A common thread that runs through the stories of piping in New Zealand since the Second World War is the difficulty in obtaining most commodities from overseas. There are many people alive these days who well remember the rationing in the years immediately after the War. It was impossible to obtain many of the instruments and accoutrements required to kit a Pipe Band.
In earlier articles in this series, we have seen how some have used their skills to manufacture a variety of the necessities that go towards making a fully kitted Pipe Band. The kilt was another item that suffered from the import embargos that existed 50 years ago. Not surprisingly there have been local men and women who quickly adapted to the art of kiltmaking.
The kilt we all wear these days, the philabeg, is a much smaller refined affair than that of 300 years ago. The word philabeg (or filibeg) comes from the Gaelic feileadh meaning ‘kilt’ and beag which means ‘little’. This name implies there was a bigger version and indeed there was.
In the early days a belted plaid was worn; this consisted of a large rectangular piece of material 15-16 feet long and the width being approximately the height of the wearer. To put it on the wearer first placed his belt on the ground; he then placed the rectangular material on top of the belt and roughly pleated it. He would then lie on the pleated material with the lower edge at knee height and tie the belt and material around him. When he stood up the loose upper section would fall down to below waist level; it could be looped over the shoulder or tucked in as required.
This has all the appearance of being a very cumbersome attire but in fact it was very practical. When wearing trousers and moving through the wet bracken and undergrowth the lower legs got very cold and damp. The kilt provided much greater freedom.
The top part could be used as a cape when it was cold and if the wearer had to sleep outside it could be drawn up and wrapped around him as a protection against the elements. It has been noted that the top part was moistened in a stream prior to the wrapping process, and this formed a warm cocoon-like cover through which the wind could not penetrate.
The change from the belted plaid described above to the kilt worn today seems to have occurred in the early 18thcentury. At some point the upper part was made detachable and could be discarded at times of necessity, like when going into battle.
At some time after 1715, an Englishman by the name of Rawlinson was in charge of an iron foundry in Glengarry. He liked wearing the Highland dress and asked a tailor friend to modify the belted plaid to remove the top part and sew the pleats, so they were permanent. The idea caught on very quickly and now the belted plaid is virtually unknown except in museums. (Some of the above comments were taken from the following books: Tartans by Christian Hesketh published by Octopus Books 1972; A Short History of the Scottish Dress by R. M. D.
Grange, published by Burke’s Peerage 1966 and Old Irish and Highland Dress by H. F. McClintock, published by W Tempest 1943.)
The art of kilt-making as we know it appears to be quite recent in the evolution of the Highland Dress, but the art has been handed down and there are now a number of people throughout the world capable of making a high-quality kilt.
One of these is Edward Newman of Te Puke. He was born in Wellington in the early 1920’s and took his first bagpipe lessons from Charlie Stewart when about 15 years old. Charlie, who had been Pipe Major of the Wellington Caledonian Pipe Band left to join the Royal New Zealand Airforce; he later died in active service. Edward’s next tutor was Alec Barclay and he stayed with him for 7 years.
In his early years Edward played in the Wellington College Pipe Band, The Wellington Caledonian Pipe Band and the Scottish Regiment Pipe Band.
Edward had always wanted to be a tailor and served his apprenticeship with George Beardsley in Wakefield Street in Wellington. An old Scot who had been a kilt-maker back in Scotland worked there and was delighted to pass on his knowledge to someone; he thought that Edward was a natural and taught him.
By 1942 he was old enough to be drafted into the war effort and transferred from the Army Territorials into the Royal New Zealand Airforce. He had wanted to fly but was told that he was too short and became an Instrument Technician instead. Based mainly at Hamilton Edward specialised in repairing bomb sights for the aircraft.
After he was demobilised, Edward went back to tailoring in Wellington. This lasted for about six months, and he realised he did not enjoy it as much as he used to and joined the Hutt Valley Electric Power Board as an Instrument Technician.
In 1954 he was accepted as an Instrument Technician with the Rotorua Electric Power Board and remained with them until his retirement in 1981. Soon after his retirement Edward’s wife Margaret died, and he moved to Te Puke where he now lives.
Edward made many kilts for Pipe Bands, Pipers and Highland Dancers. One of the first big orders he got was for 28 kilts from the Timaru Pipe Band. He comments that they were all big farming men, and a lot of material and work went into those kilts. The Grant tartan was woven by the Timaru Woollen Mills and was up to the quality of the best available from Scotland.
