CW: Violence, explicit content.
We all know that people like Helen Clark, Tāmati Coffey, Chlöe Swarbrick, Nigel Latta, Phillipa Boyens, Selina Tusitala Marsh and Ashley Bloomfield went to the University of Auckland. We’ve got an impressive list of alumni here. Not just politicians and celebrities, but artists, poets, writers, chemists, academics, etc.
If you’d like a full list of our accomplished graduates, you can look at the Honoured Alumni lists on the UoA website. However, this is not that article.
A close dig through the Wikipedia page of University of Auckland graduates shows your standard list of influential academics, but it also lists some alumni known for more… interesting reasons.
Just a note that this list is male-dominated because academic spaces (insert eye-roll). Also biographical research is hard though I tried my best, so feel free to correct me (email firstname.lastname@example.org). But starting now, strap yourselves in because this year, Craccum is giving out their own notable alumni awards, starting with:
Goes to: Michael Baigent
Some sources say Baigent’s second degree was from UoA, and I’m going to roll with that.
Baigent is the co-author of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, wherein he, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln theorise an interpretation of Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s relationship.
Why am I telling you about this? Because in 2006, Baigent and his co-authors, sued Dan Brown’s publishing company for plagiarism on the basis that The Da Vinci Code was copied from their book. Dan Brown admitted that he had read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, but not until later in the drafting process. However, at the time of its release, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail was the target of anger from both historians and the church, who dismissed their theory as “pop-history.” Critics claimed the material would work better as fiction.
So it’s entirely possible that Dan Brown might have absorbed the idea through cultural osmosis. The villain, “Leigh Teabing” is even speculated to be a cheeky reference to Richard Leigh, Baigent’s co-author, and Baigent’s own last name, an anagram of “Teabing.” Unfortunately, Baigent and co lost, leaving them with a tonne of debt.
So yes, a UoA alumnus was responsible for The Da Vinci Code. You’re welcome.
Goes to: Ulai Trudy Otobed
This woman is the definition of badass. Otobed was the first female Micronesian doctor, and she gained her postgraduate qualification in Obstetrics and Gynecology at UoA while also working as a surgeon and registrar at the National Women’s Hospital (where I was born!).
Otobed excelled academically, earning many awards for her medical degree from the Pacific Islands Central School in Fiji. She was the top female student, had the highest GPA and a gold medal for excellence in surgery from the British Medical Association.
Otobed was also a star athlete. While in Fiji, Otobed won gold at the first ever installation of the South Pacific Games in 1963 as part of the Fijian table tennis team. The next year, Otobed was the Fijian national champion in women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles table tennis.
She earned another medical degree from Mysore Medical College in India in 1976—a total of three medical degrees. She’s giving back to her community in Palau, having worked on the national scholarship board and directed Clinical Services at the national hospital among other roles.
Goes to: Pete Bethune
Please just Google Pete Bethune. He’s an NZ conservationist who stood trial in Japan for attacking a Japanese ship, which is yikes. You might remember this from the John Key era. The dispute occurred over a Japanese vessel, the Shonan Maru 2, which sliced his powerboat the Aly Gil in half. Bethune attempted to board the Shonan Maru 2 by jetski a month later to make a citizen’s arrest on the ship’s captain. He reportedly threw a bottle full of “rancid butter”—butyric acid—which hit a crewman and left him with burns.
Bethune also had his own TV show, The Operatives, in which he and a crew—consisting of ex-marines and NZ paratroopers—work with law enforcement to take down illegal environmental activity. It’s been aired in approximately 90 countries and involves such action hero scenes as hiding out in mines and trekking through jungles.
Bethune has also survived a stabbing in Brazil, and a deadly snake-bite in Costa Rica.
Goes to: Cyril Belshaw
So there are a lot of contenders for most “yikes” alumni. Some of the active ones include Judith Collins and David Seymour. But the most yikes alumni of UoA is probably this guy: Cyril S. Belshaw.
He was born in 1921 in New Zealand and became a professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. From what I can tell he attended Auckland University College for his B.A. I call it Auckland University College because that’s what it was known as; Cyril attended in the first half of the 20th century.
In January of 1979, Cyril reported his wife, Betty Belshaw missing from Paris, France. He has already had a long and successful career, first in Australia and then at the University of British Columbia. He was the head of Anthropology for a time. By 1974, he had retired as HOD, but remained an emeritus professor. He was also an outspoken conservative.
In March of 1979, police found the decomposing body of a woman wrapped in three plastic bags… in Switzerland. They asked Cyril for Betty’s dental records to confirm the body’s identity. Cyril complied, but not before doctoring the record because he “didn’t want to imagine that something horrible” happened. Uh, okay Cyril. The police discovered he was having an affair with another woman, and Cyril was arrested in Paris on his way to a United Nations conference.
