Where are they now? Aussie stars of 1994

Through much of the 1990s, except for four years in Thailand, I worked for TV Week, which was then Australia’s biggest selling entertainment magazine (more than 500,000 copies a week). We also ran the TV Week Logie Awards (“the Logies”), which were, and still are, screened on Channel 9.

The Logies—named after the Scottish inventor of the TV set, John Logie Baird—were a big deal in those days, akin to the Emmys in the US. The televised live event was always one of the highest-rating shows of the year.

Of course, it is an invitation-only event, and in those days, we TV Week reporters received our own invitation and entered via the red carpet like anyone else. (Unlike the stars, however, we had to return to the office about midnight and write our stories. Later though, we were able to return to the all-night parties, and we got a hotel room each thrown in).


When I moved house recently, I found my invitation to the 1994 Logies, pictured above. It’s poster sized, came in a tube (which I still store it in) and featured illustrations of some of the top stars of the day.

It’s interesting, 20 years on, to see their younger selves and to reflect on the industry. Some of them are, sadly, no longer with us, including the irreplaceable actor Ruth Cracknell (left, next to my name), who I had the pleasure of interviewing about that time and who won the peer-voted award that year for Most Outstanding Actress. She died in 2002, aged 76.

The other who has gone is Graeme “Shirley” Strachan (bottom, third from right), lead singer of the 1970s group Skyhooks, who had become a lifestyle-show host. He was killed in 2001 at the aged of 49 when the helicopter he was flying crashed on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

There are many in this poster whose careers kicked on and who are still involved in the media or entertainment industries, I’m pleased to say: Garry McDonald, (Most Outstanding Actor), John Farnham, Georgie Parker, Wendy Harmer, Andrew Denton, Ian “Molly” Meldrum, Gary Sweet and Sonia Todd (Most Popular Actor and Actress, respectively, for Police Rescue), Red Symons, Melissa George (Most Popular New Talent), Libbi Gorr (as Elle McFeast), Ernie Dingo, Rob Sitch, Natalie Imbruglia. Cricketer Shane Warne, then aged 25, is there in his hey-day, too.

Ray Martin (centre right) not only hosted the show, he won statuettes for Most Popular Light Entertainment Personality and the big one, the Gold Logie for Most Popular Personality on Australian Television. He won many Logies, but he once told me every single one of them was precious to him and he loved winning them.

At centre left is Daryl Somers, host of the long-running show Hey Hey It’s Saturday, which ran for 27 years before being cancelled in 1999. Somers and the show made a short-lived comeback in 2010.

There are others there who we thought were big stars at the time but who perform only occasionally now or who have gone on to other things: Kimberley Davies, Dieter Brummer, Bruce Samazan, Scott Michaelson.

There are a few glaring omissions: It’s extraordinary that Bert Newton isn’t pictured. One of the best known Australian entertainers, then as now, he had hosted the show 18 times, including the year before.

The other omission is the great actor Bud Tingwall (1923-2009), who was inducted into the TV Week Logies Hall of Fame that year.

Long-Ago Interviews: Lord Jeffrey Archer, author

In a previous career, I was a journalist who specialised in writing about the entertainment industry, celebrities, books and authors. I did this from the 1980s until 2008, when I became a university lecturer in media studies and journalism. In this series, “Long Ago Interviews”, I want to share some anecdotes from some of my more memorable interview subjects.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, I was books editor at the Sunday Star newspaper in New Zealand (now the Sunday Star Times). I had moved back to the big city, where I was brought up, after paying my dues from the age of 17 working at rural newspapers at Waipukurau in Hawke’s Bay and Warkworth, north of Auckland. I was still only in my early 20s when I became books editor of this major newspaper, but in those days, because we started so young, we were quite accomplished by age 23 or 24.

An example of my Sunday Star books page from 1986. Unfortunately, I no longer have a clipping of my Jeffrey Archer interview.

