New Zealand Law Society - Counter culture triathlete's journey to southern tradition: John Farrow

Counter culture triathlete's journey to southern tradition: John Farrow

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Once a hard core punk screamer in the thick of Dunedin’s alternative underground bands, nothing prepared John Farrow for what his wife Val had in store on a summer night in Verona.

John Anthony (John) Farrow
Entry to law
Graduated BA, LLB from Otago University in 1987. Admitted in 1991.
Partner at Webb Farry, Dunedin.
Speciality area
Employment, civil litigation.
John Farrow
John Farrow

Still an alternative rock/grunge devotee of bands such as Los Angeles-originating Tool, John wasn’t keen on what his wife had planned.

“Val talked me into going to the opera in Verona…I was not at all keen, but it was amazing, on a summer night in an old Roman amphitheatre…La Traviata – it was the highlight of our whole trip…”

The former vegan, now vegetarian, who has been with Webb Farry for 22 years and was recently elected president of the Otago branch of the New Zealand Law Society, John goes to see alternative rock bands whenever he can.

“Tool have been going for several decades, they do well-written stuff and have performed in New Zealand a number of times…”

Not a professional musician – “we never got paid” – John says he was “a bit of a screamer” in a couple of Dunedin bands during his university years and in the ensuing four years before he was admitted.

“I did a lot of different things from industrial rock to hard core punk… There was pretty much an underground culture of bands in Dunedin at that time, which developed into a community that did a whole lot more than music…”

“We ran a venue in Bond Street called the Nerve Centre, largely because those bands couldn’t get a venue to play anywhere else…”

“We ran it as a collective… you were members and paid a donation… That sort of got round the music and supply of alcohol issues…”

John did a radio show for six years at Radio One – the alternative student radio station broadcast from the university campus.

“We also ran the Comic Shop… I wrote poetry and published and distributed fanzines with a friend, covering art, politics, music and reviewed records… It was very much alternative culture…”

When his daughter – now a nurse – arrived in 1991, John started work on a part-time basis at the Dunedin community law centre.

He has children aged 14, 12 and 10 with his second wife, Val – an associate at law firm Polson McMillan.

The first lawyer in his family, he has a younger sister who is a senior manager in Sydney for a European-based eftpos company.

“I came down from Auckland to do medicine intermediate and found my strengths were in English and History… I decided after failing chemistry I would follow the arts and do a BA in English…”

“I then decided to pick law up as a sideline to the arts… When it came to getting a job the law was much more useful than trying to find anything in the arts…”

A competitive swimmer until 13, when he gave it up because training was impacting on his secondary schoolwork, he was Auckland champion of champion when 11.

He came back to swimming with a vengeance in his 30s, also taking up running and cycling.

Describing himself as “a pure triathlete,” John was selected on his 40th birthday to race for New Zealand at the Queenstown World Triathlon Championship in 2003.

“I finished about two thirds the way down our age group, which is passable…”

Over the years John has done half a dozen Ironman events – including the 30th anniversary of the Taupo Ironman when he was 50 and raced with Scott “The Terminator” Molina (husband of the great Erin Baker), finishing 13th in his age group.

Swim training is in the Dunedin indoor pool, with harbour training in summer.

“It’s 12 months of the year… You change the volume and intensity of training as you get closer to races…”

After two shoulder surgeries in two years John is working on getting his swimming back up abut has not got back into intensity training mainly because of the demanding ages of his children and his volume of legal work.

His children are into Parkour, developed in France from military obstacle courses, which involves free running between buildings, flips and rolls.

Maintaining a lifelong interest in the theatre and movies, he enjoys the Rialto channel on TV. “I am enamoured with David Lynch movies and in terms of musicians think Lana Del Ray’s baroque pop style would make an interesting sound track for a Lynch movie…”

When younger he hitchhiked a lot with bands, before travelling to Canada where his wife grew up and went to school, and visiting most of Europe including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands.

“I don’t have much time for books but read magazine articles and still write poetry… I have always been a fan of US poet the late Sylvia Plath and Janet Frame's poems as well as her prose… I’m a fan of poets who have harsh images rather than soft poetry…”

“I have a VW Passat all track 4x4, which suits us well for putting all the bikes in and going to Central Otago for skiing and tramping – Val is a keen tramper…”

“I think Nelson Mandela is the greatest person of our time… I think he would have demonstrated the most of any human ever of forgiveness and he is my first choice of dinner guest…”

“I would be intrigued to meet Lana Del Ray and very interested to meet Jesus Christ – because so much has been written about him - to see if he’s actually the person everyone has described – or if he was just someone in the circumstances at the time… If had a time machine it would be good to go back and see what he was all about…”

“The menu depends on who’s cooking… It would be vegetarian but not vegan, something with tofu… My wife is a meat eater and when she cooks she chucks in some veges for me…”

If not a lawyer his alternative career would probably be as a university English lecturer.

A member of the New Zealand Law Society Otago branch council for a several years and vice president for two, John is a Court appointed youth advocate, lawyer for the child and lawyer for care recipients.

A highlight of his term as Otago branch President is the transition early in 2018 from temporary courtrooms back to the historic Dunedin court buildings, which have been earthquake proofed.

“This will be a big occasion… We have a strong sense of tradition in Dunedin… In my term I want to make sure the Law Society remains relevant to the profession and that we engage and communicate with lawyers as stakeholders…”

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