The order also consisted of plaids, pipe bag covers, cords and hose. The hose were knitted by his wife’s auntie and when the task was finished, she uttered those words ‘Never again!’ Apparently getting the correct wool colours was not an easy matter.
Edward made kilts for the Scots College Pipe Band, Heretaunga College Pipe Band, Auckland Waterside Pipe Band and Tauranga Pipe Band. In between these he had time to make kilts for many pipers and hundreds of Highland Dancers.
Soon after Edward had learned the art of kilt-making a woman came to have one made for her dancing daughter. The lady wanted it made so that it buckled opposite to the men’s style. Edward tried to suggest that this was not possible, but she would not listen.
He then rang the old Scot who had taught him and put the lady on the phone. Edward is not sure what the Scot said but the lady left with a very red face and agreeing that the standard way of making kilts would do.
Edward did not keep supplies of tartan; anyone who wanted a kilt made had to supply their own. The word seems to get around the country in the early 1950’s that 2 ½ to 3 yards was all that was required to make a kilt. After many years of telling people that as many as 8 yards was normally required the message still had not got through.
A lady came to him to get a kilt made with the normal 2 ½ yards; Edward told her this was not enough and that 8 yards was needed. She snapped that the Secretary of her organisation had told her that 2 ½ yards was enough. Edward suggested in that case she should take it back and have the Secretary make it for her as he couldn’t. He did not have too much problem after that.
The most common tartans used by bands in New Zealand are Cameron of Erracht and Royal Stewart. Edward admits he will be well pleased if he never sees the Cameron of Erracht tartan again.
In recent years the tartan makers have moved away from using the natural vegetable dyes; Edward advises that if it is possible to get tartan made from these natural dyes because the colours produced are far better.
Invariably when we read or hear about pipers in 19thcentury New Zealand, they were either Scots or of Scottish descent. These days we have people of many ethnic origins who are involved in piping and pipe bands; in fact, those of us with Scottish ancestry welcome them to share in our cultural heritage.
The first person of non-Scottish origins to get involved in piping in New Zealand that this writer knows about is Bill Beccard. What makes Bill unique is his level of involvement.
Bill Beccard was born in Arthurton in Southland in 1898 to a French father and a Swiss mother. It is not known how he got started in piping, but he was first taught by John Cameron before the outbreak of the First World War.
Bill was too young to serve in the War but joined the New Zealand Railways and for the next forty years moved to many towns and cities throughout the North and South Islands. Some of the places he lived at were Invercargill, Milton, Whangarei, Napier, Gisborne, Tauranga, Ohakune and Wanganui.
He played in a large number of pipe bands throughout the country and many of the pipers from these bands received their first lessons from Bill. If no band existed close to where he lived, he would form one and then teach pipers to fill its ranks. One of these was the Waimarina Pipe Band.
During his long involvement with piping Bill competed in many of the A Grade Solo competitions. He was not a top-class player but was able to play well enough to get in a few prize lists, particularly in his younger days.
Whilst living in Tauranga he learned the art of pipe making from Archie MacMillan but did not get into serious production until he moved to Wanganui. Like other pipe makers around New Zealand at that time he experimented with a variety of native timbers and found the best were black maire and laburnum.
Supplies of black maire did not appear to be a problem for he made good use of rejected railway sleepers during his time on the railways. Modern day New Zealand pipe makers confirm what Bill Beccard and his contemporaries found out 50 or more years ago that black maire is the best native timber for making bagpipes.
Bill’s pipe making was by no means the only extent of his manufacturing. He also made pipe bags, cords, tassels, sporrans, sgian dhus, dirks, badges and dancing shoes. His wife Alice made kilts. Don Fitchet of Wanganui tells of the many pleasant hours he spent in Bill’s workshop learning how to make pipe bags and some of the finer points of pipe making.
We do not know how many sets of pipes Bill made but many of them are still around today. The Waimarina Pipe Band had a full set of his pipes at one stage. Bill’s son Alex Beccard of Hawera has three sets along with many other articles that his father made.
