John Dukeson

Kua hinga te kauri i te wao nui a Tāne!

John Dukeson has left us: left his family, his friends, his Church, and his colleagues in Scouting and in Gang Show in particular. No-one could have wanted him to stay with us in the state of health he had come to; nevertheless there is a real sense of loss and grieving at his passing – especially at the relatively young age of only 72.

Others will note with greater eloquence his influence and love as a husband, father, and grandfather; in writing I want only to record my thoughts on his passing from among us who knew him primarily through the Gang Show: and in that I am not presuming to speak for the North Shore Gang who will undoubtedly pay their own tribute in their own way.

John was one of the last of those who connected us to the very beginnings of Gang Show in Auckland – and of course, had a rich Scouting life alongside all of that. It is this sense of connectedness and continuity that we shall miss, along with the many facets of his personality, talent, and enthusiasm given so freely in the service of the youth of Auckland over all the years since then.

Ironically, my first actual recollection of John is particularly apposite for his passing from us. In the Auckland Area Gang Show at His Majesty’s Theatre for that year (either 1965 or 1966, I can’t remember which) he sang a solo in a Ralph Reader song that – in these present inclusive days – would never now be performed. [NOTE: Reader was brought up by his family in a home which owed its adherence to the Salvation Army, and this influence is evident in quite a bit of his early writing.] The song John sang is The Happy Land, and I quote from it at length:

. . . all that you ever need to do
Is just what the Good Book tells you to:
If you follow in the footsteps of the Lord,
Then one day we shall find our reward!

We shall hear the call of the trumpets, sounding
Loudly the King’s command –
And for evermore on that golden shore
We shall be in the Happy Land!

We shall play our harps in the realms of glory
There in the heav’nly band
There will be no night in our robes of white
We shall be in the Happy Land!

There’ll be no sorrow, when we’re in that great array
We’ll sing Alleluia! Alleluia all the way . . .

We shall walk, walk, walk, where the green, green pastures
grow by the Master’s hand –
And we’ll sing our songs of praise
When we get to the Happy Land!

John is now walking those “green, green pastures”, and having the opportunity of meeting up with the members of his family and Scouting friends who have gone before to that “Happy Land”.

John was first and foremost, from a Gang Show point of view, a Les Maynard man. And after Les’s passing, a North Shore man. Although he lived on the south side of the harbour and his family and business were there, there is no doubt that – even while being a District Commissioner for Waitemata – he was still totally loyal to the North Shore Gang Show and its team. That’s not to say that he didn’t support us in Central – he did, and strongly encouraged his scouting team on this side of the harbour to become involved in the ACGS enterprise.

Later, of course, he joined our team as well alongside his North Shore commitment and became our Chorus Master, or Répétiteur if you like – a relatively difficult and somewhat thankless task in which you put in a lot of the hard yards and reap almost none of the glory! After some years in this rôle, he began to feel that perhaps the time he was spending was a bit much to manage, and so with some reluctance, he relinquished his post and once again directed his energies solely to the Shore. I think it was one of the specially poignant and marvellous achievements that his grandson was able to be in the most recent iteration of that Show in 2014.

John was, like many of us, one of the older school of discipline, and wasn’t given much to espousing the theory of the “purposeful buzz of conversation” so beloved of more recent educationalists to cover the fact that they simply can’t get their students to Be Quiet! Many a time his stentorian bark of “GANG!!” would ring out at rehearsals, just to remind the cast that there is such a thing as self control required in theatre!

There are no doubt many stories to be told – and that will be told in the coming years – of John and what he achieved and accomplished. It seems to me that his enduring legacy apart from his family, is that we have known a Good Man, a faithful man, a loyal man, a true Scout in the tradition of Baden-Powell: one who by his efforts and his influence has touched many lives for the better.

I was pleased to have found the attached picture of John doing what he loved best among us; directing the Chorus at the ACGS Camp in 2007. It is an enduring image I shall carry with me, and I share it with you as a tribute to a friend and a member of our Gang.


Ross Browne

Auckland Central Gang Show.