both Seychelles and Madagascar. In addition to providing much-needed medical equipment, this initiative will also contribute to the development of rugby in the Indian Ocean region. We’re happy that as the national airline we can play our part in increasing engagement in sports. What this tour also demonstrates is the significant contribution of our four-per-week Antananarivo service to the growth of people-to-people, government and cultural ties, between our island countries as well as other markets such as the UAE.”

I don’t think any of the gents who were part of the mission team had experienced anything like the conference at Seychelles Airport. “I feel like a rock star,” commented one of the younger members of the team, Charles Etchells, who is studying to be a doctor at Manchester University.

The photos sum up the wonderful experience.

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Press Conference

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Press Conference

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors Press Conference - Seychelles Welcome

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors Press Conference – Seychelles Welcome

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors - Press Conference Singalong

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors – Press Conference Singalong

And then it was onwards to Madagascar where we intended to donate 40 wheelchairs and medical equipment to the Aide Manjakasoa Madagascar rehabilitation facility, hold two day’s of rugby coaching with 300 U14 children from 7 clubs and 3 schools; and play the match v the Madagascar national side.

Madagascar

Madagascar. What a place. The third largest island in the world is a developing country where nine out of ten people live on less than two dollars a day. It is also a country where rugby is the national sport with over 48,000 participants, and the national team, ‘the Makis’, are ranked 41 in the world. Put simply, they are rugby mad! Madagascar has the third highest number of registered players in Africa but the majority of rugby playing children (90%) don’t have any uniforms.

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors in Antananarivo

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors in Antananarivo. Mahamasina Stadium where the attack was, is behind.

On the way from the airport to the hotel, the bus went silent. There were thousands of people, all busy, doing something, going somewhere, and they didn’t appear to have much. It was a sobering sight.

Despite not appearing to have much, the Madagascan people had a proud dignity about them – were not pushy and had a good sense of humour. When we started unpacking the gear from the bus on a busy street, rather than try and sell us a set of drums and vuvuzela, the vendors began playing for us – which afterwards resulted in a number of vuvuzela’s being purchased.

Over the ensuing days we:

  • Donated 40 wheelchairs and medical supplies to the Aide Manjakasoa Madagascar charity;
  • Held junior rugby coaching clinics and delivered junior rugby clothing, boots and gear, collected from rugby clubs and schools in the Arabian Gulf region, to rugby clubs in the Antananarivo region; and
  • Played an ‘exhibition match’ against the Madagascan Rugby Team, the Makis (the Malagasy name for the ‘ring-tailed lemur’), currently ranked at No.42 in the world.
Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors donate 40 wheelchairs and medical equipment to the Aide de Manjakasoa Charity, Madagascar

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors donate 40 wheelchairs and medical equipment to the Aide de Manjakasoa Charity, Madagascar

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors Rugby Coaching Clinics, Day 1, 30 June 2016.

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors Rugby Coaching Clinics, Day 1, 30 June 2016

The boots kindly donated by GoSports were a real hit!

The boots kindly donated by GoSports were a real hit! Children here are also wearing kindly donated Doha Rugby Football Club uniforms.

Highlights included:

  • Seeing the smiles and gratefulness on the children’s faces when they received new uniforms and boots.
The Dubai Hurricanes shirts kept popping up all over Antananarivo!

The Dubai Hurricanes shirts kept popping up all over Antananarivo! Both junior girl and boy rugby players had phenomenal skills!

Abu Dhabi Saracens were the first to donate a full set of junior kit.

Abu Dhabi Saracens were the first to donate a full set of junior kit

And the result in Madagascar - a full team kitted out in Abu Dhabi Saracens kit!

And the result in Madagascar – a full team kitted out in Abu Dhabi Saracens kit!

Bahrain RFC did a fantastic job of mobilising the community

Bahrain RFC did a fantastic job of mobilising the community

Bahrain RFC Kit was a real hit in Madagascar!

Bahrain RFC Kit was a real hit in Madagascar!

—Abu Dhabi Harlequins kit proved very popular, the team well coached by Guiness World Record Holder Tom Calnan

Abu Dhabi Harlequins kit proved very popular, the team well coached by Guiness World Record Holder Tom Calnan

The Dubai Hurricanes were incredibly generous, donating the most of any club!

The Dubai Hurricanes were incredibly generous, donating the most of any club!

Adam Telford, retiring UAE captain, was a fantastic asset to the mission, the Jebal Ali Dragons kit very popular

Adam Telford, retiring UAE captain, was a fantastic asset to the mission, the Jebal Ali Dragons kit also very popular!

British School of Al Khubairat Director of rugby sought to build a bridge between Antananarivo and Abu Dhabi, sharing penpal letters from Abu Dhabi.

British School of Al Khubairat Director of rugby sought to build a bridge between Antananarivo and Abu Dhabi, sharing penpal letters from Abu Dhabi.

  • Seeing how good the Madagascan juniors were at rugby – their skills, offloads, and physicality rivalled junior rugby growing up in New Zealand.
The Abu Dhabi Harlequins rugby kit was gratefully received.

The Abu Dhabi Harlequins rugby kit was gratefully received.

  • Practicing lineouts on the streets of Antananarivo, and then giving the balls to the children who scampered down the street with big grins passing and doing backline moves
Lineouts on the streets on Antananarivo, Madagascar

Lineouts on the streets on Antananarivo, Madagascar

These children took off down the street doing backline moves reminicent of the Otago Highlanders when we gave them a ball.

