Making music amid conflict

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FIRST LOVE: From a young age it was always the guitar that Wim has wanted to play, and that hasn’t changed now he is in his 80s.

WIM Pinto’s guitar has been his constant companion in life – a life that has been far from harmonious.

Wim’s Portuguese-Indonesian heritage made it difficult to find a country to settle in during the turbulent years that followed World War II.

He was declined permission to live in three different countries before eventually gaining residency in New Zealand in 1967.

Now 85 years old, the lead guitarist of Whakatane’s Country Music Club band, whose musical talent has left a legacy in the Bay of Plenty, says New Zealand had been one of the countries that initially denied him permission to stay.

Wim’s Portugese father was a talented classical violinist and cellist who played in an orchestra aboard a tourist boat. He met and fell in love with Wim’s Indonesian mother when his boat was berthed in Indonesia. Wim and the siblings that followed were raised in the western region of Java in Indonesia.

Growing up with “eight years of violin lessons from Dad,” Wim says he always resisted the instrument. From an early age, it was guitar that he wanted to play. “All my friends had home-made ukuleles, and much to my father’s disgust, that’s what I wanted too.” The seeds of what would flourish into a life-long love of playing music, were sown.

Wim says he was seven years old when World War II broke out. “I remember being mesmerised by the bombs falling and exploding. An airfield about 15 minutes from our house was being bombed and everyone was running to shelter in the bunker, but not me. I can still remember my father was yelling at me to get in the bunker.”

No one went to school during those days, Wim says. “We’d spend all our time making fun, and catching food – eels in the rice fields, and catfish or goldfish, and tadpoles or baby frogs to use as bait. Goldfish taste beautiful,” he says. “They’re like trout”.

Wim also recalls many earthquakes in Java. “We lived between three active volcanoes, but we lived in bamboo houses that were flexible and could move with the quakes,” he says. “Whenever an earthquake occurred, you could see the plants in the rice fields all moving like gentle waves. It was such a beautiful sight”.

Life changed abruptly for Wim’s family as World War II ended, and Indonesia began its own fight for independence from Dutch rule. Even though Wim and his siblings had an Indonesian mother, he says they were not viewed as Indonesians due to their European father.

“If you were aged 18 or over, and were European, you were slaughtered,” Wim says. “My parents were safe enough, and I was still young, but my two older brothers were very lucky to escape. They were working in the city, and at that point, you were safe there.” Not so in the villages.

Wim says 32 of his friends were “slaughtered” during this time.

Wim and his brothers were advised to get out of the country as soon as possible. While his brothers left for Holland, Wim, by now aged 15, chose to travel with a friend to Papua New Guinea.

“It sounded like an adventure,” he says. Travelling to Irian Jaya, he and his friend gained work rewinding electrical motors for the army.

Wim later started his own electrical business, running the venture for the following eight years, during which he also built his own house, and, significantly, met Dutch woman and wife-to-be, Ollanda, who was working in Papua New Guinea for Dutch airline, KLM.

By 1962 though, Wim would be forced to move again – this time, a result of his Indonesian bloodline. War was now breaking out between the Indonesians and the Dutch, and with Papua New Guinea still under Dutch rule, Indonesians were not welcome.

“Ollanda’s father had a brother living in New Zealand, in Whakatane,” Wim says. “He suggested we move there.” Travelling to New Zealand on three-month entry permits, Wim says his bid to stay was unsuccessful. “It was very hard to emigrate to New Zealand if you had Asian blood in those days. Ollanda was able to stay, but not me.”

Leaving Ollanda – his fiance at the time – in Whakatane, Wim travelled to Holland with the aim of pursuing New Zealand residency.

Meeting up with a former musical colleague, he was soon playing music again. Performing with band The Hell Cats, Wim would spend most nights of the following four years performing in Germany, Switzerland and Belgium.

Ollanda had travelled over and the two were now married with a baby daughter. But Wim says, “Ollanda was very homesick for New Zealand, which had by now become home for her”. It was around this time, when “out of the blue”, Wim got surprise notification that his long-running effort to emigrate to New Zealand had been successful. “It was amazing,” he says, “because I’d been told I only had a 5 percent chance of ever getting it.”

Making their first home in Whakatane’s Kiwi Street, music again followed, with Wim forming the band Pee Wee Co, that would play together for more than 30 years, both as a stand-alone band, and a backing group for some of the country’s top acts at the time, including The Yandell Sisters, Brent Brodie and Eddie Low.

Wim and Ollanda separated amicably many years ago. These days, Wim is fit and active, and still playing the music he loves. “Not till three o’clock in the morning anymore though,” he says, though he remains lead guitarist for the Country Club, and also plays “for the oldies” in local rest homes. “I love it,” he says. “It brings pleasure for them, and for me too”.

Sharon Honatana, a friend of Wim and fellow country music club member, has recently written the story of his life, as told to her by Wim, and published it as a book.

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