A farmer, the Governor-General and some apples. Just some of the exciting ingredients I have to thank for being here in Scotland and doing what I love.
As the ‘About’ page on this blog explains, I am here studying Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow on the William Georgetti Scholarship. The Georgetti committee have been extraordinary throughout this crazy journey, and recently I’ve had even more reasons that usual to thank God for their work. But more about that later. For now I felt it was time to give them the recognition they deserve and to explain a bit about how I’m able to be here. From here on out in my life, whatever I do and whoever I become, this scholarship will always be a part of what defines me.
So this is written to show my gratitude for all this fund does for me, and in response to those who’ve asked me over the last couple of years about what this scholarship with the not-very-NZ-sounding name is all about.
Like pretty much every scholarship ever, the William Georgetti is named after a deceased male benefactor, a farmer of that name. The story goes that Georgetti really wanted to become a doctor, but obeyed his father’s wishes and took over the family farm. He ended up owning huge tracts of land all over New Zealand and Australia, as well as shares in gold and timber. His philosophy was “whatever fluctuations there may be in prices for primary produce and in land values and whatever vicissitudes the said Dominion may pass through farming land will always be the most stable asset in which to invest money”.
Georgetti’s family were some of the first Pakeha (non-Maori) to settle in the Whanganui area. William was born there in 1867, one of nine kids. The family are said to have had a strong relationship with local iwi, though it was a time of high tension, and were central to the development of the region as we know it today. Georgetti Street in Whanganui stands as testament to that legacy. They owned Bastia Hill which was named after the town in Corsica where Georgetti Senior – Augustine – was born. When Augustine died, his estate was divided between his children which entered into New Zealand Legislation as the Georgetti Trust Estate Act.
Georgetti travelled all around the world with his wealth, but he never went too far from home, and ultimately settled at a farm in Hastings. Of course, I wouldn’t be representing New Zealand properly if my funding wasn’t at least partially covered by sheep. His farm was a sheep farm called ‘Crissoge’ and he stayed there with his wife Mary and his children Grace, Douglas and Joyce from 1918 until his death in 1943 at the age of 72.
In his will, the farmer’s son who wasn’t allowed to go to university instructed that his funds, property and subsequent investments be dedicated to a perpetual scholarship so young New Zealanders might be able to pursue their studies. I always thought it was a really sweet story.
The Georgetti website states:
“In keeping with Mr Georgetti’s wishes, the trust still holds all 125.5 ha of Crissoge and it is currently leased as eight orchards. Rental income from the orchards, along with other investments, fund the William Georgetti Scholarship.”
And that’s where the apples come in. 5 years ago Australia lifted a ban on New Zealand apples that had stood since Georgetti’s youth. I like to think that decision has resulted in some benefits to students like myself since then.
Georgetti’s hope was “that the best brains available shall receive the benefit of this trust”. That and the fluctuating price of apples (and all the other investments) means that a different number of scholars receive the prize every year – or none as the case may be. And that’s why the success of apples are part of this story.
The funds are held in public trust and administered by Universities New Zealand – Te Pokai Tara. and that’s where the final ingredient comes in…
The Governor General
It’s kind of surprising how many Brits don’t know about Governors General. I suppose it makes sense because the Queen doesn’t need someone to represent her in her own homeland. But out on the edge of Empire, we need someone to do it for her. The Governor General of New Zealand at present is Sir Jerry Mateparae who, as luck would have it, was born in Whanganui, the same town the Georgetti family were so instrumental in developing during the 19th century. He’s the chief of the New Zealand Army which he’s been part of since 1972. The Prime Minister, Chief Justice and head of Federated Farmers also get to choose representatives to make up the slightly intimidating panel that interviews us at Government House.
The scholarship panel has to decide on some wonderfully phrased criteria which remind us that it was created by a guy from the 1800s. There’s “good moral character and repute” which is pretty Dickensian sounding, but my personal favourite is “of good health certified by a physician of repute”. Repute was clearly a big deal to our farmer, and we should definitely start using that word more often. Fortunately, they don’t bring a physician of repute to examine you at the interview, that would definitely increase the intimidation factor!
Above and Beyond
So the primary reason I’m writing this today is by way of thanks to Jon Winnall of Universities New Zealand and the rest of the William Georgetti Trust. Not just the scholarship in the first place – though what it means to me can never be overstated – but for what they’ve done since then.
It’s fair to say there’s been some troubleshooting. It’s partially the hazard of a scholarship that doesn’t bind you to a particular university. It means the Trust pays me and then I pay the university, but that can lead to some very confusing situations, especially when you stubbornly stick to to the southern hemisphere start dates in a northern hemisphere university.
Problem 1: The Timing
I decided to start in January when things kick of in the southern hemisphere because my Masters was finished in December. This was fine to start with, then the university started demanding payment for my second year in October of my first – 2 months before my 2nd scholarship payment was due. No amount of appeal to various desks made any difference
Solution: Jon got the committee together and after a month of trying to teach Britain how hemispheres work, within 24 hours they had changed my scholarship dates and sent the money through and I did not get kicked out or deported.
Problem 2: The fees
Not long after that the university started telling me I owed them an extra £3250. That’s a third of my income to put that into perspective. The reason I thought my fees were lower comes back to our old friend the January start. I had been charged only 8 months worth the first year, and now had to pay a 12 month sum no one had ever quoted to me. I appealed twice but no good. So I got a job at Policy Scotland and informed the committee in my bi-annual report in order to justify employment. We settled in for a tighter year.
Solution: Completely out of the blue, about a month after my report, I received an email from Jon telling me casually that the committee had decided I shouldn’t have to work, and were going to give me an extra NZ$6,000 a year to cover the difference. And just like that, literally overnight, all our money stresses went away. Given I was already receiving the maximum funds available, this really was totally unexpected, not to mention extraordinarily generous.
Sometimes I have no idea what possessed me to start a PhD. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done and sometimes the end goal seems completely impossible. But most of the time I feel incredibly lucky. A group of strangers, in the name of a long-deceased farmer from a part of the country I’ve never seen, have made it possible for me to come to the other side of the planet and read and write about the things I’m most interested in for three whole years. To grow and learn, to meet new people and travel all over the world, to hopefully produce a book and contribute something to literary academia. What makes it even more impressive is that I’m an arts student. These kinds of scholarships have traditionally favoured law or medicine students (and men of course) but in terms of New Zealand’s international scholarships anyway that’s all changing.
Of course I believe that the arts are of crucial import and well-worth funding, but it’s harder to prove that than if you’re pursuing a more traditionally prestigious course of study. So it’s brave to invest so much into a Scottish Literature PhD – especially when the criteria include that the scholar must produce work “important to the social, cultural or economic development of New Zealand”. But even more than I expected, this experience has already taught me nearly as much about the culture, literature and politics of New Zealand as they have about Scotland. In many ways I don’t think you really know about the nation you come from until you leave it. Literature and poetry help us figure out who we are and where we come from, but they also make up a big part of what these things are in the first place.
The faith the committee have shown in me is a daily motivation for me to do what I came here to do and as much besides as I can handle. The work of people like Jon and his colleagues is acknowledged surprisingly rarely, perhaps because higher education and the arts are often seen as a ‘luxury’ and experience cuts first and most brutally in times of austerity, when they should be viewed as a right, alongside freedom of speech, free healthcare and the right to vote. But without the desire and ‘luxury’ of exploration, we’d have no doctors, no technology, nothing to read, watch or listen to besides what was necessary, and then we wouldn’t be humans as we understand it.
So here’s to the farmer, the Gov-Gen and the apples!