These children took off down the street doing backline moves reminicent of the Otago Highlanders when we gave them a ball

  • Unwrapping the wheelchairs at the Aide Aide Manjakasoa – logistically getting them there had been a mission in itself.
Unwrapping the wheelchairs at the Aide de Manjakasoa charity felt good especially after all of the hard work that went into getting them there, especially by our logistics guru Wade Quinn

Unwrapping the wheelchairs at the Aide de Manjakasoa charity felt good especially after all of the hard work that went into getting them there, especially by our logistics guru Wade Quinn

  • Playing a match against the Madagascan National side, when it looked very unlikely following the terrorist attack.
Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors V Madagascar

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors V Madagascar, 3 July 2016

 

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors V Madagascar

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors V Madagascar, 3 July 2016

 

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors v Madagascar

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors v Madagascar

  • It was wonderful to have seven of the clubs in the Gulf playing together side by side – Abu Dhabi Saracens, Abu Dhabi Harlequins, Bahrain RFC, Doha RFC, Dubai Hurricanes, Dubai Sharks, Jebal Ali Dragons, and British School of Al Khubairat –  a throwback to the Arabian Gulf days.

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors had representatives from eigh Arabian Gulf Clubs

We were lucky to play a match at all. Following the attack on the stadium, all public events were banned – understandably. Initially, months earlier, we were informed that the game was to attract over 30,000 people. After the event, however, we were informed that we could play, but with no crowd – it would have been too much of a security risk. We were disappointed of course – we all wanted to play in front of 30,000 people, but in the big picture, the objective of the mission was the charity work – and we still managed to complete that.

Finding a stadium also proved to be a mission – with the Mahamasina Stadium out of action, and the ‘Makis Stadium’ hard as a rock and with a number of sizeable holes in it, a ‘SWOT’ team of Tom Calnan, Edward Lewsey and Winston Cowie went on a mission to view other options. We didn’t have to go far – a 20 minute walk from the Hotel was the Stade Malacan, replete with lush, springy grass, and a resident bull.

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We managed to find a stadium

We managed to find a stadium, with its own hazards!

We had a venue.

On the match, there were strong performances from centres Stephen Hamilton (Abu Dhabi Saracens), Adam Wallace (Bahrain RFC), half back Ed Lewsey (Abu Dhabi Harlequins), and in the forwards Harry Seward and Graham Murphy (Abu Dhabi Harlequins). Tries were scored by centre Adam Wallace (Bahrain RFC), Winston Cowie (Abu Dhabi Saracens), Ed Lewsey (Abu Dhabi Harlequins), and Harry Seward (Abu Dhabi Harlequins).

Sam Wilson (Bahrain RFC) was named co-captain for the match with Adam Telford (Jebal Ali Dragons) – both have contributed a huge amount to Arabian Gulf rugby – and both were playing their last big matches. Adam, unfortunately had to fly back to Abu Dhabi as the match was postponed to find a suitable ground – so it was Sam Wilson who captained the side.

Sam Wilson, Bahrain RFC, was chosen as co-captain in his last match in the Arabian Gulf, bringing to a close a stellar 10 year contribution to Bahrain and Gulf rugby

Sam Wilson, Bahrain RFC, was chosen as co-captain in his last match in the Arabian Gulf, bringing to a close a stellar 10 year contribution to Bahrain and Gulf rugby

“It was a real honour to captain an Arabian Gulf side in my last match here – for me, having played against many of the guys from the clubs, in addition to having the national teams – the likes of the UAE and Qatar, its also awesome to have an Arabian Gulf side to do something charitable, play some rugby, and get to know those guys from the other clubs. It will be really good in the next year for all of these guys to now know each other when they play against each other. It’s an amazing rugby region – I’ve enjoyed my time here, and yeah, a real honour to play footy with these guys.”

The final score was 55-26 to Madagascar, the Conquistadors winning the second half 26-19.

Newspaper coverage – The National – Paul Radley

The goodwill mission was expertly covered by experienced journalist, The National newspaper’s Paul Radley.

Paul completed the below articles, and the following video which gives a real indication of the Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors Goodwill Mission 2016.

Videos

Team Dubai Sports City Training Camp Video. Click here.

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Seychelles and Madagascar Goodwill Mission Video. Click here.

Newspaper Articles

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors Rugby Mission to go ahead despite security concerns

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors Rugby Mission to go ahead despite security concerns

Mike Ballard

Mike Ballard

GoSports kind donation of rugby boots were gratefully received

GoSports kind donation of rugby boots were gratefully received

Finding an alternative pitch had its own hazards

Finding an alternative pitch had its own hazards

Practising the haka with the local children

Practising the haka with the local children

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors and the Madagascar National team

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors and the Madagascar National team

Sponsors

A massive massive thank you to all of the Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors sponsors who made this goodwill mission possible. We simply could not have done it without your kindness and generosity!

Air Seychelles Mike Ballard Foundation

Hill International Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors

Mcgettigens Mike Ballard Conquistadors

Kukri Mike Ballard Conquistadors

GoSport QBJ ok

Live Nation Middle East

Model

ALEC logo

King&Wood Mallesons

 

Malagasy Rugby

A massive thank you to Malagasy Rugby for hosting us and showing us around Madagascar – what an incredible country!

madagascar rugby union

Who could forget our boat trip across a lake full with crocodiles? And those lemurs….

Watch out for crocodiles.

Watch out for crocodiles.

 

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Many thanks to all sponsors, Malagasy rugby and the Arabian Gulf rugby community.

We all feel incredibly grateful to be a part of such a wonderful rugby community – the Arabian Gulf. Together we have achieved something pretty special.

Until next year.

There are plans in the pipeline…..#onwards

Winston Cowie