Count Von Luckner centenary

05 November 2017



 Earlier this year, Motuihe Trustee Simon Sheen proposed that the Trust organise a commemoration of the 100 year escape by Count Felix von Luckner from the Motuihe Island WW1 German and Austrian nationals internment camp where they were held as ‘enemy aliens’.    Von Luckner is one of the most controversial figures in the 20th century Pacific history.  Gentlemanly, charismatic, daring, audacious are among the characteristics he was known for.

 The internment camp housed the “better class” internees, including the German and Austrian Consuls and German businessmen.  The commander of the German raider Seeadler, Count Felix von Luckner, and his navigation officer Kircheiss, were interned on Motuihe after their capture in Fiji in 1917.  On the evening of 17 December 1917, von Luckner and Kircheiss escaped from Motuihe with nine others, including five of the cadets and a Telefunken engineer, who lived in tents and huts near the trees behind the barracks building.

 Simon along with Fiona Alexander took up the challenge to arrange this event.   At the same time the Trustees agreed to update the pvc display panels which have been of great interest to island visitors since 2005.   Hazel Hodgkin, Julie Thompson and Lois Badham worked through the old panels that could be used and producing new panels with updated information.  This highlighted the immense progress that Motuihe Project has undergone since the panels were initially produced back at Saddleback translocation days.  Special thanks to Louise Cotterall for her wonderful creative work on formatting the panels under huge time pressures.  The information now displayed is a credit to all the volunteers who have participated since the Trust was founded by Ronnie Harrison. 400,000+ native trees propagated and planted, many bird and gecko translocations including Kiwi and Tuatara are now transforming this little island of paradise into a gem in the Hauraki Gulf.

 The event set-up crew were speedily transported to Motuihe on the day prior to the event by the Department of Conservation vessel Taikehu.   While the weather started kindly, it deteriorated to heavy downpours but nevertheless Fiona had picked a hardy crew who took it all in their stride and did an absolute sterling job.  On arrival at the island, after the obligatory cuppa and briefing, the crew split up and went about transporting all the required equipment down to the kiosk area.  Welcome banners with German and New Zealand flags, marquees provided by Pakuranga College and Department of Conservation all installed, cleaning and setup of the kiosk, registration, bbq and drinks setup - thanks to Fiona’s amazing job list nothing was overlooked.  The crew were pleased to have the support and company of Zane Goodwin, the new DOC Ranger for Motuihe who made sure mown tracks from each station (even in the rain) were prepared for the event visitors.    By late afternoon all the equipment setup that could be done was completed and the group joined together along with Zane in a great evening meal. 

 Early morning showed vastly improved weather and final preparations were completed in readiness for the ferry arrival.  Visitors were divided into six groups and after short welcoming speeches by MC Simon Sheen, Zane Goodwin (DOC Ranger), John Laurence (Trust Chairman) and Dave Veart, visitors moved to the six stations with their respective stationmaster speakers and accompanying guides.  Each speaker covered different topics of the von Luckner history – preparations for the escape, recapture, von Luckner background and career, capture in Fiji, legacy, internment camp life, vessel Seeadler.  Special thanks to each of the stationmaster speakers – Fiona Alexander, Judit MacPherson, Peter Whitmore, Michael Wood, David Bade, Dave Veart for exceptionally interesting talks.  Among the visitors to the island was an ex Navy Cadet who had undertaken his NZ naval training on Motuihe and another visitor who as a young lad had gone to von Luckner’s home in Germany, waited outside the house until von Luckner had come out and joined the Navy as a result of this meeting.

BBQ, beverages and ice creams were available to all after the completion of the historical tour.  After a short lunch break or a wee snooze in the sun, visitors were offered a guided restoration tour which included the island plant nursery.  It provided a great opportunity to view the changing landscape of Motuihe and listen to the increasing birdsong. 

 Packdown of BBQs, marquees and equipment went smoothly and quickly which enabled the volunteer crew to depart earlier than anticipated.

 We extend our appreciation to Auckland Department of Conservation, Ranger Zane Goodwin for their support and to Gary Ardern for his transportation of event volunteers.  A huge vote of thanks to all volunteers who assisted in the many areas required to make this event such a success.  It was a wonderful team effort.

 Fiona & Simon – Thank you to you both for your enthusiasm, leadership and organisation.   The event was a credit to you both.
Lois Badham