Rise issue 10 cover

Forever young

A Children's Day steering group member reminisces on 10 great years


If tenacity is a measure of success, then Roger Evison has it in spades.

In 1994, a sprightly 73-year-old Roger caught the Children's Day bug after hearing the first Children's Commissioner, Ian Hassall, talking to Radio New Zealand about a serious increase in child abuse. The commissioner was discussing a United Nations’ resolution encouraging countries to have special days to celebrate children, and how this would be one way of reducing abuse.

That's when his tenacity kicked in, and Roger joined the Children's Day National Steering Group (NSG). He, along with a mix of service groups, NGOs and government agencies, helped orchestrate a plan to guide the inaugural Children's Day, and plan for the celebration's future. The year 2010 marks the tenth celebration of Children's Day in New Zealand, and sixteen years later, now 89 years of age, Roger is still part of it.

“From the beginning, I thought a day of this kind should be led by the community,” he says. “With backup from my Rotary Club, we approached every national NGO in New Zealand that had children as a focus, and prepared a proposal that was supported by the Board of the Rotary Club of Wellington.” Roger is the Club's longest-serving member, as well as its ex-president.

Children's Day: From idea to reality

By 1995, his proposal was ready to be shown to government. It took several years of quiet reminders, and many phone calls, but by 1998 the then Minister of Youth Affairs Roger McLay became enthusiastic about the idea and took a proposal to Cabinet. MP Tony Ryall also came on board, and soon New Zealand had the beginnings of a plan to hold an annual day to celebrate children.

Roger McLay, in his role as the Commissioner for Children, saw New Zealand's first Children's Day on Sunday 29 October 2000. In 2007, the celebration moved to the first Sunday in March, as it was originally intended. It is now marked by a suite of cartoon characters: Ben, Jess, Rua, Kate and dog Patch.

Since the NSG has been in existence, Child, Youth and Family has become its main implementation agency. By 2005, baseline government funding was secured to help promote the event, as well as many child-friendly resources associated with it.

Personal incentive for Children's Day success

Roger has been the NSG's most consistent member. A father of three and granddad to nine, he has a keen interest in Children's Day's ongoing success and that key points of his original proposal continue to be honoured. The key points outlined in the Children's Day charter include: ensuring the day promotes community ownership and widespread participation; promoting a national focus on children; heightening awareness of the importance and needs of children; motivating New Zealand society at all levels to appreciate and support children; and doing so in a non-commercial way.

“I have seen this national day have its ups and downs, but for the last four years I have noticed a steady increase in awareness and involvement by communities in the Day,” says Roger. He admits that his inspiration for continuing to keep involved in Children's Day was the impact that the Radio NZ interview had on him in 1994. “I eventually met Ian Hassall to talk to him about ideas for the Day,” reminisces Roger.

A national event with local flavour

A website provides event organisers with information, a place to register their event and free resources to distribute at events for the tenth anniversary (Sunday, 7 March 2010). An estimated hundreds of thousands of Kiwis will be there to celebrate: from attending New Zealand's largest event, the Toddler Day Out and Great Parenting Fair in West Auckland, through to small whānau gatherings.

For a retired civil engineer, Roger Evison has not been shy about engineering a great future for New Zealand's children. His wife, actress Dame Pat Evison, describes her first meeting with her husband of 61 years as thinking about him as ‘just driving trains, which was quite wrong’.

Little did she know he would become famous for driving the history of New Zealand, as the catalyst for the country's Children's Day.