Substituting Balls and Boots for Bullets

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Anton Oliver.

Report by NewsroomPlus.com – Contributed by Rupeni Vatubuli, NewsRoom_Plus

The just-opened Balls, Bullets and Boots exhibition in Palmerston North is all about telling the stories of fifteen individuals with rugby connections who served in the First World War.

For that you need someone in the role of a story teller. Preferably, if possible, an All Black – but who?

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Anton Oliver in his playing days

Stepping up to the mark is London-based Anton Oliver who, when asked, didn’t hesitate to lend his voice to the interactive multimedia aspect to the exhibition as its ‘virtual guide’.

Oliver, a former All Blacks captain as was his father Frank, has a track record as a guest narrator, having toured with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra to narrate the classic tale ‘Peter and the Wolf’ in 2013.

When NewsRoom_Plus spoke with Anton it didn’t take long to sense his motivation for taking part in a project that opens up another angle on memories and stories attached to the WW100 commemoration.

As for so many All Blacks before and since his own time in the jersey, Anton holds Dave Gallaher, captain of the 1905 ‘Originals’ rugby team, in special regard.

Not being one for hiding his emotions, you can hear the lump in Anton’s throat when he mentions Gallaher. An Irish-born New Zealander, Gallaher enlisted for service in the First World War after a younger brother was killed in action. He was 43 when he was shot in the face during the attack on Gravenstafel Spur, Belgium on 4 October 1917 and died later that day – one of the 966 fatalities in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in that one month alone.

Family connections to that era include the loss of a great Uncle who died at the battle of the Somme, and that both of his grandfathers enlisted for service.

In a Crowd Goes Wild interview about the exhibition with another All Black, Josh Kronfeld, Anton said he has found himself “bawling my eyes out” when visiting battle sites such as Passchendaele.

In another promotional appearance for the exhibition, this time on TVNZ’s Breakfast, Anton reflected on the “huge amount of power in telling people’s stories”.

“The overarching war machine has a different rhetoric (but these men) came back damaged and changed”.

Oliver – who turns 40 on 9 September – survived and thrived in the All Black jersey for 13 years. Looking back on that lengthy rugby playing career – from his early days about which he still jokingly refers to himself as “an uncultured, monoysllabic, Shrek hobbit” – he reckons it took him a 3 full years to feel at ease.

That recollection of lengthy service in the cause of sport, and the fact that the  Balls, Bullets and Boots exhibition will be going on tour for at least three years after closing in Palmerston North on Armistice Day this year, 11 November 2015, are other points of resonance for Anton’s involvement.

History is something he told NewsRoom_Plus is important to everyone, also sharing the view that history should remain compulsory in the school curriculum in order to give all students a sense of identity.

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Pictured above at the exhibition opening at Palmerston North’s Te Manawa cultural centre are Manawatu Mayor Margaret Kouvelis, Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith and that doyen of sports historians and commentators Keith Quinn.

Links: 

  • Go to www.ww1rugby.nz for more information on the exhibition, where you get to ‘meet’ a woman coach, three pre-war All Blacks and three post-war All Blacks, a schoolboy rugby player-cum-soldier and a rugby-mad military defaulter, rugby players who served in the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and NZ Tunnelling Company, three NZ Maori players and a highly decorated VC winner who had a stellar pre-war provincial rugby career.
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  • Like the Rugby Museum Facebook page here: NewZealandRugbyMuseum

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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