An example of my Sunday Star books page from 1986. Unfortunately, I no longer have a clipping of my Jeffrey Archer interview

Books editor

When I say I was books editor, this was an extra duty. I was primarily employed as the TV-page writer/editor, and before that the arts writer/editor of the Auckland Star Monday to Saturday. When the new Sunday edition was being planned, I sent the Editor—the big man upstairs who we lowly reporters barely ever saw—a proposal for a books page in the Sunday Star, because management had asked for ideas from staff and were prepared to give everyone a go. My proposal for a weekly books page was accepted, but it was additional to my role as arts editor then, later, TV editor. They paid me an extra $50 a week, but as all book lovers would know, it wasn’t about the money. I would be thrilled with anticipation every day as boxes of new books were delivered from publishers hoping to get a mention on the page.

Each week, as well as reviews by myself and other journalists happy to grab a free book (they got paid for reviews too, by the way), I wrote a news story about the book industry and did an interview with an author. It was a broadsheet newspaper, so there was lots of room.

As you can imagine, I was very busy, basically doing two jobs. As TV editor, every day I had to write a page of interviews and stories about local TV, and I also had to type out the program guide with witty comments! On Saturdays, I produced a TV lift-out. Then Sunday was thrown into the mix, though I’m not sure now if it was a dedicated TV page or just a news story or two.

“Mr Archer doesn’t go to interviews; you go to him”

Jeffrey Archer in 1998. Picture courtesy London School of Economics.

Jeffrey Archer in 1998. Picture courtesy London School of Economics.

One of the interviews I remember vividly from this time was with the British author, Jeffrey Archer (now Lord Archer, but back then, plain old “Mr”). Before I write further, let me say I do not agree with his politics at all, and I wouldn’t comment on his private life, of which there are many versions (for an interesting article on truth versus fiction in his life, click here). Nevertheless, I have to say he was a most charming interviewee, humorous and talkative. In addition, he is one of only a very few among hundreds of authors I have interviewed who sent me a personally signed letter  after the interview, thanking me for my time. I still have that letter.

Jeffrey Archer was extremely famous in the 1980s, and few authors could match his sales. He is perhaps best known for Kane And Abel, of which a 30th anniversary edition was released last year, and which alone has sold 37 million copies, according to Archer himself on his blog. I’ve read several of his books and enjoyed them immensely.

Anyway, Archer’s publishing company’s publicist had called me to set up an interview time, assuming I would go to his hotel. When I said that I was actually too busy to go out to an interview that day and that Mr Archer would have to come to the Star building to see me, the publicist was aghast:
“Mr Archer doesn’t go to interviews; you go to him,” she said.

I said that unfortunately, then, I would have to pass on the interview. She then got back to me with the exciting news that the author would indeed go to the journalist.

He duly arrived. I met him in the foyer, and up the rickety elevator we went in the ancient but quaint Auckland Star building, to an interview room on the editorial floor. He was with a young male assistant, who I prefer to think of as a sort of manservant (and I’ll tell you why in a moment).

Now, when I say interview room, think monk’s cellar. These rooms were just cubbyholes, really, with only a small table and a couple of chairs inside. Nothing on the drab grey walls, rather musty smelling, no windows. They were like interview rooms you see in those old hard-boiled cop movies. Nevertheless, I got him a bad cup of instant coffee in a paper cup and away we went.

Ask a rude question…

In the 1980s, young people still mostly lived by a lot of rules about how to behave in company and, especially, to have respect for their elders. You did not talk about money, religion or politics, as a rule, and you never asked a woman over 30 her age. But as journalists, we had to forget these rules, and we used to have to ask what I saw as tough questions, which you always kept until last. For Jeffrey Archer, the tough question I had to ask was, “How much money do you earn from your writing?”

