Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

Tagata Pasifika

The Pacific voice on
New Zealand television
since 1987

“I still believe that I have a little contribution to make” – Ninety-year old Tongan barrister Clive Edwards

Avatar photo
Soana Aholelei | Reporter / Director

While many look forward to retirement, not so for an enigmatic Tongan barrister and former Politician

Relaxing in his family home in Parnell, Auckland, a home he’s owned for over 40 years, barrister Clive  Edwards has just celebrated his 90th birthday.

In New Zealand from Tonga, where he currently resides and works, he is surprised and amused when I extract an audio recording he made back in 1974.

“… The main thing (is),  they need to consider these things because these people are now wanting something to be done because they’ve been told that they’re, you know, there is no chance for their families.”

Listening to a recording of himself brings a glint to the eye and a flood of memories as he recognised his younger, 40-year-old voice.  

In 1974, Edwards was an experienced immigration lawyer working at the height of the ‘dawn raids’ era. 

As one of the few Pacific Islands barristers working in Auckland at the time, he was naturally inundated with cases. 

“One of the lasting memories that I have of the dawn raids was the little gimmick that was going knock, knock, at door and say, Who’s there?” 

By 1971 over 1200 Tongans were residents in New Zealand, most were living in central Auckland suburbs like Ponsonby and Grey Lynn.  

Aotearoa needed workers at the time and Pacific People flocked here to find jobs and start a new life but by 1974, with a downturn in the economy meant unemployment was at an all-time high and ‘overstayers’ were being targeted by the Police in ‘dawn raids’. 

And while Pacific people did not make up the bulk of people who had ‘overstayed’ at the time, they were more often unfairly picked on. 

At the time, Edwards did his best to help, recalling one particular case.

“One of the lasting impressions I had and which was very sad, was that (of) young people who had just recently married and were living with a family and having a baby,” he recalls.

“ At dawn the police and the dogs came in and they left the baby in the house and they ran. They were caught and taken into custody.  When I appeared for them that morning, it was a judge called Julian who refused bail.

“However, I filed appeals to the Supreme Court on those cases, and they were granted immediately. 

“A three-month-old baby, unattended the whole day, the parents were in custody and it was a sad day,” Edwards says. 

After schooling in Tonga, Edwards attended and graduated from Auckland University in 1996. Two years later he decided to set up his own legal practice specialising in Immigration Law.  He says it was a tough time and that clients  “paid what they could.”

“I would have been a very rich man collecting with the number of clients. I had,” he  muses.

In the late 1960’s Edwards was elected to the Ellerslie Borough Council and then later became an Auckland City Councillor.

During this time, he also served as secretary of the Tongan Society in Auckland, helping with immigration matters and housing.

“Eventually, we had the negotiations with the government for partial amnesty of some of the overstayers and the Tongan Society did the work. Sorting out some of the papers and things to present, but they were voluntary work. It was not paid work and they did a tremendous job at getting things to meet the government requirements at that time.”

In 1993 Edwards moved back to Tonga and inevitably a political career beckoned.  He became Police Minister in 1995, rising to Deputy Prime Minister before returning to the Law in 2005.

After a second stint in Politics in 2011, he returned to the law in 2014, working alongside his son William, a reputable lawyer himself.

Reminiscing about the past, Edwards is grateful for the support of his family.

“Grateful to have a wife that’s been very supportive and helpful with the things I do, and the family as well have been very tolerant and supportive.”

Many won’t begrudge him hanging up his lawyer’s robe, but he has no intention of retiring.

“I’m not intending to retire at 90. I still believe that I have a little contribution to make. Not as big as in the past, but I still make a little bit of contribution. 

“The legacy I’d like to leave is that just be normal and be yourself and do as best you can for others.”

Stay Connected

Subscribe to our mailing list to receive daily updates direct to your inbox!

*we hate spam as much as you do