New Zealand Law Society - Cook Island pioneer puts family first, then the law

Cook Island pioneer puts family first, then the law

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Henry with family, from left, Lennox, Halle, Brynn, Bianca and Benson
Henry with family, from left, Lennox, Halle, Brynn, Bianca and Benson

Cook Islander Henry Herman remembers fondly when, as a child, prisoners came from the local jail to work on his family’s taro plantation, and his Mum put aside the corned beef and turned on special big lunches.

Now, married and with four children of his own, chairman of the Cook Islands Development Agency NZ (CIDANZ), and just made partner at Rice Craig, family law specialist Henry says his “plate is full enough”.

Henry joined Rice Craig in 2010 and has a long standing and active involvement in the Pacific community.

Henry Arapai (Henry) Herman
and raised in Rarotonga.
Entry to law
Graduated LLB and BSC from Auckland University. Admitted in 2005.
Partner at Rice Craig, Papakura.
Speciality area
Family law.

He studied at Auckland University, where he met his wife Bianca, who was two years behind him at law school. “It was a pretty cool courtship and we both ended up working at Brookfields lawyers.”

Bianca was later an associate at Denham Bramwell in Manukau, where she made the call to finish and be a full-time mum after the couple’s fourth child was born.

“I wanted six kids, Bianca wanted two so we compromised with four - Benson (10), Halle (7), Lennox (4) and Brynn, known as Bear (2). We have a busy house.”

Henry didn’t set out to be a lawyer, and initially studied science at university.

“My first plan was to do black pearl farming, which my family do in Manihiki, a tiny coral atoll 1,300km north of Rarotonga.

“My grandparents wanted me to take over the pearl farm, but a girl I was dating before I met my wife didn’t want to go to Raro because she had another three years to go in her medical school degree.

“So I tapped into the legal system on my last year of BSc, did law, met and fell in love with my wife and we decided to stay here.”

Meanwhile, Henry’s uncle Temu Okatai and his wife Lesley moved from Christchurch to Rarotonga to run the pearl farm.

“Mum and Dad are there, and my brother, his wife and daughter and a lot of my family still in Raro. We have been back four times in last two-and-a-half years.”

Henry’s Mum Neti and Dad Tamarua, are both doctors in Rarotonga. “I reckon my family is one of the most overqualified families in Raro. Mum did her PhD in public and youth health, Dad is a medical doctor. He has had every job you can think of in the health industry but his specialist area is paediatrics.”

Pro bono work for socially deprived community

“I do a lot of pro bono charitable work for the Cook Island community. CIDANZ have big plans to address, at a community ground level, a lot of social and economic problems of the Cook Islands community.

“There are about 65,000 Cook Islanders in New Zealand and this year we had a big national forum – the organisation is going national – with 10 regions from Invercargill to Whangarei attending a forum in Auckland this week.

“We hosted 70 delegates. We had to find funding, fly everyone up and find accommodation near the airport.”

CIDANZ secured four-and-a-half acres through the Auckland City Council and was due to turn soil in February to begin construction on a $1.6 million Cook Islands full immersion early childhood centre.

“That takes up a lot of my time. My wife and kids are number one, then legal work, and my community is a big part as well.”

The project’s been on the go for several years, in four stages of development.

“First we had to renovate the building we have got. Then we had to rebuild, revamp and renovate an old shed and turned that into a socio-economic business hub where we do a lot of trialling and testing of Cook Island families that have business ideas.

“Stage three is our early childhood centre. Stage four we are looking at around a $15 million community facility, a cultural village, a cultural and socio-economic hub.”

Henry says the cultural centre will not just be for Cook Islanders but will reflect the community it will serve. “Obviously it will have a strong flavour for the Cook Islands community. But my kids are a perfect example of a reflection of the community we serve. My wife is part-Samoan, part Kiwi.

“In the younger population of Cook Islanders here there’s a lot of half, quarters, one eighth, one sixteenth of something else. If you are a friend of the Cook Islands community you can come right into that. So we have Tongan, Samoan, Fijiian and Māori families that we work with.

“I feel lucky because the partners have been very supportive of it and have given some sponsorship over the years. We have run a big cultural festival, done a number of community events and the partners have been very supportive of me continuing that work. It is beneficial for me because it builds my profile and there’s also a benefit for the business.”

A competitive tennis player through high school up to under-16 level, Henry says he is “still pretty handy” and plays once a fortnight with one of the partners, a retired partner and a local accountant.

“In my younger days I went to tennis camps around Oceania. Unfortunately I got pulled in with all my good friends at school and ended up playing rugby and league. I was trying to be too cool for my own good.

“I’m not the best traveller. I’ve been to Australia a number of times, Fiji with the kids, Tonga and Niue. This year we are going to Samoa.”

A pioneer in the family

“There was no great design or big planning to be a lawyer. I couldn’t do black pearl farming in New Zealand, and after talking to two friends of mine doing law school I thought ‘what have I got to lose?’

“Mum was always in my ear because I was always arguing and fighting with my siblings and she said I would be a brilliant lawyer, she said I was not only entertaining but argumentative.

“She also said I was a big believer in equity and fairness within the house and always wanted people to be treated fairly and equally.

“There are no other lawyers in the immediate family. A couple of cousins have kids who are lawyers. I am the first of my generation - I was a bit of a pioneer in the family.”

Henry admits to not being a music person, but he does dance.