He laughed and told me he had no idea. I don’t believe that for a moment, but he qualified it with some good material for my story. This is not the exact quotation, as unfortunately, I no longer have the clipping, but he answered something like this: “Let’s just put it this way. I have enough money to go anywhere I want to and to buy anything I want without having to check if there is enough money in my bank account.” He told me he had Louis Vuitton luggage, which was very impressive. He also told me that the sole reason he had started writing his first novel, Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less, was because he desperately needed money to stop himself going bankrupt.

One’s manservant has the pen

Archer signs books in Bangalore, India, 2009. Picture: Mike Lynch.

Archer signs books in Bangalore, India, 2009. Picture: Mike Lynch

Another thing that has changed in journalism is that, in those days, you would never ask a celebrity for their autograph if you were a professional reporter. You would never show that you were “star struck”. This is the one time I broke the rules: I asked Jeffrey Archer if he would sign my paperback review copy of his book First Among Equals, which was what he was in New Zealand to publicise. He agreed, then held up his right arm with palm outstretched. Immediately, the “manservant” took a pen from his pocket and placed it in Archer’s hand. Archer signed the book, and handed the pen back to the assistant. I still have that signed paperback: you can see Archer’s signature and find out what happened to my copy of the book here.

I say “manservant”, because in New Zealand, we had nowhere like as rigid or apparent a class system as existed in England. No one else I knew or had interviewed had ever had someone else to carry their pen for them, including the then-Prime Minister, David Lange, who I met at the Beehive (as the Parliament Buildings executive area is known) in Wellington in the 1980s. Well, whatever the real reason the assistant had the pen, it makes a good story and is something that has stuck in my memory all these years.

The Steampunk Capital of the World: who would have thought?

Steampunk HQ in Oamaru's Victorian precinct.  Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Steampunk HQ in Oamaru’s Victorian precinct.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

There was a surprise waiting for me on my recent trip to Oamaru, a coastal town of 13,350 people in North Otago on New Zealand’s South Island. I’d known before going that it had a “Victorian precinct”, an old part of the town down by the docks that had been restored as a tourist area to show off its handsome 19th century buildings.

What I didn’t know is it had also become steampunk territory: in fact, it is the declared “steam punk capital of the world”.

What is steampunk? It’s basically an art and aesthetic movement inspired by the industrial revolution and Victorian times, with an added science fiction element: think Jules Verne and H. G Wells originally, and more recently, Phillip Pullman. There are also films, TV shows, plays and music that are considered “steampunk”, including, for example, Rock ‘N’ Roll Train by the Australian band AC/DC and—wait for it—Justin Bieber’s version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, as seen in the 2011 film Arthur Christmas.

This was a brilliant marketing idea for Oamaru, and people come from all over the world to see the precinct. I went to Oamaru this month during a week spent in Dunedin (where I was born but spent only the first three weeks of my life).

There is an annual  Steampunk NZ Festival here too, the next from May 30 to June 2, complete with an “absinthe night” and penny-farthing lessons. Tickets are pretty reasonably priced—$200 for an adult passport to everything, including food, for example. Read more on this here.

I have a few relatives in and around Oamaru, so after morning tea with my first cousin-once-removed, Ella, who has lived in the town for all of her 80 years, I took a 10-minute stroll down the hill to visit the Victorian precinct. Here’s what it looked like as I was walking towards it:

Approaching Oamaru's Victorian precinct from ??? St.  Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Approaching Oamaru’s Victorian precinct (starting with the last building on the left) from Wansbeck St.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

The precinct is very busy on weekends, but I visited on a weekday, when it was quiet and when the shopkeepers had time to chat to each other and me. Steampunk here seems to be, for many, a way of life rather than just a style.

