Mata Mi­hinui: From Whakare­warewa pa¯ to the NZ Her­ald

The New Zealand Herald - - News - Zealand Her­ald Mata Mi­hinui in­tends to spend her re­tire­ment im­mers­ing her­self in te reo Ma¯ ori and weav­ing.


How ever did we ar­rive at this junc­ture: A girl from the pa¯ now an “old fart” in that most non-Ma¯ ori of es­tab­lish­ments: main­stream New Zealand me­dia.

It’s been a long jour­ney for a penny diver from Ro­torua’s Whakare­warewa, site of the his­tor­i­cal Ma¯ ori fortress of Te Puia, to study­ing jour­nal­ism in Welling­ton in 1970, to end­ing up as “pro­duc­tion jour­nal­ist” for NZME.

The of­fi­cial job de­scrip­tion is not what I would use. I am a sube­d­i­tor spe­cial­is­ing in sport and rac­ing. I am not at­tached to any par­tic­u­lar news­pa­per, I work for the me­dia group.

That’s pretty much how I would de­scribe be­ing a pa¯ kid in con­tem­po­rary New Zealand: part of the whole but also in­di­vid­ual and off to the side. We live in par­al­lel uni­verses: wha¯ nau and pa¯ sit­ting along­side the city of Ro­torua, old­world tikanga and mod­ern laws. We pa¯ kids move be­tween the two but it’s rare that the re­verse oc­curs. So who am I?

My name is Ngaroimata Teresa Mi­hinui, and I was born at Ro­torua in 1951, the sec­ond child of Nikora Whakapu Mi­hinui and Dorothy Huhana Sewell. We lived in the vil­lage of Whakare­warewa, down past the Hirere bath by the Puarenga Stream near the Angli­can Church. My par­ents had three more chil­dren: Watu, Roku and Ma­hara. We all re­side in Ro­torua.

We had an older brother, the first Roku, who drowned as a preschooler. My mother was hapu¯ (preg­nant) with me at the time. Ap­par­ently he had fol­lowed an un­cle up the road and fell in the bath and drowned. Our fa­ther found him, float­ing in the wa­ter. Dad’s screams of de­spair could be heard all over the pa¯ .

When my brother was ly­ing in his cof­fin in our tupuna Wahiao, tears streamed from his eyes and that’s how I was named. Ngaroimata, the tears of the boy who drowned.

I’m com­monly called Roimata or Mata. The mokop­una call me Grand Mata or Nanny Mata.

The Teresa is be­cause it’s close to tears and ev­ery Ma¯ ori Catholic kid of my gen­er­a­tion had to have a saint’s name.

When I started work at the New

in 1986, one of the sube­d­i­tors asked me what my name was be­fore Ma¯ ori be­came “fash­ion­able”. That was when the Ma¯ ori re­nais­sance was gath­er­ing mo­men­tum, when we were stand­ing up for our­selves, not pick­ing a Pa¯keha¯ name be­cause it was eas­ier for the ma­jor­ity of New Zealan­ders to pro­nounce, us­ing our tupuna names or ones like mine which had spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance. Chil­dren were of­ten given names de­pict­ing a sig­nif­i­cant event in wha¯ nau or hapu¯ life.

But pa¯ Maori have never been fash­ion­able; tol­er­ated be­cause we had our uses, es­pe­cially us from Whaka.


My mother came from a long line of singers and haka ex­po­nents; they were clever, ar­tic­u­late and learned to speak English so they could guide tourists around the Pink and White Ter­races at Tarawera in the 19th cen­tury. After Tarawera erupted in 1886, our fam­ily moved to Whakare­warewa where the tra­di­tion of guid­ing con­tin­ued.

They used their tal­ents to ben­e­fit their com­mu­nity, too.

Since the early 20th cen­tury, our fam­ily — from my great-grand­fa­ther Ware­tini Te Mu­tukuri, our mother and her brother Un­cle Sonny, my­self and now my sis­ter Watu — have held of­fice on tribal com­mit­tees at Whakare­warewa.

My par­ents met at Whakare­warewa, where my fa­ther, bet­ter known as Ted or Tete, joined two of his seven sis­ters who were liv­ing there with their chil­dren. Their par­ents had also moved there to com­fort their daugh­ters after the men of Tuhourangi they had mar­ried were killed in the war. Our mother lived just down the hill.

My Dad didn’t go to the war, as his sight wasn’t too flash, but he was sent to work in the Pa­cific Is­lands, help­ing to build in­fra­struc­ture.

Post-war, there was a frenzy of house build­ing by the gov­ern­ment, that pro­vided work for re­turn­ing ser­vice­men and served as a train­ing ground for ap­pren­tices. Our koro and kuia got a house in Froude St, our par­ents moved there when I was lit­tle, and my sis­ters live there to­day.

When our par­ents started their fam­ily they were older than was the norm in the 1950s; Dad in his mid40s and Mum 13 years younger. Dad had al­ready raised his first wife’s chil­dren in Tokaanu be­fore he met Mum. Com­plex and non-tra­di­tional fam­ily ties are not un­usual to us pa¯ kids. In­deed, we lived whanaun­gatanga (kin­ship) and our home in Froude St was like Grand Cen­tral Sta­tion, hous­ing numer­ous fam­ily (I have more than 70 first cousins on my Dad’s side al­though just four on Mum’s), friends and kids who needed a safe place. Wha¯ nau and whanaun­gatanga have been key dur­ing my life.


