"From palm trees to city lights". George Upu tutors the "Tawa Go Go Nuts" Cook Island group who meet at the Tawa Community Centre late every Friday afternoon. They practise music and dance, and learn something of their cultural heritage. He also does a whole lot more than that, as you'll see below ...
Where were you born, George?
Aitutaki, Cook Islands (one atoll of the 15 that make up the Cooks).
Where did you grow up?
The Cook Islands till age 10. I then came to Porirua, New Zealand, without any knowledge of the English language. "From palm trees to city lights and cold weather meant quite a culture shock!"
What college did you go to?
Porirua College. After that I did a lot of travelling including Australia, the Pacific, Japan and Europe. I was overseas for a total of 6 years involved in drumming, performing arts, singing and dancing.
What is your your line of work?
Probation supervisor at Lower Hutt. I also have my own music studio and produce music and education resources for learning media. I lived in Aussie for many years and worked in performing arts in theatre restaurants and cruise boats.
What about family?
Married to Tapa with 4 sons.
What are your interests/hobbies?
Number 1 interest is food. "Anything to do with food, I'm there!" I play lots of sports including touch. Music of course, and developing the cultural identity lost by NZ-born Cook Islanders. I was a fill-in music teacher for two terms at Brandon Intermediate, and I did the drumming for the cannibal scene in the King Kong movie.
How long have you lived in Tawa?
Nearly 3 years.
What do you think is great about Tawa?
The people - "I like the people here." We moved here for a good education for my kids, and for a change of scenery. It's a great place for opportunities.
What, if anything, would improve Tawa?
Maybe to have a community sports day or some big Tawa event, like the 'Open Day' at the Tawa Community Centre.
What is your favourite dessert?
Favourite sports team(s)?
Canterbury Bulldogs and Queensland.
Favourite style of music?
Today my favourite is gospel/island music. I like classical music. I'm also into instrumental guitars and George Benson.
Favourite holiday destination in New Zealand?
Splash Planet at Hastings. "It's great for kids and even parents can have fun."
"Think smart, work smart!"
If you could meet any two people (alive or dead), who would they be?
The Wright brothers. I would ask them, "What made you want to fly?"
What three things would you take with you if you were stuck on a desert island?
A machete, a lighter, goggles/snorkel/flippers.
What is one talent you would like that you do not have?
I always wanted to be a pilot. Planes fascinate me.
What is one talent you have that you could not do without?
The ability to be a mentor and an encourager. My strength is with juveniles and kids with problems, using my music. I love helping terrible kids.
What is one accomplishment/achievement in your life that gives you much satisfaction/pride?
That I gave up my worldly life and turned to God. I "had it all" but there was something missing in my life. My life became complete 11 years ago.
What is something you would like to do before you die?
To raise up the next generation of great leaders and to leave a heritage for my children and the kids I work with.
Compiled August 2009