Steampunk Oamaru's main street.  Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Steampunk Oamaru’s main street.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

There are loads of extraordinary galleries here, including the most famous, owned by Donna Demente, a top NZ artist who has settled in Oamaru. She is attributed with driving much of the fine-arts revival in the town, including the annual mask festival. I visited her wonderful Grainstore Gallery, which even allows visitors to take photos, so here are mine:

Donna Demente's Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente’s Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente's Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente’s Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente's Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente’s Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

There are several other steam punk-themed events through the year. If you want to know more about Oamaru’s steampunk revolution, take a look at this fabulous video I found on by Anna Repp:

A writer’s home in “the kingdom by the sea”

What is it that is so fascinating about seeing inside a renowned writer’s house, touching the desk they used to work at, seeing where they were brought up—pondering on what made such a brilliant mind? Do we writers hope that, somehow, aspects of the inspiration, the writerly brilliance, of the famous one will transfer itself to us?

It seems that all writers are fascinated with the writing habits of other writers, and I am no exception. I remember being riveted, for example, by the chapter in Stephen King’s excellent memoir On Writing in which he described the placement of his desk. I also have a wonderful coffee-table book, simply titled Writers’ Houses, by Francesca Premoli-Droulers and Erica Lennard (Seven Dials, 1999), which allows me to peak inside the homes of Hemingway, Twain, Woolf, Yeats and Sackville-West, among others. Today’s post is my own story of a trip to the home of one of New Zealand’s best loved writers, Janet Frame.

"The kingdom by the sea", Janet Frame's home, Oamaru. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann

“The kingdom by the sea”, Janet Frame’s home, Oamaru. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann

On a week-long trip back to my birthplace in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island this month, I caught a bus to the small seaside town of Oamaru. I wanted particularly to go to Oamaru, not only because I have family who have lived there for up to 80 years,  but also to visit the town where the New Zealand writer Janet Frame spent her childhood, and about which she described in her autobiography as “the kingdom by the sea”.

With my first cousins-once-removed, I had lunch at the oldest restaurant in Oamaru, the 100-year-old Star and Garter (9 Itchen Street), where I had the lightest, tastiest whitebait fritters, the thread-like fish caught locally only that morning. The Star and Garter has hosted many wedding receptions and anniversary parties from the early 20th century, and it has a fascinating wall on which are glued newspaper articles from these weddings. They are pasted at random, so one from 1927 might be next to one from 1972. There’s a great picture of that wall on Real NZ Festival Insider blog here. For more on the restaurant, see this blog: Oamaru Life.

My cousins then took me to the childhood home of Frame, at 56 Eden Street, which she wrote about in several of her works. In typical New Zealand understatement, there is an unassuming plaque at the front, but you can easily miss it from the road and we drove by it at first without noticing it.

IMG_2488IMG_2489This is the house where Frame lived with her parents, three sisters and brother from 1931 to 1943. I was surprised—though I’m not sure why—to hear they hadn’t owned the house: it was a long-term rental property. They moved in when Frame was seven, and the four sisters shared a room and a double bed, as was common in those days, while their brother had his own room.  The house is not large, particularly for a family of seven, but the rooms are generously proportioned, the ceilings high. “This is because it was built in pre-Second World War times,” the guide told us.

Frame-newThere is no photography allowed inside, but these book marks show what it is like. The upper shows the girls’ bedroom, while the lower is Frame’s desk, which she donated to the house when it was being restored. The desk, of course, is from a later part of her life when she was living elsewhere. During the restoration, Frame herself visited the house and was asked if there was anything she would add to it. An old range would be a good addition to the kitchen, she said, and one was duly bought.

In many ways, Frame had a tragic life, with two of her sisters dying young, and many years spent in psychiatric institutions having been misdiagnosed as schizophrenic and even scheduled for a pre-frontal lobotomy at one stage. As is the case with so many people with brilliant minds, they do not conform to the norms that society expects. I love this quotation from her childhood diary: “They think I’m going to be a schoolteacher but I’m going to be a poet.” You can read more about Frame’s life here.

As might be expected in such a small town, my relatives knew the guide on duty that day. They didn’t know Frame herself, but my cousins knew or know several people connected with the family, and it was intriguing to hear them talking not of Frame as the great writer I know from books and films, but in terms of who was related to whom, and who went to school with whom and where they might be now, who they had married and what they had studied at uni, and so on.