The Beccard bagpipe is quite easy to recognise with its usually well finished exterior. The combing is courser than that of Scottish made pipes and the mounts were commonly chrome plated copper that Bill hand engraved. He also used casein and like the McPhees a few years earlier, ivory from billiard balls. The bores of his pipes were made to Henderson specifications.
Bill Beccard died in 1972 ages 74 and it is perhaps fitting that this very likeable man should be recalled on the hundredth anniversary of his birth.
The writer would like to thank Alex Beccard of Hawera and Don Fitchett of Wanganui for their assistance in researching this article.
In this instalment we will look at some of the people who have become repairers or manufacturers on a smaller scale. There have probably been many dozens of pipers over the last 150 years in New Zealand who have turned their hand to this art. We have no way of knowing how many but after nearly thirty-five years in piping the writer has seen many attempts. These have ranged from the very high quality to the downright shoddy. Thankfully the latter are in the minority.
Most pipers acquire the skills that are necessary to get a bagpipe going. Simple tasks like adjusting drone and chanter reeds, re-hemping, cutting new blow-pipe valves and dressing the bag are well within their capabilities. Tieing in a new bag is a little more difficult but many pipers have found that it is not beyond them.
However, what happens if one was to break a tuning pin; or if a drone or stock splits; or you want your ivory or silver sole put onto that shining new chanter you have just bought? Unless the piper has an engineering or wood working background, he or she will be most loathe to attempt it themself. Besides the knowledge to carry out the task, there is also the machinery required. Lathes, drill presses and reamers are not the sort of things found in the average piper’s kit.
It is to a professional or semiprofessional repairer that they will turn. One of these was the late Bill Stewart of Dunedin. Bill was born in Taieri in 1882 of Scottish immigrant parents. He became machinist with the New Zealand Railways and there he appears to have acquired the necessary knowledge and skills to dabble into bagpipe repairs.
When he was young, he learned to play the violin, but it was not until he was 37 years old, just after the First World War that he started to play the pipes. It is not known who taught Bill but it was someone in the Dunedin Highland Pipe Band (now the City of Dunedin) and although his real expertise was on the violin Bill played with the Pipe Band for many years.
He carried out many repairs on bagpipes and in 1950 made his first set from kowhai. Two years later at the age of seventy he obtained some African Blackwood and made a second set. Both of these were very good in relation to craftsmanship and tonal qualities. Unfortunately, the first set was destroyed in a fire. The second set still exist but some parts have been ‘borrowed’ to keep other instruments going.
Bill’s real expertise was in chanter making. He made many chanters over the years and they were of very high quality. As a result of his violin playing, he had an exceptionally fine ear. Bill passed on his knowledge to Archie MacMillan, another piper noted for his bagpipe making.
However, the most important contribution that Bill made to piping is that he was the father of the more famous Airdrie Stewart, also of Dunedin. Airdrie is well known as a champion piper and latterly as a very good teacher. He learned the pipes at an early age and had a very successful piping career.
In the early 1950’s he joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a Band Master, thus probably becoming one of the first full time professional pipers in New Zealand.
Perhaps when Airdrie reflects of some of the many accolades that have come his way over the years, the one he will remember most fondly is being asked to play in the Masters’ Recital in Auckland in September 1996. Those who were in the audience that night will never forget the sheer music produced by this man in his seventies.
The writer gratefully acknowledges his friendship with Airdrie over nearly thirty years and also his help in producing this article.
Most of the people about whom I have written in this series of articles have devoted a good deal of time in researching and experimenting to find the best materials and dimensions for making and repairing bagpipes.
The dimension they settle on are usually determined my measuring existing instruments. There are many combinations of bore sizes that can be used to get a good sound, but obviously there is a limit as to how far one may go.
Many timber types, metals and composite materials have found some favour at some time. However, there are many people who are reluctant to play bagpipes made of any material except African blackwood or ebony.
There are also occasions when the environmental conditions dictate the materials being used. Jim Barrie of Vancouver, Canada has a set of bagpipes made of nickel steel. Jim acquired them when he was living in New Zealand in the 1970s.
In 1972, whilst on tour with the Innes Tartan Pipe Band he saw an identical chanter as the one on his pipes in J & R Glen’s shop window in Edinburgh. Jim’s curiosity was roused sufficiently to ask the owner of the shop, the late Andrew Ross, about the chanter.
