By RNZAF WO (Rtd) Noel "Budgie" Baigent
That's me handing over the RNZAF Logistics 'Cane of Knowledge' to W/O Brian Lay just before my retirement. Brian now holds the mantle as the senior Logistics Warrant Officer in the RNZAF. The handover ceremony was held in the Whenuapai W/O & SNCO's Mess during the Air Movements Annual Conference in October 2011.
The cane is a symbolic representation of the Supply Trades ‘font of knowledge and wisdom’ and is held by the most senior serving RNZAF Supply Warrant Officer. It was first presented in 1987 by the late W/O Brian Madden. In the 70s and 80s W/O Madden was known as ‘The Godfather’ and he was held in very high esteem not only by his peers but also by RNZAF Senior management.
Back then, among his other duties, W/O Madden was responsible for allocating and recording the movement of RNZAF aircraft in a purposely designed register, the first entry dated 1934! This historical living document was fiercely guarded by W/O Madden and it rarely left his office.
The origin and fate of every aircraft ever flown by the RNZAF, from Vilderbeeste to B757, is recorded in this register including the original purchase date, the movement between Squadron(s) and major repair depots, war time service, serious crashes, subsequent repair or write-off action and the aircrafts’ ultimate disposal or sale. The original document is now held in climate controlled storage at the RNZAF Museum whilst the working copy resides in DAE Wellington.
At W/O Madden’s retirement dinner at RNZAF Shelly Bay in April 1987, the Cane of Knowledge was produced and offered as a ‘gift’ to the Senior W/O serving in the RNZAF Supply trade. He then presented the cane to W/O Eddie McConnell and stated it was now his [Eddie’s] responsibility to retain the tradition by passing the cane to the next senior W/O upon his retirement, and so on.
I actually worked with W/O Madden in the Defence Building (ACDS SUP) which was located in Bunny St Wellington on the site that is now the Wilson’s car park, adjacent to the Waterloo Backpackers (then known as the Waterloo Hotel, a favourite watering hole at the time).
We are not sure where the cane was carved but it may have been in Wellington because that’s where W/O Madden spent his last years in the RNZAF. W/O Madden passed away before I had a chance to determine the origin of the cane so I’ve been working with ex RNZAF Supply ‘elders’ and Kaumatua in an attempt to identify the significance of the distinctive carvings on the cane.
So far, it appears the two headed handle or ‘manaia’ could signify a bird (representing Air Force) looking into the past and toward the future. The shaft, probably constructed from the trunk or root of a tree, represents genealogy. The carving on the upper shaft could represent ripples on the water or the beginning of life. The carving on the lower shaft shows the strength, stability and ‘mana’ of the Warrant Officer.
I was working at Wellington Air Movements when I inherited the cane from W/O Monty Campbell in 2005. Soon afterwards I was posted to HQ 1JMOVGP (Sydney) so didn’t get the cane out and about much. Since recently arriving back at RNZAF Base Auckland I’ve managed to ‘walk’ the cane to one or two RNZAF formal dinners, to significant Supply events, to 08/2 Senior Supply Specialist Course graduation and more recently to the 9/01 Air Movements Course graduation where I’ve been delighted to speak about the cane’s origins and significance.