A highlight of the house is the 1930s free-standing radio, set up to play a real tape of Frame actually reading from her writing about 56 Eden St. As she describes her mother standing in the dining room by the light of the window, you can gaze, eerily, at just the spot Frame is talking about.

I’ve read some of Frame’s books, including Owls Do Cry, The Lagoon and Other Stories, and To The Is-Land.  I’ve also read Michael King’s seminal biography Wrestling With the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame (Viking, 2000). Several new works by Frame have been published posthumously, too. including the latest, Between My Father and the King: New and Uncollected Stories (2012, also published as Gorse is Not People). She left her entire estate, including manuscripts and publishing rights to all her works, to the Janet Frame Literary Trust, which she formed in 1999. I was interested to read on the trust’s website  that the literary part of her estate is managed by the legendary Wylie Agency of London and New York. Janet Frame’s literary estate also runs An Angel @ My Blog that has all the latest publishing information.

On a personal note, seeing the house and feeling surrounded by quotations from Frame’s evocative writing has made me want to go back and read more. So, I add more titles to my ever-expanding summer reading list.

I will leave you today with a quotation written by Frame, showing that she had moved into the electronic age and had embraced it. To NZ writer and editor Elizabeth Alley, she said in an email: “I really love emailing, it’s like writing a poem in the sky.”

I, Robot or, “Danger, Will Robinson! (“Exterminate! EXTERMINATE!)

The Space-Robo, made in Japan by Tomy, 1969.

The Space Robo, made in Japan by Tomy, 1969, and bought for my brother.

When I was a kid, robots were all the rage. Before the digital age, before the time of personal computers, they had a kind of mystique about them.

This was encouraged by the romanticisation of robots on screen as either heroes or villains. The loyal bodyguard-type robot in the 1960s series Lost in Space, which I saw in endless repeats in the 1970s, was endearing and long-suffering, as Dr Smith referred to him variously as a “Neanderthal ninny”, a “blithering booby”,  a “nickel-plated Nincompoop”, a “tintinnabulating tin can” and many more sensational insults (you can see more of them here).

On the other hand, the robot-like daleks in Dr Who were just about the scariest things ever to me as a child. This is one of the earliest TV series I remember—and I didn’t even watch it. In fact, I refused to watch it with Dad, so horrified was I by it and everything about it—even the opening music. In the middle of the night, I sometimes awoke, imagining a dalek was coming to get me, screaming “Exterminate! EXTERMINATE!” as it came inescapably closer. Interestingly, although the daleks appeared to be robots, they were actually supposed to be cyborgs, that is a biological entity enclosed by a protective metal shell. Whatever—to me, they were robots.

Then there was the demonic H.A.L. 9000 in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey (“Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose any more. Goodbye”), which I didn’t see until the 1980s. Today in 2013, H.A.L.’s most chilling lines are featured on a phone app I have.

We imagined, in the 1970s, that by the year 2000, real robots would be attending to our every need. Robot servants would be cooking and cleaning for us, so we were free to go off to school or work in our personal flying car. Blame The Jetsons for that one!

I was reminded of “the robot age” of the mid-to-late 20th century yesterday, when I visited my mother. I happened to go into her spare room, where she stores toys from her three children’s youths. I spotted the robot pictured above, and it brought back memories of long ago. This one belonged to my late brother Phillip, and came complete with flashing lights and battery-powered action.

While researching this story, I came across The Old Robots Web Site, dedicated to the first wave of robotics. It includes an impressive array of “educational and personal robots” from the 1940s-90s, which you can see here. On this website, I discovered that the robot at my mum’s house is a Space Robo from 1969, made in Japan by Tomy, and part of the “Lighted Magic Dial” series.