Mr. Ross said that during the 1914-18 war, the 10thHighland Light Infantry were stationed in the desert and the bagpipes taken out with them were cracking in the intense heat. J & R Glen were contracted to supply 12 sets of pipes to overcome this problem.
Each section of the instruments, including the chanter were turned from a solid piece of metal. They all have the same characteristics as any silver and ivory mounted bagpipe seen these days; the ferrules and mounts are turned into the drone, chanter and stock sections. The resulting pattern may well be typical of other bagpipes produced by J & R Glen in those days, and this could make the task of identifying J & R Glen bagpipes easier.
In 1991 I visited Jim in Canada and had the opportunity of playing these drones. I put my reeds into them and put the drones into my bag and the sound produced was not unlike that produced by wooden sets.
Even though these 12 sets were made by an established manufacturer, some experimentation took place before finished article took shape. A small cam operated shutter has been fitted to the middle base drone section to allow for controlling of the airflow through the drone. This can be used to silence any irritating buzzing or excessive loudness.
Bob Everest of Wellington used the engineering skills he learned as a fitter and turner to experiment with different materials and dimensions when he tried his hand at bagpipe repair and manufacture.
Bob was born in Dunedin and when he was about six months old his parents moved to Hamilton. His father’s family were among the early settlers of Dunedin in the early 1840’s. They migrated from England via Australia.
At the age of 14 in 1942 he was taught the bagpipes by Sam Clothier who was Pipe Major of the Hamilton Caledonian Pipe Band. Bob first paraded with the Band on VE day, June 1945. During his 5 years with the band, he competed in band and solo competitions. In those days the Band was A Grade and won the New Zealand Championships in 1947 and 48.
When he left school, Bob served his apprenticeship as a fitter and turner with the NZ Dairy Company in Hamilton. During his apprenticeship he did a correspondence course and obtained his 3rd Marine Certificate.
In 1950 he joined the New Zealand Shipping Company as a Junior Engineer and served with them for 13 years. The last 5 years of his time at sea were as Chief Engineer. Bob had a number of trips to the United Kingdom and spent some time in Scotland going around a few of the Games.
From 1963 to 1966 he lived and worked in London before returning to New Zealand. He held a number of engineering jobs over the next few years until 1971 when he joined the Technical Correspondence Institute in Lower Hutt as a tutor.
Throughout his working life Bob has maintained his interest in piping although life at sea was not the ideal environment to maintain continuity. It was whilst at sea that Bob first tried his hand at repairing his own bagpipe. The base drone tuning pin split and as he did not have any suitable wood available, he machined a brass tube to fit over the tuning pin. This was so successful that it lasted until it was replaced for aesthetic reasons many years later.
Bob carried out a number of other minor repairs on other people’s bagpipes over the years and shortly before he retired 1991 carried out some research into the art of bagpipe making. Bob found that books about the manufacture of The Highland Bagpipes are almost nonexistent. However, manufacturers of other bagpipe types have been more prolific when imparting their knowledge and Bob made use of all the books he could find.
Like many other manufacturers, he measured other sets to check their dimensions. One technique he used was industrial x-rays. This is an ideal way of determining the internal shape and dimensions of the bell. This part of the drone is the most critical and also the most difficult to measure accurately. X-rays are a perfect means of collecting the data without damaging the instrument. It is also ideal for determining the inner dimensions of chanters.
Ultimately Bob settled on dimensions similar to those in a set of Henderson bagpipes from the late 1940s. He has also made a set using the dimensions from an old set of MacDougall’s.
Bob has found firms in the United Kingdom who supply him with the African blackwood or West African ebony.
Bob has maintained accuracy when forming the bores of the drones. To ensure the bores of the tenor drones are identical he uses adjustable reamers. He also tries to make the drone sections from the same piece of timber to ensure they have the same density.
Whenever he sells a set, Bob likes to get them back after a month or two so he can check the internal dimensions. Even though the wood is dried thoroughly before turning, it does ‘grow’ when the moisture gets into it. By passing the reamers and drills through the bores after a few months, any narrowing can be removed.
Bob makes his own mounts from an imitation ivory. A set of wooden mounted Lawrie bagpipes from around the First Word War that Bob owned for many years have had imitation ivory mounts fitted that have enhanced their appearance immensely.