“I used to do a lot of cultural Cook Islands dancing, at school, in village and when I came to university I was always dancing. But I have no musical gift at all. My kids are good, Benson is awesome on the guitar and my wife can sing and is good on the piano.”

A fan of 60s, 70s and 80s music, Henry listens to Whitney Houston, Bob Marley and reggae. “They have a bit of meaning to them, it’s relaxing and I can follow the lyrics. A lot of the newer stuff is too fast for me.”

“After reading and loving Roald Dahl books when I was a kid I got to high school and got distracted with sport and hanging out with the boys. I lost the love of books I had as a child. Now I read a lot of New Zealand rugby magazines. I do enough reading during the day at work.

“I find my kids relaxing. I love hanging out with them every morning, I always do breakfast. I like to do the drop-offs every morning, get home and hang out with them and get the house organised for the next day. My plate is full enough.

“We don’t watch much TV, maybe once a fortnight my wife and I have a movie night. For the last 10 years life has revolved around the kids. We have all the animated movies. The Disney channel is a favourite and we watch a lot of kids’ stuff. Our household is consumed by children, literature and children’s movies.

“Fiji would be my favourite holiday spot. The thing I like about Fiji is there’s no one there that knows me, I am anonymous - not like home in the Cooks.

“On a par with Fiji is Algies Bay at Warkworth. My mother has a bach up there and the place is stunning and quiet. I don’t do crowds and traffic well. I’m a massive seafood fan and love Matakana oysters. There are good swimming spots and we do our own things with kayaks and fishing.

“I’m driving a 2010 Audi A4, which may become more my wife’s car because I have a Ford Territory I’m looking at upgrading, so Bianca will get the Audi.”

A lot of seafood

“I was close to my maternal grandparents Okotai and Tuaine. My grandfather, who passed away a number of years ago, was an avid fisherman and we used to go out on the old outrigger canoes, carry it into the lagoon and find a little opening in the reef, that old style fishing.

“I spent a bit of time with him, he was always looking after me. I’d love to have him and my grandmother round for dinner.

“He and I would be cooking because he used to cook for everyone and he was always the chef. When he came round he would spoil the grand kids. He had an old gas stove and an outdoor kitchen going almost 24/7.

“There would be a lot of seafood. Broadbill – my favourite - is one of the deep sea fish in the Cooks and parrot fish is a lagoon fish and they are both delicate. If you haven’t tried them you are missing out but they are very hard to come by.

“Pan-fried parrot fish and big steaks of broadbill on the barbie. Raw fish with coconut cream (tuna) - ika mata, mainese (Cook Islands potato salad, which is pink because of the beetroot), rice, taro and for dessert – local fruits- mango, pawpaw, starfruit and passion fruit.

“And just have beer. My brother runs a brewery in the Cooks. Cooks Lager is an easy drinking beer, if a bit strong. Bianca and I love pinot gris and picked up a couple of bottles of Amisfield in Queenstown in January on my first visit to Queenstown.

“My other dinner guests would be my wife and Richie McCaw - who in my eyes is the ultimate competitor - and Barrack Obama, who is an inspirational global leader and would certainly provide some insights about world leaders, our world today and how we could make it better and more inclusive.”

An eye opener

“A memorable career moment was last year when I was asked to present a relationship property seminar at the Law Society Family Law conference. For me, I come across as being fairly confident in myself, but within that I have always questioned myself – am I good enough?

“But doing that seminar with Antonia Fisher QC on the panel gave me a really shot of confidence. I am doing a really good job first and foremost, I can push myself and I can do bigger and better things.

“For me that was a real eye opener, meeting a lot of senior lawyers who were presenting gave me a real eye opener in terms of opportunities but also that shot of confidence for myself.”

Henry says fishing might have appealed as a job if he wasn’t a lawyer because he does a lot of it.

“But on balance I would get into agriculture. Mum and Dad used to like living off the land. We had animals, we also exported banana, pawpaw, taro and Noni juice.

“With taro we used to hire prisoners from the Cooks Islands jail for $11 a day to work the plantation. It was a shared income earner for prisoners and corrections. They still do it now.

“We would pick them up in the morning and drop them back at 4.30. They were your labourers for the day, no warders came out. You give them whatever tools they need and they work for you.

“My brothers and I liked hanging out with the prisoners.  One became a good friend of mine. We called him McCracken. His family disowned him, sadly.

“I hung out with him when I was at university. He was released and stayed with a warden because he had nowhere to go. We played sevens and league together. He turned his life around and is now a sparky on the Gold Coast with a family.

“It’s a great scheme. We should do it here for the lower level criminals.

“My brothers and I loved it when we got prisoners. We would almost do cartwheels when we got up at 6 in the morning, because we knew Mum was going to bring out the best cutlery, best plates and always cook us – and them - a massive lunch.

“When we didn’t have prisoners it was the old canned corned beef. As kids we always loved getting prisoners.

“For example, what we are doing at CIDANZ is looking at agriculture because everyone is going to need food and we are looking at business opportunities for our community.

“We have started a trial and error on a pig farm and grew up to 40 odd pigs.

“Anything around animals or the land I will be getting my hands into it, so I would certainly be doing something in agriculture.”

Over a long career in journalism Jock Anderson has spent many hours in courtrooms and talking to members of the legal profession. If you think you would make for an interesting profile, or know of someone who would, contact Jock at

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