We were living in England then, but Dad had been on a business trip to New York, and I think it was probably there that he bought the Space Robo, which is now, apparently, a rare collector’s item. I wish we had kept the box!

The evolution of music (in just a couple of minutes)

When my friend Bryan posted this on his inspirational blog, I just had to reblog it. This young a cappella group manages to sing the history of music in four minutes. (Coincidentally, I’m doing a History of Rock course through coursera.org at the moment). This is brilliant!

Bryan Patterson's Faithworks

A musical history lesson from the fabulous Pentatonix

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgic


Although New Zealand is still the only citizenship I hold, I haven’t lived there since the late 1980s. In fact, I have spent more of my life outside NZ than in it. However, I still feel very much a New Zealander, and I painted this picture, “Voices from Home”, to convey my nostalgia.
I included some books by authors I admire: Joan Druett and her wonderful Wiki Coffin series, Katherine Mansfield, Keri Hulme, Paula Morris. There are also a traditional flax woven bag called a kete (pronounced kae-tae); a painting bought at Coromandel; a greenstone carved pendant; a paua-shell ring; and an old book my friend Yvette bought me about the All Blacks. She bought this book for me because my great-grandfather, Harold “Bunny” Abbott, is listed in it, having played for “The Originals” in 1905.
A lot of my paintings include items of nostalgia, and I’d like to do more of them while I am learning about creating fine art.
Have you noticed that when you start to think about an old object or event, memories start to come back to you that you didn’t realise you had?

Old Gadgets

It’s strange to think that something that was made as recently as 2000 could now be a relic of the past, a strange reminder of technology most of us no longer use.

I teach media studies and communications at a university, and I’m interested in the links between creativity and technology. One of my hobbies—ironically, to get away from that world—is painting.  I’ve been doing a series I call “Old Gadgets”.

My latest painting in this series, finished last night, is “Old Gadgets No. 3”, which features my mother’s Panasonic cassette player-recorder. It was state of the art when my parents bought it in 1973 at the Santa Monica mall in Los Angeles, where we were living at the time. At the same time, I got a smaller cassette deck, which I was very proud of but which is long gone. Now I wish I’d kept it!

Old Gadgets #3: Panasonic cassette player-recorder, 1973; Sony Walkman, 2000. Acrylics and Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens on treated board.
Old Gadgets #3: Panasonic cassette player-recorder, 1973; Sony Walkman, 2000. Acrylics and Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens on treated board. © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

The Sony Walkman in the painting was bought by my husband to take on an overseas holiday in 2000. Remember when cassette players used occasionally to “eat” the tape, and you had to carefully unravel it?

Old Gadgets No. 1: my manual typewriter, bought in Bangkok, 1991. On the case is the German version of my novel, The Occidentals (Das Erbst Der Schwestern). I wrote the first draft of this novel many years before it was published, on this typewriter. Acrylics on board.

Old Gadgets No. 1: my manual typewriter, bought in Bangkok, 1991. On the case is the German version of my novel, The Occidentals (Das Erbst Der Schwestern). I wrote the first draft of this novel many years before it was published, on this typewriter. Acrylics on board. © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

“Old Gadgets No. 1” features my manual typewriter, which I then gave to a friend who collects such things. I bought this typewriter in 1991, when I was living in Bangkok, because we had frequent power cuts during the rainy season and I wanted to be able to keep writing. Remember how messy and annoying it was to change the typewriter ribbon?

“Old Gadgets No. 2” is my Canon Eos film camera, bought in 1999, and various accessories. I used it until 2005, but it was already well out of date then. Remember those Kodak print packs you’d pick up and excitedly see what surprise gems you had taken on holiday?

Old Gadgets No. 2: my film-era camera, 1999. Acrylics on board. The prints are from a trip I did to China in 2001. The slides are the only ones I ever took, on a trip to Vietnam in about 1996.

