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Leigh Corner's Story - 22 November 2022


Leigh Corner gave us the story of his background in "The Person Behind the Badge" this evening. He said:

'I come from a long line of immigrants. My paternal great grandparents arrived in Australia in the 1850s, Alfred Corner from England and Elizabeth McQueen from Scotland. My maternal grandparents arrived in Australia in 1900, Wilhelm Koska from Germany and Maud Lever from Poland. Laurie, my second wife and I were both immigrants to New Zealand.

'I am the third of 5 children, 4 still living. My father was the third of 11 children. He was a labourer who left school at 14 when his father died. My mother was the youngest of 6 children and she trained as a stenographer / typist. 

'I had a wonderful, privileged childhood, never wanting for clothing, or food, and always loved. As a child and adolescent, I had great freedom to roam. I was forever active and curious: my curiosity and my education were encouraged by my parents, particularly my mother. I was the first of my immediate and extended family to get a university education – a BA, BVSc, an MVSc and a PhD.

'I grew up beside the main trunk line that runs to Melbourne’s south-west. Beyond the railway line were magical sites: a landfill and a salt marsh. Whereas my friends were forbidden to cross the railway line to these magical areas I was encouraged with the advice to “be careful” and to “be home by dinner time”. What a great environment for a young curious mind.

'The environment in which I grew up was a great training ground for my life as a scientist. My approach to research was characterised by applying a broad range of disciplines to just a few diseases. My initial interest was tuberculosis in cattle, and wild pigs, in New Zealand it was in possums, and later in Ireland and the UK it was badgers. Epidemiology, the study of disease in populations – human, animals, plants etc, became the central discipline of my research methods.

'My migrations started in 1996, when I came to New Zealand to undertake a PhD at Massey University. I left Australia greatly depressed. I had just finalised my divorce and I had left CSIRO, the research organisation I had been in for 23 years, since graduation. I left CSIRO after my relationship with CSIRO administration soured. It was my intention to return to Australia after my PhD studies, but I never did return to live there. 

'Six months after arriving in New Zealand I meet Laurie, another Australian ex-pat, and after a 12-month courtship, and a further 6 months living together we married. My first wife Trish, and I have two children Kara and Rene, and Laurie had two children, Andrew and Leah. Last year Laurie, my soulmate, died, a loss that has left a great hole in my life.

'In 2001, after I completed my PhD studies, our migrations resumed when Laurie and I went to Ireland. In Ireland Laurie studied Counselling and Psychotherapy at first Trinity College Dublin and then at Middlesex University. Laurie, not knowing much about Universities, never fully appreciated the significance of a diploma from Trinity. She did not understand that the diplomas Trinity present are usually only to people with at least a Bachelors degree, which she did not have, and are the equivalent of a Master degree. In Ireland I worked as a researcher at University College Dublin in the School of Veterinary Medicine. 

'We returned to New Zealand in 2008. We purchased a small house in Johnsonville near our daughter Leah. We had the intention of living there for a year or so, but after only a few months we started looking for a lifestyle block. We found a lovely 4-hectare block near Pauatahanui. We have had a variety of animals on the farm: dogs, a few cows and sheep, and poultry. We have had ducks and geese. We planted an orchard of about 60 fruit and nut trees, and they are now very productive. I enjoy living on the farm. I love the sense of space, the quietness, room to be alone, and to interact with the natural environment. 

'I have developed a strong affinity and love for New Zealand and New Zealanders. I developed the same love for the land and people when in Ireland. In both of these countries I have found the people to be gentle, the climate appealing, the land green and lush, and New Zealand only shakes a little every now and again.'

'I think this Dorothea Mackellar poem expresses, not just my love for Australia, but similar feelings for my other two homelands:

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of rugged mountain ranges,
Of drought and flooding rains,
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me.

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land -
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand -
Though Earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown Country
My homing thoughts will fly.

Leigh Corner's Story - 22 November 2022

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