Keith Jackson has been a member of Savagery for 45 years, with the last 36 years at Waitara Savage Club.
“I'm currently the President. That's an honour I've waited 45 years for. It's my third and final year.
“You usually only hold office for two years, but they couldn't find anybody worse that I was,”he laughs.
He doesn't believe you need special qualities for the job, just the ability to get on with people.
“You have to be prepared to get in and do the hard yards yourself and have an appreciation of the efforts of others.”
Jackson comes with a lot of training after a long career with the Taranaki Savings Bank, managing branches all round north Taranaki until his retirement in 1989.
A Savage start
So, what is a Savage Club? Jackson has the Aims and Objects motto down pat: 'To provide rational entertainment and good fellowship, to assist any worthwhile cause, whether charitable or private. To develop and encourage latent talent in any form among its members, be it vocal musical, acting or any other of the liberal arts.'
The Savage Club movement began in 1857, in Drury Lane, London, when a group of men got together to form a male-only guild comprising mainly out of work actors and artists.
While several poetic names for the new club were suggested, including Longfellow and Shakespeare, the group eventually settled on the name of an unknown, mediocre poet, Richard Savage.
Savage was a man of dubious character who had spent some time enjoying His Majesty's hospitality before expiring in a park nearby nearly a century before.
The name Savage Club stuck and the club became so popular it had to close its doors to new members.
A new club formed, called the Orphans, because they couldn't get into the parent association.
The Orphans uphold the same values and traditions as the Savages.
For many years Savagery was a mens' organisation but in recent times women have been admitted as full members.
The definitive word
If you ask Jackson for the definitive word on Savagery and Orphandom (now under the one auspice of the Association of Kindred Clubs of New Zealand) he can sum it up in one sentence.
“It's the greatest organisation in the country. It really is. It's marvellous.”
The Savage idea is simply to have fun. Despite the elite ethnic titles used for officers in bygone days, today's Savages are the same as they've always been - a bunch of like-minded people who like to get together for friendship and entertainment.
“There are changes from way back in the dim, dark past when Savage Clubs spread to different countries. They adopted the ethnic terminology of that country.
“In our case we had our Rangitiras, Tohungas and Arikis. We changed and went to the vernacular; Presidents, Vice-presidents, etcetera.
“Some people got the wrong notion of what a Savage was; that we were running around in grass skirts with spears. It was a false image, so we updated it, but that's the only change.”
'Raiding parties', where one club visits another and provides a concert for them, are an excuse to renew old friendships and make new ones while generally having a good time.
Raids play a key role in maintaining that bond of friendship and support that exists between clubs.
Jackson explains: “It's the term given to, say, going to Palmerston North. We 'raid' Palmerston North. We do the programme and they are the host.”
These raids are normally arranged one to two years in advance.
“We have what we call a western group, which incorporates Wanganui, Hawera, Eltham, Stratford and ourselves. During the year we have an outward raid to another club within the group.”
There was once a club in New Plymouth too, but it's now in recess.
Bundles of Badges
Thankfully, the Waitara club is in 'good heart' with around 50 members who hope to still be together to celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2011.
During a raid, badges are exchanged between Rangitiras/Presidents.
The Waitara club badge hasn't changed since the club began in 1961. It holds a tribute to Sir Peter Buck, an historic local identity, and shows the prow of his canoe.
Jackson's modest collection hangs from a pocket on a strip of cloth but some members have so many that they adorn both sides of their jacket.
Nights of Savage laughter
An average night at Waitara Savage Club, held at the Memorial Hall on Queen Street, would go something like this:
“We start off with a brief introduction from me. If we have distinguished guests, we introduce them.
“Then there's the New Zealand National Anthem and the opening ode, followed by sketches, songs, stories.
“We have a programme that goes two hours and we try to finish about 10. We sing a finishing ode and have supper, where everybody has a chat before they go home.”
To become a member is easy. Anyone over 18 who wants to join usually comes along as a visitor to be introduced.
“We have a mild kind of vetting system and a nomination form to be filled in,” says Jackson, “but we've never turned anyone down so far!”
Other clubs are 'different altogether', Jackson says. “Each organisation has its own purpose for existing and they all do good work for the community. They have more of a meeting process. We're having fun, providing entertainment, raising funds but it's mainly fellowship. We're not too concerned with parliamentary meeting protocol although we do conduct our business in a proper manner. We're pretty relaxed.
“At our session nights, we're not so relaxed that you can turn up in your slippers. A dress code exists and men members wear white shirts and club bow ties and women tidy dress.”
The piano man
Jackson is part of the informal Savage song group called Country Group Singers who entertain at local rest homes.
“I help out, do the piano work for them. We used to have about eight in our orchestra but now we're down to three,” he grins.
He learnt the piano for five years but did not have one to play on. “Not until 1965, after 17 years without one. If not for Savage Club and church, I might not be playing at all.
“People used to say to me before I retired, 'What are you going to do?' I said, 'I'm going to turn all the clocks to the wall. I've been chasing the clock for forty years and I'm going to stop doing it.'”
For Jackson, like many others around the country, the Savage Club has been the perfect social scene.
First published 22 June 2005
Hawera, Stratford and Opunake Savage Club badges held in Puke Ariki Collection.
Hawera Savage Club Badge
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The main fame of Richard Savage - for whom the Savage Club was named - was Samuel Johnson's biography but he also wrote two poems -The Bastard (1728) and The Wanderer (1729), and two comedies.
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Like to know more about Savage Clubs in your district? A phone call to the local Information Centre should get results.