Old Gadgets No. 2: my film-era camera, 1999. Acrylics on board. The prints are from a trip I did to China in 2001. The slides are the only ones I ever took, on a trip to Vietnam in 1996. © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

I have a drawer at home where I keep old gadgets I might want to include in a painting. In the drawer are a purse-size address book, a tiny Motorola cell phone from 2003, 3D glasses that are still current but will be relics within a few years, and a TEAC external floppy disc drive unit in see-through turquoise, which matched my iMac in 1999. Apple had decided, ahead of its time, not to include floppy disc drives in its computers, so we all had to buy these little gadgets.

I wonder what the next thing I relegate to my “old gadgets” drawer will be?

New Zealand paints a rainbow

Maraetai Beach, NZ, courtesy Tomwsulcer & Haley Sulcer

Maraetai Beach, Auckland, NZ. From  Tomwsulcer & Haley Sulcer

I was thrilled to hear yesterday that my country of birth, New Zealand, agreed in Parliament to legalise same-sex marriage. This makes it the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to do so.

Although I left NZ in the late 1980s, I have never changed my nationality, I visit often and I still feel very much a New Zealander. So I am proud when I hear that NZ has taken such a big step toward equality of all its people.

NZ has many problems, like any other country, such as a growing economic division between rich and poor,  outrageous real estate prices in major cities, an over-emphasis on commercialism, corporate greed and materialism in some quarters.

But it also has, at heart, a people with a generous spirit, people who believe in equality, be it in regard to gender, race or sexual orientation.

Like Flick, the “little engine that could” in the children’s story, NZ to me is the “little country that could”. This group of dots in the Pacific Ocean has certainly made its mark on the world, and I wanted to celebrate some of those firsts in my blog today. There are, of course, many more, but these are a few that I know of:

  • 1893: First country to achieve universal suffrage when it gave women the vote.
  • 1894: First county to enact a national minimum wage—Australia did not do this until 1907, and the US until 1938.
  • 2001: First country in which women simultaneously held its three top positions of power—they were, then, the Prime Minister, Helen Clark; the Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright; and the Chief Justice, Sian Elias.  In fact, the top five positions were held by women if you add the attorney general Margaret Wilson and the leader of the opposition, Jenny Shipley.
  • 2013: First country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalise same-sex marriage (and 13th in the world).

There are lost of firsts in terms of inventions, technology and scientific advances, too:

  • 1882: First country to ship refrigerated meat (to England).
  • 1884: William Atack was the first sports referee to use a whistle to control a game.
  • 1919: Ernest Rutherford split the atom.
  • 1954: William Hamilton invented the jet boat.
  • 1961: Arthur Lydiard invented and popularised the method of fitness training known as “jogging”.
  • 1987: A. J. Hackett invented bungy jumping.

NZers also invented the spring-free trampoline, the Zorb, the blokart, the circular hairpin, the cycling monorail. More: NZ innovations

But going back to yesterday’s step forward regarding human rights, I believe that in order to achieve a peaceful world, we must treat people equally. All people must have the same opportunities to live in safety and comfort, to pursue happiness, to be educated, to earn a living, and to marry the person they love. Parliament broke into song yesterday (Pokarekare Ana, a traditional love song) when the results of the vote were announced. If you missed this very moving moment, catch it here: NZ legalises same-sex marriage

I hope, too, that this step forward will prompt politicians in Australia to do the same. So far, both the federal government and the opposition are saying they will not. But it’s only a matter of time, surely.

Letter FROM my 17-year-old self

Magazine columns, websites and blogs lately have taken up the idea of asking a columnist to write a letter to their teenage self, given the wisdom they have today. My version of this is a bit different: it’s a letter from my teenage self, caught in a time warp and forgotten about for 30 years, a surprising blast from the past.

The occasion was the 30th reunion of graduates from my one-term journalism certificate course at Auckland Technical Institute (now AUT), which I was travelling to New Zealand to attend. My former classmates were coming from throughout New Zealand, from Australia and the US. From memory, about 18 of the 23 graduates were there.

