My name is Tere Akava, and I was born in Atiu on 16th July 1956.
In my earliest years, I attended St Anthony School in Atiu from 1960 – 1969. I then attended Junior High School (known today as Enuamanu School) from 1970 – 1972. I was raised in Atiu by my grandparents.
In 1972, I attended the school careers expo on Rarotonga. About fifteen of us travelled by ship to Rarotonga, from Atiu. That was not my first time travelling to Rarotonga by ship, but this time was special because I was with school friends, and we were going to look at possible careers in Rarotonga. The trip was exciting and, at the same time, a little scary because we did not know what was ahead.
During that visit to Rarotonga, I was very interested in the role of motor mechanics at the Public Works Department (now known as Infrastructure Cook Islands – ICI) in Arorangi. On that trip, I also visited the EPS (Electric Power Supply) Power Station (now known as Te Aponga Uira – TAU) in Tutakimoa. My preference was motor mechanics. I liked using tools and fixing things, and I did not mind getting a little dirty.
After returning to Atiu, I returned to Rarotonga to be a motor mechanics apprentice at Public Works. I told my grandparents about my dream, and we discussed what this meant. They knew they were saying goodbye to me for good. I was sad, and I was also excited that I would be working on Rarotonga. I booked my seat on the next ship out of Atiu with the shipping agent.
In October 1972, I said my final goodbye to my grandparents and travelled to Rarotonga carrying a small suitcase. I did not know when I would return to Atiu again. All I knew was that I wanted to be a motor mechanic, and I had to succeed. I arrived in Rarotonga and saw my parents, who were already living in Takuvaine. I chose to stay with my Aunty in Tutakimoa.
The Rarotonga environment in 1972 was very different from Atiu. Rarotonga had many cars, bikes, trucks, buggies and bicycles on the road. Saturday was a hectic day in Avarua. People you would not see during the week were in Avarua on Saturday mornings selling and buying goods. There were also a lot of people on Rarotonga. There were also plenty of Papa’a people working in different places. People that worked in offices looked very smart. They wore high socks, shoes and well-pressed shorts and shirts.
When I visited Rarotonga earlier, I did not notice these things, but when I started living here, I noticed how busy Rarotonga was and the different classes of people. As a young Atiuan warrior, this place full of opportunities was heaven.
After settling on Rarotonga at my Aunty’s home, I started casual work on the Avarua docks, loading and unloading cargo. I worked for the Union Steamship Company. When there was a ship, there was work. The ship I worked on was the Moanaroa. This was the Rarotonga/ Auckland/ Rarotonga ship.
During this time, I saw many families leave Rarotonga with a dream of working in New Zealand. I heard the stories on the dock from these people leaving. They were going to get $500.00 a week working in the factories in New Zealand. That kind of information captured my attention as a young person, but I still wanted to stay and work on Rarotonga. Many Pa Enua and Rarotonga families left Rarotonga, and I have not seen these people return since.
In early 1973 and after a few months of working on the ship, I spoke with my aunty about getting a real job (full time) and working at the Public Works. The issue of transportation to Arorangi every day came up. The truth is, we had no transport, and though this saddened me, I understood the hardship and the fact that I had to find something else. I had to find work at a place nearby.
I remembered the EPS Power Station in Tutakimoa. I decided to start writing a letter to apply to work at EPS. It took me a few days to write my letter, but when I finished it, I put it in an envelope, dressed up nicely and walked up to the EPS Power Station. The EPS administration office was then located in the Network fleet parking area at the TAU main office in Tutakimoa. I walked in, handed my letter to the front counter, and left. I was confident that I would get a job, so I did not apply to other places for work. I continued working at the Avarua docks.
One long week had passed before a person from the EPS administration came to see me at my Aunty’s home. He told me that my application was successful and that I would start work at the EPS in the coming week. I was very excited about this news, and so was my Aunty. I began work in January 1973, the start of my career in the power industry in Rarotonga.
My first day at work was exciting; I was shown around the Power station and was told about the different divisions. There was the Electrical division, the Lines division, the Mechanical division and Operators division and the Administration division. I thought about this carefully and asked if I could work in the Electrical division. I was told that they were full at the time. I then started in the Lines division.
The boss of EPS at the time was known as the “Acting Officer”, and later this role became known as the Secretary. The Acting Officer was Mr Baxter Hunter. He was married to a local lady from the Tavioni family in Avatiu.
The other workers I remember were Chairman Mata Nooroa, Fred Story Jnr, Papa Ta Ngatoko (Foreman), Kati Aerenga, Ru Teauarai, and Tomo Tearea, the administrator. I think about 60 people were working for EPS at the time. I was one of the youngest staff members.
