Walter "The Wiz" Walsh is from Ngāti Porou and Te Aitanga a Māhaki and will be awarded a Queen's Service Medal for services to community and broadcasting. A smoking cessation coach at Turanga Health for 6 years, Walsh also volunteers to support charitable initiatives throughout Te Tairāwhiti. Walsh is a voice for the people, and is now is his 29th year as an announcer at Turanga FM.

Ko Hikurangi toku maunga
Ko Waiapu toku awa
Ko Nukutaimemeha,Nukutere,me Horouta oku waka
Ko Umuariki toku Marae
Ko Tuparoa/Ruatorea toku papa kainga
Ko te Whanau o Umuariki toku hapu
Ko Ngatiporou toku iwi,ki te taha o toku mama

Ko Maungahaumi me Waipuna oku maunga
Ko Waipaoa  me koiwi oku awa
Ko Horouta me takitimu oku waka
Ko Tarere toku Marae
Ko Whanau-A-iwi toku hapu
Ko Te Aitanga-A-Mahaki toku iwi,Ki te taha o toku papa.

You carry some unique names, especially your nickname. But I wonder if you might explain their background?

My real name is Walter James Walsh I was named after the late Walter Goldsmith from Ruatorea who’s father had a trucking business called Wattie Goldsmiths transport.
I got the nick name The Wiz about almost 30 years ago when I was just starting out in the music business as a DJ playing clubs and nightclubs, I was about 16-17 years old when then I got into radio and  bumped into a friend of mine who heard me and said to me hey bro you’re bit of ‘a wiz’ on that radio. Since then it has stuck.

Our values and views are shaped by the korero we hear as kids. It seems you have a real purpose for people and community. How did you come to be so passionate about smokefree whanau?
Well growing up my dad and some whanau members smoked , so in my teen years I started smoking and it wasn’t until I was about in my late thirties  that I decided to stop smoking as it was getting to expensive I was spending about $150 a week just on smokes for my wife and I. I was sacrificing buying smokes over paying my bills until I got behind in payments, got into debt, so we decided to quit smoking together. My wife and I have been smokefree now 12 years.

I then realised how bad cancer was. I have had a sister and whanau members die from cancer. As time went by I needed to get a second job because of inflation and buying a house . I saw an ad in the paper looking for a Smoking Cessation Quit Coach at Te Hauora O Turanganui-A-Kiwa /Turanga Health. The ad read “are you a peoples person, get on well with our community, have an understanding of Te Reo me ona Tikanga Maori?”. I said “that’s me”.

I felt that if I can make at least one person quit smoking a week, I have saved there life and so they too can be around longer to be with their whanau

You wear many pōtae- especially in radio and other community mahi. How do you bring these stregnths to your role as a coach? 

I suppose I have built up a following through the radio and with my skills helping our community as am MC for different events. A lot of people know me- I suppose you can say I am a people person as I love meeting and helping people maybe its because I’m a Libra. 

I have empathy towards others as I have been there myself,I make my clients feel comfortable and relaxed not nervous. But it’s that first point of contact- its when you say kia ora, talofa lava, malo, gidday and hello as some of my clients are from different ethnicity groups. We just don’t see Maori people but all who register with Turanga Health and those who want to quit smoking. It’s when you say to the client “Oh I know your mum or dad or a whanau member”- you will be surprised how they will confide in you for help.Or they say “Aren’t you the Wiz on the radio and can u play me a song tomorrow please?”

Of all the whanau you’ve supported in becoming smokefree, are there are stories that stand out that you’d like to share?

When I first started back in 2012, one of my first clients was a nanny who was about 63 years of age who wanted to quit smoking. I said to her “why have you chosen to quit smoking at this time in your life?”. She told me she wants to do it for her first mokopuna. She told me her story that she had been smoking for over 40 years and when her  mokopuna turned five she told her nan, “Nan I don’t want to kiss or hug you anymore cause you stink”. Well the nan was heartbroken to hear that from her moko and so as the days went by she used to wave good bye to her instead of a hug or a kiss. 
We both had water coming out our eyes. 

I said to her “well I am here to help you change that”. So  she started on our program secretly- she didn’t want the whanau to know she was trying to quit smoking for herself but mainly for her moko and wanted to surprise them at their whanau Christmas dinner. When we caught up , she told me she had “the best xmas ever”. She told her whole whanau she had quit smoking and the best part was her moko said “Nan you smell nice” and she gave her nan a hug and lots of kisses.

Another story was of a young lady who was pregnant with her first child when she found out she was hapu. She actually walked into our office and I happen to be at the reception area. She was 16 years old, was feeling rather unsure what to do and there was no partner in this situation. She was doing this solo however she did have help from her mum. So I went through my procedure of making her feel comfortable,relaxed and did all the right documentation plus I also referred her to our Tamariki Ora nurse, antenatal help and some of our other services to help her get through her pregnancy. I wanted her to feel she wasn’t alon.. I am pleased to say she became smokefree within the first 2 weeks of the 6 week program and before her due date. And to this day, I see her down the street now with another child but is still smokefree.

Being someone who is so heavily connected to your community in Tairawhiti, I imagine you’d see the many barriers and challenges facing whanau in living healthy, thriving lives. What do you think we as smokefree advocates and kaimahi should focus on to better empower our people to become smokefree?
This is a hard question its about the individual they have to want to quit smoking. Smoking is the hardest addiction to quit .You know for those who are alcoholics or on drugs, they have rehab centres.

I have talked to some of my people in my community some are so addicted they don’t care if smokes goes up to $30 or 40 dollars a packet they don’t care as long as they get there fix.

That said, this is what I try to do:

  • Deliver  a short smoking presentation to the whanau at their marae or home with whanau members
  • More incentives ie. petrol, pak n save, warehouse vouchers only when they have quit smoking. 
  • Bring back the Wero challenge focusing on groups of 10 prize is $5000 to the team. 

At the moment for my hapu mama, if they register on our program they get a $50 voucher and when they complete the programane are smokefree they get another $250 worth of vouchers.

I believe health sponsorship needs to make a DVD on the bad effects of smoking that people can have access to free of charge. We need to offer free gym memberships and education on good healthy eating. 

Lastly it should be whanau support.