Yesterday may have marked the end of twenty-three years of full-time employment at the Daily Post, but it’s hardly the end of the road for one of Vanuatu’s most revered journalists.
Most days, it seems like nothing can stop Len Garae.
Asked how long he intended to continue reporting, Len smiled and replied, “As long as your five senses are still working, you can work…. I’ll be reporting to the bitter end.”
Len joined the Daily Post full-time in 1995 (though he’d been freelancing for us a couple of years prior). His employment pretty much marked the day that this newspaper—still primarily a buy-and-sell publication at that time—began to transform into the media institution it is today.
Len has been with us literally every step of the way. And in the early days, the paper made its reputation by merit of his trailblazing work.
Asked to recall his first front-page story, Len pauses. That’s understandable, because he’s not only one of the longest-serving journos in the country, he’s also the most prolific. It’s easy to be sure about that, because nobody else even comes close. In the past four years alone, he’s published nearly 3,000 articles. Over 400 of them ran on the front page.
And that’s not counting the fact that he’s been a regular contributor to Radio New Zealand for the entire time.
Okay, so what was the first front page he remembers? “It had to do with a motion of no confidence”.
Like Len, some things seem destined to endure.
Reporting is so much in his blood that on Wednesday last week, as Arthur Knight sang an emotional tribute to him at his own farewell party, Len was busy photographing and taking video. Yes, he covered his own farewell party.
His sense of public service extends even to the smallest things. Asked what advice he had for the next person to occupy his chair in the Daily Post newsroom, he said, “Be the first to arrive every day. Check the office and make sure everything’s where it should be. If someone needs a paper and the other staff haven’t arrived, serve them.”
Where did this work ethic emerge from? “My father,” says Len. Len’s father, he said, always repeated four words in the language of Ambae that translate to: ‘be humble, be honest, be respectful, and stand by the truth’.
He did it so much that Garae Senior drove his son to distraction. One time, Len recounts, he lost his patience and told his father, ‘You’ve been telling me this every day since I was a boy. I’m married now. I have children of my own. When are you going to stop saying it?’
Len’s eyes glint as he tells how his father responded. He’d stop when he took his last breath.
Does Len say the same thing to his children and grandchildren, we ask?
Are they tired of hearing it, too?
“Yes.” He laughs.
So where to next for this unstoppable one-man institution? Ambae, for starters. Len has long been concerned about the plight of his fellow islanders, and the trials they’ve lived through with the recent evacuations.
He—assisted by the Daily Post—is seeking funding to conduct a series of feature-length pieces on the exodus and the return, which has already begun. This is an historic event in the history of the island. It is without precedent, too. There is no evidence of the island ever undergoing a complete depopulation in the past.
But given the current state of climate change, and the developed world’s evident unwillingness to take meaningful action, understanding the challenges faced by the people of Ambae may become an important survival tool to others.
It would surprise no one if a book came out of it, too.
Losing Len’s daily presence in our newsroom will be a tough blow. He’s been there, rain or shine, for longer than anyone else.
Happily, he’s promised to help out with a soon-to-be-announced Daily Post cadetship programme designed to ensure that this institution continues to build on the massive foundation laid by Len, the recently departed Jonas Cullwick, Godwin Ligo, and countless other veterans who have made this newspaper the hallmark of truth and fairness for decades now.
We’re all relieved to say it’s not goodbye, Len. But it is the right time to say how deeply, deeply grateful we are for your contribution.
Your humility, honesty, respectfulness, and your steadfast defence of the truth have set an example that will endure.
You haven’t just forged a better newsroom. You’ve helped us forge a better country.
With admiration and respect from all of us at Trading Post Ltd.