I worked on erecting power poles and putting up the lines in the Lines division. I also dug trenches. No digger back then. Everything was “manpower”. I was using a pick and shovel every day. It was very dangerous to erect a concrete power pole because this was done using a “jack and pulley” system. It was all manual and very risky. When we went out on the truck, we went out for the whole day. About 6-8 of us were on the back of the truck with all the gears.
I was earning $00.30/ hr when I started working. After-tax, I would get about $13.00 a week. That was a lot of money back then. It was much more than I was making at the shipping yard. I was not drinking at the time, but I was learning these bad habits from the workers. I spent one year in the Lines division. This team later became known as the Network division.
In 1974, I joined the Electrical division. The foreman in the Electrical division was Tom Harrison (Line engineer). Other workers were Bob Matters (Electrical overseer). Many locals worked for EPS. Many were from the Pa Enua. At the time, about 6 generators were running in EPS, and I was a part of the team maintaining them.
At the time, the Tutakimoa Power station surrounding environment was filled with orange plots. There were not that many houses in Tutakimoa. I only remember the Catholic Church, and that was it. The noise from the generator was not a big problem for anyone at the time.
As people started to move into the Tutakimoa area, finding a new location for the Power Station began.
These sites that were identified as potential locations;
· The old Government laundry in Panama, where the Islander Hotel is located now. This was close to the sea. Sea water would be used to cool the engines down because the water was an issue in many areas;
· The Blackrock quarry in Arorangi. This is in Tuoro, where the new construction is happening now; and
· Avatiu Valley at the current Power Station site.
The Power Station needed to be close to a water source. It did not matter if it was seawater or fresh water. With the opening of the Rarotonga International Airport in 1974, tourism was going to grow, and it was essential to have a bigger power station to cater for the Airport’s needs and tourism growth. I recall that Papa Arapati Henry was our leader then; this was his plan for the Cook Islands.
The power station in Avatiu valley started its construction with clearing and landscaping in 1974. That place was a hill, and there was no flat land. That was a big operation of the Government. Much of the machinery used at the Airport construction site was moved to the Power station site in Avatiu valley to clear the area. The construction works were done by a New Zealand team called “Colson Construction.”
At this time, new engines were also arriving from Manapori Power Station in New Zealand by ship. These engines would be transported straight to Avatiu Valley. They were twice the size of our engines at the time. The EPS team were running the Tutakimoa Power Station and also installing new engines at the new Avatiu Valley Power Station. These were huge jobs, and many engineers were coming from New Zealand.
There were also people that worked on the Airport construction that moved to the works at Avatiu Valley. These were people like Ross Hunter, Des Eggleton and Gordon Murray. Many of them were in construction at the Airport and stayed on to do other works on Rarotonga.
The Power Station building in Avatiu Valley was up in 1975. Before they put the roof on, we installed the crane. The crane will lift and move the engines into place. This was a massive job, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.
In January 1976, I went to the Solomon Islands to start my apprenticeship studies. There were three of us that went. Tua Rapoto and I could not recall the third person’s name, but he was a mechanic apprentice. There were also people from the Survey department that attended the training.
In the first year at Solomon’s, we had to pass mathematics, theory, regulations and science. If we failed, we had to leave the program. I passed, but I found it very hard because I learned about the metric system (cm/ metres) in Solomon’s for the first time. Before that, I only knew the imperial system (feet/ inches). When there was a break, I travelled back to Rarotonga to work.
When I returned in December 1977, the first engines at Avatiu Power Station were running. The engines at the Tutakimoa Power Station were also running.
Towards the end of 1977, I was sent to Atiu to help set up the Atiu Power station and the reticulation (network) of the whole Island. I was in Atiu from January to early September 1978. I saw that Power Station come up.
After Atiu, I travelled to Mauke to manage the station as the Mauke station Manager (Hon. Tai Tura) had to travel overseas to study. I was in Mauke from late September 1978 to January 1979.
In January 1979, I was back in the Solomon Islands for my final year of study. In July 1979, I completed my study and became a certified Electrical tradesperson. From 1980 to 1982, I continued to study via correspondence.
In 1984, I moved up to the Power Station permanently. I was now stationed at this site and have been there since.
Over the years, I also studied at Waikato Technical Institute and did my lab test there. I also have studied in Suva and Lautoka at the Fiji Electrical Authority. I have travelled to many learning and development places, including Japan, New Zealand and Australia. I have also attended several Pacific Power Association (PPA) conferences in Samoa, Tonga and other learning opportunities in American Samoa. Through this work, I have also travelled throughout the Pa Enua.
I have enjoyed working for EPS and now TAU. I have learned a lot, and I have given a lot. This has been my life work. On the 16th of July 2022, I turned 66 years old. I started at EPS when I was 17 years old. I have given 49 years of service to the power industry of the Cook Islands. I am happy to retire, knowing I gave it my best.