Clean air commitment
Mike and Marla Williams weren’t sure they’d return to New Zealand when they left Gisborne on an island-hopping voyage to Canada 40 years ago.
But return they did. Initially they lived in Auckland, where Michael trained as an audiologist and Marla worked as a doctor before they returned to Gisborne and raised a family.
Marla was a doctor in general practice at the Kaiti Medical Centre, worked for a time with ACC and — after completing a post-graduate diploma in palliative care through the University of Melbourne — became clinical manager of Hospice Tairawhiti.
Mike set up an audiology practice. It is now part of the Bay Audiology group but Mike sold his stake in the business 12 years ago.
Four years ago they moved to Papamoa to be closer to family, and now both do locum work in their professions. They retain close links with Gisborne through friends, a daughter and her family who have moved back, and their ownership of the block of shops on the south-west corner of Lytton Road and Potae Avenue.
With their background in health and wellbeing, Mike and Marla Williams wanted to make the shopping centre a welcoming place for non-smokers, and provide encouragement for people not to smoke
. . . at least in the environs of the shops and businesses. They decided to designate the shopping area smokefree.
They talked to Hauora Tairawhiti staff — who supplied the signs — and were told the smokefree status of the area could not be enforced.
“We are relying on community compliance and hope smokers will support the initiative for the health of the community,” Mike Williams said.
“New Zealand is supposed to be smokefree by 2025 . . . so this is just one step along the way and we’re relying on people buying into the idea.”
He had informed the businesses at Lytton West about the signs, and those who had got back to him had been “very supportive”.
“I hope smokers will use it as something to prompt them to not smoke when they are in the Lytton West area.
“I understand Kaiti Mall became smokefree a while back and that seems to have had good support from the community.”
In April 1981, The Gisborne Herald ran a front-page story on a young couple setting off on a planned year-long cruise through the Pacific Islands to their home in Canada.
Mike and Marla Williams had flown out to New Zealand two years before and come straight to Gisborne.
Marla was a house surgeon at Cook Hospital and Mike was a science teacher, initially relieving at Lytton High School and then teaching full-time at Gisborne Girls’ High.
As they prepared to set sail, Marla said it was not the sailing they were looking forward to, but the stops they planned to make in the islands.
“We are also looking forward to being together non-stop for a year and not working,” she had said.
“Even before we met we both had ambitions to do a long sailing journey. When we got married two and a half years ago it became a joint ambition.”
As soon as they arrived in Gisborne they started looking for a boat, and made many trips to Auckland. In August 1979 they bought a nine-metre yacht, Te Ora, and brought her down that Christmas.
While they were both “reasonably experienced sailors”, it was all coastal cruising – no “blue water” passages.
“I think we are pretty organised for our journey but lack of sleep, through having to keep watches, could be a problem,” Marla said.
“Only three or four months will be spent sailing, we hope. We plan to spend the rest of the time looking around the islands.”
They intended to sail from Gisborne to Auckland, on to the Bay of Islands, to the Austral Islands, the Society Islands and the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, on to Hawaii and then home to Victoria on Vancouver Island.
“We have really enjoyed our stay,” Marla said at the time.
“We may end up back in New Zealand some day.”
The reality turned out to be different from the dream. In the Bay of Islands they got to know some of the ocean sailing community. Many lived a life centred on their travels, and would pick up work where they could between voyages. Mike and Marla wanted eventually to put down roots and raise a family.
And while they had anticipated being together for a year, they found that on the water the situation was almost the opposite of what they expected. While one of them was on watch, the other would grab some sleep. Effectively they were alone on deck or below.
Mike said that halfway to Tahiti they decided this was not a lifestyle to which they were suited. They turned around and headed back to New Zealand.
They sold their boat Te Ora in the Bay of Islands, to an Auckland couple who had long dreamed of going on ocean voyages, and took them on a short familiarisation trip in the Bay of Islands. They don’t know whether they made any voyages.
Mike and Marla ended up going back to Canada after they sold their boat because their New Zealand work visas had run out.
“We were in Canada for two years and came back to Auckland in early 1984, obtained New Zealand citizenship in the mid-80s and have lived here ever since, apart from holiday trips to Canada,” Mike said.
He and Marla were friends of another Canadian couple at Cook Hospital — the husband a doctor, the wife an audiologist. Hearing about the wife’s work, Mike decided that was what he wanted to do, and he completed a two-year Master of Audiology course at the University of Auckland. His first placement was at Middlemore Hospital.
They moved to Gisborne in 1993 for Mike to establish the audiology department at Gisborne Hospital and to enjoy the Gisborne lifestlyle after their time in busy Auckland. Marla joined the Kaiti Medical Centre practice. Later, Mike set up his own audiology practice, Eastland Audiology.
In Gisborne, they raised two daughters, Joy and Gabrielle, and a son, Nathan.
Joy (Cairns) is now a clinical nurse specialist with Hospice Tairawhiti, while Gabrielle and Nathan both live and work overseas.
With a daughter and grandchildren in Gisborne, and their investment in the Lytton West shopping centre (which they bought in 2009), Mike and Marla Williams are frequent visitors from the Bay of Plenty. Indeed, they say it is possible that Gisborne will exert its pull on them a third time as their grandchildren grow.
Hauora Tairawhiti medical officer of health Dr Osman Mansoor says the designation of the Lytton West shopping centre as a smokefree area is a significant step towards a healthy future for its customers.
“Locally, we still have too many people smoking and too many people smoking close to young children and other non-smokers,” he said.
“Reducing exposure to secondhand smoke in the community is one way to really make a difference in preventing smoke-related illnesses and deaths.”
The expansion of smokefree outdoor public spaces was important in the protection of children and the promotion of healthy lifestyles, Dr Mansoor said.
“Most smokers are considerate of others and will not smoke in designated smokefree areas.
“By banning smoking in the shopping centre, store owners are denormalising smoking. Not allowing smoking in public spaces reduces exposure both to young people, who could be easily influenced, and ex-smokers.”
The more people who were exposed to smoking, the more normal it seemed to them, and it didn’t seem like the high-risk behaviour it was, Dr Mansoor said.
The sight of people smoking, and the smell of it, could trigger a relapse for ex-smokers. A reduction in the exposure to smoking, and the designation of places as smokefree helped support those going down the challenging path of becoming smokefree.
“For people considering becoming smokefree, local quit coaches are ready to help you,” Dr Mansoor said.
“They will give you advice and support to help you fight cravings and be successful