If anyone wants a set of Bob’s bagpipes, he will mount them in whatever material the customer wants. He has fitted silver plated brass ferrules to some instruments. If anyone wanted sterling silver mounts made and fitted, Bob would be able to oblige.
Lately, Bob has made a set of Scottish Small Pipes and is in the process of making a set of Border pipes. He has made a number of contacts with other pipe makers throughout the world and is able to swap experiences on a frequent basis.
Bob has made twelve sets of bagpipes to date and although in his early 70s has no intention of ceasing production. As long as there are clients and Bob has the ability, he will carry on making bagpipes.
Throughout the earlier articles in this series, we have found repairers and manufactures coming from a variety of backgrounds. Most have some Scottish ancestry, but this has by no means been a pre-requisite as we saw with Bill Beccard; the one common feature they all have is a fair dollop of ‘Kiwi Ingenuity’.
New Zealand, like many other countries settled by Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries lacked many of the comforts of home; to obtain anything from the Homeland would take many months or even a year or more to arrive. To overcome these impediments the settlers simply made do with whatever was at hand, utilising and enhancing whatever skills they had to add a small modicum of comfort to their lives.
These days there are no such problems with most purchases from the other side of the world arriving within a week of ordering. This speed of service along with the price and quality of most piping equipment from Scotland make it uneconomical for locals to utilise their skills, especially on a small scale. So, there must be another reason for local craftsmen making different sorts of bagpipe, drone and chanter reeds (cane and plastic) and almost anything else that the piper or drummer might use to create that special sound.
All pipers are inveterate composers and tinkerers. Every piper has tried composing at some time and although everlasting fame has come to few, we now have a huge number of quality tunes from which Pipers can select their repertoire. Likewise, with pipe maintenance, everyone has their own special method of carrying out the simplest tasks. They all have one thing in common: they work.
It is this writer’s belief that the one thing that motivates contemporary men and women to experiment in the field of pipe making and repairing is the possibility they might stumble on to a new way that will achieve universal acceptance; the monetary gains they might make are often a secondary consideration. There are many gadgets and devices that have emerged over the last 30 odd years to suggest that many have been successful in this dream.
Two brothers who perhaps fit into this mould are Vic and Ian Whyman.
The Whyman family migrated from Kent in England in the 1850’s; their grandfather was born in New Zealand, but he married one Annie Monteith, hence the Scottish connection.
Vic and Ian are both pipers as is another brother Earl. Their sister Valerie was a champion Highland dancer in her younger days having been taught by their mother. Their father worked for New Zealand Railways and frequently moved around the North Island with his job.
In August 1945 the family moved from Ohakune to Te Aroha and there Vic and Ian heard their first Pipe Band; Vic was 11 and Ian a year or two younger. For them both it started a love affair with piping that has continued to this day. Vic started playing the pipes and Ian the drums and both played with the Te Aroha Pipe Band. The Pipe Major was Roy (Robbie) Robertson, a Scot who worked as a factory hand at the Waitoa Dairy Factory. He taught Vic and later Ian.
August 1949 saw the Whyman family on the move again, this time to Wanganui and Vic and Ian joined the City of Wanganui Pipe Band. Vic also played with the Wanganui Technical College Pipe Band and in 1950 joined the New Zealand Army. The next 34 years saw Vic serving in many Army camps throughout New Zealand and the world.
In 1965 he received a Queen’s Commission reaching the rank of Major on retirement. The last four years were a very rewarding time for Vic when he became involved with computers; his level of knowledge in this field is something a person many years his junior would justifiably be proud of.
Throughout his Army service Vic played the pipes and was involved with many bands as he moved around the country. When Vic retired from the Army in late 1983, he was living in Auckland and it is that city that he decided to settle. Around 15 years ago he joined the Auckland Police Pipe Band and is still an active playing member.
In the late 1970s the first plastic drone reeds came on the market; they had limitations that many people have tried to overcome. Vic is one of these. He felt that the basic concept of these first plastic reeds was sound and with a good deal of experimentation has devised a reed that rivals many of the overseas models. There are at least three bands playing them.
Vic makes drone reeds for all types of bagpipe including the Highland Bagpipe, Scottish small pipes, Scottish parlour pipes Northumbrian pipes and the Uilleann pipes. He has also developed the art of making plastic practice chanter reeds and cane reeds for most small pipes.