He stood trial in front of a 6 man jury—they were all male—and acquitted by a male judge who wished him a happy birthday at the proceedings.
Belshaw stayed at UBC until he retired in 1987, and then died just before his 97th birthday in 2018. The UBC remembered him with a nice obituary, conveniently leaving out the murder trial. I don’t know what happened to the woman he was having an affair with. Someone else with more knowledge and skills please feel free to investigate the case and report back.
(Dis)honourable Mention: Ian Mark Narev
Now the CEO of SEEK, Narev, who has a B.A. from UoA, was involved in a huge financial scandal in 2018 at the Commonwealth Bank, which faced a lawsuit after claims they’d breached Australia’s anti money-laundering laws over 53,000 times.
The insurance arm of the bank, CommInsure, was also found to be dodging insurance claims from terminally ill clients by using outdated methods of classification and cherry-picking doctors to avoid paying out. These reports came as early as 2014, three years into Narev’s term at the Commonwealth Bank.
Narev’s paycheck for the last financial year working at the Commonwealth Bank was cut to a measly $5.9 million NZD in response to the money-laundering law breaches. The CBA sold their insurance arm for close to $4 billion AUD. Narev is now struggling to make ends meet as SEEK’s CEO with a starting salary of $1.1 million NZD.
Goes to: Gary Chaw
Gary Chaw is a huge popstar in East and South-East Asia. His list of achievements is long, but includes composing a song for the Beijing Olympics; being known as “Asia Best Male Singer”; and his astounding vocal range. Chaw (also known as Gary Cao, Cao Ge and Cao Xiaoge) is beloved by mandarin-language karaoke-goers throughout the world.
He studied Engineering at the University of Auckland. Cute!
And: Cathy Odgers
Named one of NZ’s hottest singles in 2009 by The Sunday Star Times, Cathy Odgers is a prominent blogger and public figure in New Zealand. She’s also known for #pranking the 2013 America’s World Cup defenders Oracle Team USA by taping New Zealand flags on one of their houses.
Odgers was also paid to write a smear campaign against the Serious Fraud Office (boo!) but in a stealth move, Odgers pulled up some emails that incriminated Judith Collins, the Justice Minister at the time. This led to Judith losing her job… nice.
Graeme Revell qualified in economics and political science at UoA, but more importantly, he’s responsible for the soundtrack to Street Fighter (1994), Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995), The Craft (1996), Bride of Chucky (1998) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), amongst others. He’s won a bunch of awards for his work, including “Best Score” at the Venice Film Festival in 1997 for Chinese Box (1997).
Sir Edmund Hillary joined the tramping club at Auckland University College before dropping out of his math and science fields. Not quite an alumni, but nice to think about next time you consider quitting university. Hillary did it first!
Arthur Rainsford Mowlem was one of only a handful of plastic surgeons working in the early 20th Century between wars. He worked closely with Sir Harold Gillies of Dunedin, who is known as the Father of modern plastic surgery for his work on injured soldiers. Arthur studied at Auckland University College before graduating from Otago with a medical degree. He is widely acknowledged for his contribution to the field, known for developing the pin method to stabilise jaw fractures.
Mike Morwood discovered Homo floresiensis—an previously unknown, extinct “Hobbit-like” human species found in Indonesia. His discovery was a huge contribution to the field of archaeology, and changed assumptions about the timeline of human evolution. He gained his B.A. in Archaeology from the University of Auckland.
Ben Sanders published his first novel The Fallen in 2010 while studying Engineering at the University of Auckland. He’s since written a little novel called American Blood. The film rights were bought by Warner Bros and it was set to have Bradley Cooper star and direct, but as far as I can tell it never came out—again, someone please investigate.
John Colin Scott was an award-winning New Zealand architect, recognised for his incorporation of traditional Māori buildings into his design. His best known work is the Chapel of Futuna in Wellington, inspired by the wharenui.
Charles Pierre Chauvel is a lawyer who managed to get rid of the “Gay Panic Defense” in New Zealand—love you Charles.
Dorothy Jane Sutor is an NZ born Chemist who contributed to the field by proving the existence of a then unknown type of hydrogen bonding. More importantly, she figured out how to recrystallize (read: create powder) caffeine by identifying its structure. Basically she invented No-Doz. Sutor truly did the Lord’s work.
Bruce Grandison Biggs is a pioneer of te reo Māori at the tertiary level, being the first to teach a course in the language. He was a huge influence in Māori studies and taught such students as Ranginui Walker, Peter Sharples and Sir Hirini Moko Mead.
Mohit Madaan has a Bachelor of Business and Information Management from UoA. He’s also a Hindi film actor!