We had two tutors: the formidable Geoff Black and his younger sidekick, Colin Moore. Geoff had died years before, but Colin was in his 60s, still writing and very active.

Colin was delighted to be invited to our reunion, and had made plans to attend. Sadly, just a few weeks before the reunion, he was killed in an accident, crushed between his boat trailer and his van on a boat ramp at Taupo Bay in the Far North (not to be confused with Lake Taupo).

When Colin’s children were going through his belongings, they found he had kept some of his materials from his one term of teaching at ATI so long before. Among them was an exercise we had done at the end of our course, when we’d been asked to write a paragraph about our strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes during the term. Colin’s children kindly contacted us and said they would send these papers to us, which would be even more poignant given it was our reunion.

I looked forward eagerly to receiving mine, written by manual typewriter on a piece of old-size journalist’s copy paper. When I received it, I was disappointed that mine seemed so juvenile. My feelings were easily hurt, I said, and I hated the thought that people might be gossiping and laughing about me—though there would have been absolutely nothing in my life for anyone to gossip about in those days, to be sure!

I thought of myself as grown up then, but instead, I reveal myself as a typical mid-teenager. In fact, I exhibit the same characteristics for which I find myself criticising young people today: lack of interest in or knowledge of current affairs, won’t watch the TV news despite wanting to be a journalist, dislike of formal tertiary study (such as lectures and exercises), and an over-emphasis on obtaining money.

My description of myself as putting on a “sweet little reporter act” to “grease people up” was perhaps something I had seen in a movie and was romanticising about: most politically incorrect, these days, but I had done a lot of acting training as a child, after all.

This is what my paper said, strengths and weaknesses on one side, likes and dislikes on the other:



Practical work, quick writing, good at greasing people up when the need arises, i.e. the sweet little reporter act, get a kick out of seeing stories in print; naturally tidy and orderly, deep thinker (or perhaps that’s a weak point)


Can’t stand people hassling me or making jokes about my private life; don’t take in current events – they go in one ear and out the other – I need to concentrate more when reading and perhaps listen to
TV news; feelings are easily hurt; want revenge on nasty people; never have enough money to settle my enormous appetite, therefore am miserable; or miserable cos I don’t have any of my own money.



Field trips, newspaper layouts, lunchtimes, writing stories

Don’t like

Court reporting, boring lectures, exercises (Altho’ I realise these are important. [sic]

The hand-written marks on the paper show my tutor did actually read it. Oh, another thing it reveals: contradictions. In “strengths”, I claim to be a “deep thinker”, yet in “weaknesses”, I say information goes “in one ear and out the other”. Colin was clearly perplexed at this, and circled it.

It seems strange that I typed this all in capital letters. But perhaps it shows I felt like shouting with frustration, as many teens do. At 17, I wanted to get on with my life, leave home (to the dismay of my family, though they supported me) and be the best journalist I could be. I knew that to do all that, I would need a living wage. I also had a weakness for beautiful and expensive clothes.

I really did wish for more than money in those days—for a start, I thought that one day, I would be a top broadcaster with my own news show, or editor of the New York Times, or a famous actor, or a scriptwriter of films. As a teenager though, perhaps I was too embarrassed to write these things. Teens often give ridiculous or non-descript answers to adults’ questions. For example, when my brother was a teenager, if my mother asked him what he’d done at school that day, the answer would be “Stuff”.

So, if I could write to myself today, what would I say? Well, I’d probably give myself the same sort of advice my parents gave me back then…to which, for the most part, I refused to listen. As my mum says, although “they don’t know what they don’t know” you can’t tell them—young people have to make their own mistakes.

Although I was disappointed at first, all those years later when I was older and wiser, in what I’d written on the scrap of copy paper, now, a couple of years later, I think it has more to say to me than I at first thought. More than anything, it teaches me to be more tolerant of young people, because once upon a time, I was just like them.