Bagpiping is not the only interest in Vic’s life. He is a keen amateur wine maker and home brewer. In fact, he is the immediate past Chairman of the New Zealand Amateur Wine Maker and Brewers’ Federation. For the last eight years has been the senior Judge for the Northern Region and is currently secretary for the National Judges Guild.
When Ian arrived in Wanganui, he initially played in a B Grade band as a piper. Soon after he had progressed on the pipes sufficiently to become a full-time piper in the City of Wanganui Pipe Band, and A Grade Band. In the early 1950s the Wellington West Coast Regiment Pipe Band was formed. This was a Territorial Army Band with the famous John Allan MacGee as its Pipe Major. Ian admits that the tuition from John Allan was the best he ever received at any time.
An interesting insight into the great man can be seen from an incident that occurred soon after the band was formed. The RSM required the band to fall in with the soldiers on a parade ground march. John Allan stated that soldiers march, but the band did not; it would play standing still. This infuriated the RSM and after heated discussion with the RSM and Adjutant John Allan still refused to march. The Colonel of the Regiment, a well-known Wanganui lawyer, joined the debate but the band still did not march.
It appears John Allan MacGee was ahead of his time when it came to bands marching; or perhaps he was merely a product of the Scottish piping scene who did not attach too much importance to the military aspects of Pipe Banding.
Later, John Allan left the parade early to return to Wanganui and the band was left in the command of its Pipe Corporal, Ian Whyman. The minute the Pipe Major had left the Colonel attempted to get the band marching. A very nervous Ian politely reminded the Colonel that the Pipe Major said the Band did not march. The band did not march!
In 1960 Ian, like many other pipers, gave up piping because of work commitments. In the early 1980s when these pressures subsided, he took it up again. He did not have his own set of pipes and used to borrow a set. This became inconvenient so Ian decided to have a go at making a set. Kauri was used to make them, completely from memory. The result was not overly successful.
In 1984 Vic returned from one of his overseas trips with a set of parlour pipes. They were beautifully made but the chanter was not accurate; the drones were difficult to reed. Ian thought that there had to be a better way and decided to have a go at making a set.
He used black maire and made a new chanter; this is essentially a practice chanter with the holes spaced similarly to the pipe chanter to obtain the correct intervals. The drones of the original set had very small bores, so Ian decided to make his mores larger to obtain a bigger sound. He found with three drones going they were too powerful for the chanter and the balance was not good. To overcome this, he simply removed one of the tenor drones; he will supply a three droned set but all but one of the twenty sets he has made has two drones. This may appear foreign to Highland bagpipe players but in the Highlands of Scotland the two droned Great Highland Bagpipe existed until about 1820. The three droned instrument was played.
Some years ago, Ian obtained the drawings of the dudy (a Bohemian bagpipe) from Bryan Mitchell of Hamilton. These drawings had their origins with the early Bohemian settlers and although the instructions were in German, Ian made a set. The result can be seen on the cover of The Pipe Band magazine of Summer 1997.
Ian admits the sound of the chanter is extremely cacophonous; this prompted him to make another chanter similar to the Highland Bagpipe. Ian has since established that the ‘cacophonous sound’ is that that the instrument is supposed to have and has gone back to the original chanter.
Along the way Ian has carried out repairs to numerous Highland Bagpipes and has made a Bombarde; this is a Breton pipe that has no bag and according to Anthony Baines’ Bagpipes published by Oxford University Press is normally played in duet with the higher pitched biniou.
Twenty years ago, Terry Carroll of Papakura obtained a Brien Boru chanter; this is similar to the Highland Bagpipe chanter except it has keys allowing notes below Low g and above high A. Terry could not get it to go to his satisfaction using conventional Highland Bagpipe reeds and gave it to Ian to experiment with. Ian made a reed that enabled him to obtain a sound but with some reservations.
The Brien Boru bagpipe was invented by William O’Duane and manufactured at the turn of the century by Henry Starck  The pipe was designed to overcome the problem of many Irish tunes extending beyond the 9 note Highland Bagpipe scale; this appears to have been a more acceptable method of treating these tunes than mutilating them to fit.
 A Bibliography of Bagpipe Music by Roderick Cannon, Published by John Donald Publishers, Edinburgh 1980, page 57.
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