Sense of adventure always played out in his writing
journalist, author b June 8, 1927 d September 7, 2018
John Ross Annabell (known as Ross), who has died aged 91, had a colourful life as a journalist working on a number of newspapers in both New Zealand and Australia, a stint as a journalism tutor, and was the author of several books, mainly biographical.
He was a passionate writer, always delving for a story. One of his past colleagues describes him as having ‘‘deep-seated journalistic principles, starting with the defence of the underdog and the unbiased challenge to authority that is essential to good reporting’’.
Growing up on a back-country farm in the Waitotara Valley, in Taranaki, as the son of secondgeneration farmers, Annabell showed early signs of an interest in writing, producing a handful of adventure stories at the age of eight. After leaving Feilding Agricultural High School, he started his journalist life as a cub reporter on The Press in Christchurch in 1945, with one of his early assignments to cover the Ballantynes’ fire in 1947.
Scratching an itch to travel, he ventured to Australia in 1950 as a passenger aboard a Sunderland Flying boat. Thus started 10 years of various stints of journalism and other adventures, beginning in Sydney, through Queensland and on up to Darwin in the Northern Territory.
During the 1950s, journalism jobs included being a reporter on The Sydney Morning Herald ,a reporter for ABC in their radio newsroom, the first editor of the Mt Isa Mail, editor of Northern Territory News, and also a reporter and acting sub-editor for The Mackay Daily Mercury.
In between these jobs, Annabell worked as a freelance journalist and ran a photography studio for a year or so. In Australia, he also tried his hand at other endeavours. He took a job as a hand on a fishing boat off the Great Barrier Reef for six months with the aim of gathering research for a novel which was never published.
On another tack, Annabell was gripped with uranium fever and joined a syndicate with some other hopeful colleagues to try their hand at prospecting for uranium and living it rough in the Northern Territory outback.
For weeks, the prospecting team wandered across the hot rocky terrain within their authorised area armed with a geiger-counter ever hopeful of making the big find. While fending off wild buffaloes, swarms of mosquitoes and dodging their own gelignite blasts, the syndicate did discover a promising outcrop which, when assayed, proved to be uranium.
With their limited experience and lack of capital for development, the team pegged and on-sold their claim, then returned to their journalist day jobs.
A fortuitous meeting
During the Northern Territory’s wet season, journalists played pranks on each other to relieve the tedium of the humidity. This involved things like placing dead pythons in office in-trays and writing fictitious advertisements.
One such prank was targeted at Annabell with an ad stating, ‘‘Frog merchant seeks capable female assistant’’.
Among the unsuspecting inquirers were two English nurses hitchhiking through Darwin. One of these women, Meg, became Annabell’s first wife after a chase from Darwin to Sydney, with Annabell riding the long journey on a Bantam BSA 150 motorcycle. Meg and Ross were married in Mackay in 1957.
In 1959, they moved to Wellington and shortly afterwards to Rotorua, where Annabell had been offered a job as features writer on the Rotorua Daily Post.
This job kept him happily engrossed for 12 years, trying his hand at all sorts of adventures while sourcing the material for his newspaper articles. These involved, among many others, skydiving, visiting nudist colonies, climbing volcanoes, skiing, and even joining a voyage to Campbell Island and the Auckland Islands in search of the wreck of the General Grant and its bounty of gold.
An author emerges
The Rotorua years proved quite productive, with the Annabell family having three sons during this time – Max, Bill and John. Annabell published three books while in Rotorua: Guide Rangi of Rotorua (1968), The Uranium
Hunters (1971) and A Shower of
Spray and We’re Away! in collaboration with Captain Fred Ladd, also in 1971.
While writing for The Daily Post in Rotorua, Annabell was runnerup in the NZ Journalists’ Association Jubilee Competition for Investigative Journalism in 1964 and winner in 1967.
In 1972, Annabell and family moved to Greytown, from where he began a number of years of commuting to Wellington via train. For the first three years he worked as a journalist in the Tourist and Publicity Department. In 1975, he joined Wellington Polytechnic as a tutor in the journalism school, where he was able to share his enthusiasm for the craft with young aspiring journalists.
Back to the Wairarapa
Annabell’s last fulltime career move was to join the Wairarapa Times-Age in Masterton in 1978, where he worked in two roles – as chief reporter and as feature writer – before retiring in 1992. During this time, he published two more books: Hot Water Country, featuring stories about Rotorua and its surrounds, in 1977, and, 10 years later, A Bit of a Ladd, another collaboration with Fred Ladd.
While working at the Wairarapa Times-Age, in 1990, Annabell again came runner-up in the Jubilee Competition for Investigative Journalism, for a story on a factory worker’s fight to get recognition for health issues related to formaldehyde.
A writer till the end
In 1990, after his first marriage ended, Annabell began a stint of being a bachelor on his lifestyle block near Greytown. In 1997, after a couple of years together, Annabell married Ailsa and they moved to Waikanae, living in a blissful retirement.
Even then he couldn’t resist the urge to write, undertaking freelance work for Rural News until about 2010.
Another book was published in 2002 with Annabell as principal writer, The Heart of the Parapara and Field’s Track. Annabell had
one last book almost finished before becoming ill – a collection of historic hunting stories relating to his own adventures.
Ross Annabell won several prizes for investigative journalism over his long career.