At the expiration of the year our group of about 20 AFS students was to return to New Zealand by flying from Los Angeles to Hawai’i and joining our good friend the P&O liner, the ‘Oronsay ’, from there to New Zealand.  We arrived in Los Angeles in the late afternoon, with about six hours to fill before our aircraft was due to leave.  How were we to fill in the time?  The near-unanimous view was that we should try to hire a sightseeing bus.  But Brenton Bradly and myself, intrepid Wanganui Collegiate School boys, announced that we would head for Beverly Hills with a view to introducing ourselves to Elizabeth Taylor. 

We set off along an enormous freeway.  It occurred to me that no-one would have walked there before.  There were very few cars.  Suddenly one stopped.  It was driven by a handsome man in his late thirties.  His passenger was a beautifully groomed lady of about the same age.  ‘What are you guys doing out here,’ asked the driver. ‘ We are off to see Elizabeth Taylor,’ we replied.  This caused the couple to shout with laughter.  ‘No show,’ said the driver.  ‘We are going out to dinner.  Would you like to join us?  And take in Beverly Hills?’  Would we what!

So, we drove around Beverly Hills , which was a good deal further from Los Angeles than we supposed.  I marvelled at the size of the homes and the beauty of the gardens.  Then as the daylight was waning we cruised into a smart-looking restaurant.  ‘Our favourite,’ said our host.  His name and that of his companion I cannot remember.  I do remember the menu, the like of which for splendour I had never seen.  Our host guided us to the courses he thought would be best for hungry young men.  Discretion.  That is what I still remember about the waiters and the diners.

We were offered sake in very small glasses. Our host kept them full while our hostess kept up an interesting conversation.   Euphoria descended upon me.  It was just so lovely to be there and to have the time pass so pleasantly.  But suddenly I remembered the plane.  I realised we had tarried even though in those days I did not wear a watch.  Our host checked the time.  The bonhomie fell away.  ‘Run out to the car, quickly’, he snapped.  And to our startled waiter, ‘I’ve no time to pay the bill.  Put it on my account.’  That sinking feeling invaded my body at the thought of missing our flight.

Our tyres squealed as we left the car park.  Once straightened up, like an aircraft on the  runway, our host gave the car its head, and  three hundred horsepower beneath the bonnet of the Plymouth Fury sent us flying down the great freeway.  What exhilaration.  The rush of  the wind, the roar of the engine, the sheer speed.  The sinking feeling fell away.  But alas.  As we reached the entrance to the airport two burly policemen were ready for us.  They almost hauled us from the car.  They marched us to a small windowless room furnished only with four cheap chairs… . 

We arrived at Honolulu airport at dawn.  Our friends were there, huddled round the disembarking steps.  They were cold.  They were both relieved and exasperated. For myself I felt both proud and chastened.


 I left small town Ohakune, small country New Zealand in 1959 to spend a year in California USA – at that time the most desirable state in the most desirable country on earth – The United States of America. It was where they made the movies we grew up on and the home of Rock’n’roll. 

After a splendid 3-week ship voyage through the Panama Canal we arrived in Miami and I’ll never forget seeing hundreds of new Chevrolet Impalas on the wharf – more cars than I’d ever seen before in my life. I then boarded the 1st aeroplane ride of my life to California, landing in San Francisco in an August rainstorm. 

My new family picked me up from the airport and we left San Francisco on a 3 lane each way highway and drove toward Dixon where I was to spend my high school year. Soon we were on a 2-lane highway, then it was 1 lane each way, then a single lane, then a farm track where shortly we encountered Mexican farm hands stuck in a flooded normally dry creek bed. I was definitely not going to Hollywood.  

Well, eventually we got to the farmhouse, past aged farm buildings and entered the ranch house where I was to spend an incredibly happy and rewarding 10 months of my life.

My American parents were well-educated people – Smith College and Stanford – and their home library was sufficient for me to do Stage 1 English by correspondence from Victoria had I ever gotten around to it.

Dixon High School was small town agricultural California, which was, and still is one of the USA’s most productive farming states. People were incredibly kind and welcoming to me. The U.S at that time was reasonably egalitarian and very prosperous with a can-do attitude, a sizable middle class and Republicans and Democrats mixed freely. 

My family consisted of Arley, Peter and Susan and my U.S parents Olin and June Timm. I formed a very close bond with June during the year and we corresponded on an almost weekly basis on a range of subjects for the next 10 years after I came back to NZ, and then less frequently until her death in 1980. My AFS sisters and brother have all visited Peggy and I several times, as have 70 other high school friends and family associates I met in California. I’ve been back many times both singly and with my family as have our children and grandchildren.

It has been bloody marvellous.

I would like to record my undying gratitude to those AFS volunteers who have kept this life changing opportunity open to many NZ teenagers.  For me it gave me self-confidence, it meant I went to university which I would not otherwise have done. In business it taught me the value of scale and ambition. It taught me the value of family and maintaining friendships and Peggy and I are looking forward to a visit soon from George Vogal and Kathy Well, 2 classmates from Dixon High School 63 years ago. That is what AFS has done for me, our daughter Jenny (Brazil 1991) and granddaughter Juliet (currently in Argentina).

Thank you, thank you, thank you.