My mother and fa­ther never fin­ished pri­mary school, but both were de­ter­mined their chil­dren would have ev­ery op­por­tu­nity at ed­u­ca­tion.

Mum worked four or five jobs to pro­vide that. She also did much com­mu­nity work. Known as “Bub­bles” most of her life, in 1985 she was made an MBE and in 2002 a Dis­tin­guished Com­pan­ion of the New Zealand Or­der of Merit for her ser­vices to Ma¯ ori. The hon­our was con­ferred at our marae, Te Pakira, by the Gov­er­nor-Gen­eral at the time, Dame Sil­via Cartwright. Mum once dined with the Queen on the Royal Yacht Bri­tan­nia.

I was re­lated in some way to just about ev­ery kid at Whaka School and it was a huge cul­ture shock when I went to Ro­torua In­ter­me­di­ate, where I had never seen so many white peo­ple be­fore. We were streamed and those of us from the pa¯ who were in the A stream were treated by Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment psy­chol­o­gists as alien be­ings. Years later, an ex-teacher let slip they were sur­prised we were so clever, be­cause we came from a pa¯ and had no his­tory of aca­demic achieve­ment in our fam­i­lies.

I then at­tended Ro­torua Girls’ High School, where most stu­dents were the daugh­ters of pro­fes­sional or busi­ness men. I was in the A stream again, and had passed the en­trance exam in the top five. But I didn’t want to be dif­fer­ent. My sub­jects in­cluded Latin, French and English and, in the 6th form Ger­man, as well. Ma¯ ori was not an op­tion at a school where more than half the roll was Ma¯ ori. We had to study by cor­re­spon­dence.

When I was ac­cred­ited Univer­sity En­trance, the big ques­tion was: Where to now?

Apart from know­ing I didn’t want to be a teacher or a nurse, which was where “clever” Ma¯ ori girls were di­rected, I had no idea. A fan­tas­tic ca­reers ad­viser, Jan Bur­bidge, steered me into jour­nal­ism early in 1970. I had no idea just how lifechang­ing it would be.


I have seen huge changes in the ter­mi­nol­ogy and tech­nol­ogy used to pro­duce news­pa­pers dur­ing nearly 50 years in the in­dus­try. I learnt “hot me­tal” was not an al­ter­na­tive de­scrip­tion of thrash me­tal just as “cold type” did not mean a frigid vir­gin. Now, as a fully paid-up mem­ber of the Old Farts Club, I barely un­der­stand what is meant to­day by “plat­forms” — ex­cept they are not re­fer­ring to places where you catch trains.

In 1971, armed with a news­pa­per jour­nal­ism cer­tifi­cate from Welling­ton Polytech­nic, I went to Ti­maru and the Kerr-fam­ily owned

Ti­maru Her­ald. I chose Ti­maru be­cause I had no rel­a­tives there who might re­port my mis­deeds to my par­ents.

There were three cadets: me and two boys who had to try out for the court and po­lice round. Two se­nior re­porters and the edi­tor, Ge­orge Gaffney, agreed it should be me.

I used to go to ev­ery court ses­sion with wads of copy pa­per and car­bon pa­per. I would have to write the court cases out by hand and then sit while Gaffney subbed it. I never got any­thing wrong twice. We did ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing traf­fic cases.

The ed­i­to­rial staff was over­whelm­ingly male, ex­cept for the Lady Edi­tor (I kid you not). A cou­ple of women joined the staff while I was there.

On Sun­days the poor­est-paid staff (the cadets) had to work. One of our jobs was sports re­sults. If we couldn’t get them right, we would be made to redo them. Thanks to the strict dis­ci­pline, I now know how to read a cricket score­book and write a story from one. That was a huge

NZME pro­duc­tion jour­nal­ist

Mata Mi­hinui has worked on count­less news­pa­pers in her 50-year ca­reer, most re­cently as a sport and rac­ing sube­d­i­tor. As a young fe­male Ma¯ ori jour­nal­ist, she was a pi­o­neer in a largely Old Boys’ Club and her knowl­edge of

Ma¯ ori­tanga and Ma¯ oridom have proved in­valu­able to her em­ploy­ers. As Mata tries re­tire­ment — for the third time — just after her 67th birth­day, she re­flects on her long, var­ied and trail­blaz­ing ca­reer, and salutes her lov­ing wha¯ nau who helped pave her way.

achieve­ment as, to my fa­ther and the rest of Ma¯ oridom, cricket was even more alien than soc­cer.

The Ti­maru Her­ald was an eye­opener. For a start it had clas­si­fied ad­ver­tise­ments on the front page. It didn’t move to news on the front page un­til 1977. Its printed words were typed out of lead which was melted and re­cy­cled. It was dirty look­ing, typ­i­cal of the hot-me­tal pa­pers.

I had come from Ro­torua where I was used to read­ing the Daily Post, which was one of the pi­o­neers in the cold-type pre­sen­ta­tion of pa­pers — no melt­ing pots of lead, just type­set­ters and com­pos­i­tors who cut up strips of pa­per ready for the cam­era.

I later worked at the Daily Post in two stretches, as a re­porter and years later as a sub.

Subs used to shoot sto­ries for the pa­per in lit­tle round Per­spex con­tain­ers down a pneu­matic tube to the print­ers. If a story had wider ap­peal than Ro­torua, a car­bon copy would be taken to the Post Of­fice and sent by teleprinter to the of­fices of the New Zealand Press As­so­ci­a­tion in Welling­ton and thence to the rest of the coun­try.

Be­tween Ti­maru and Ro­torua I worked as sole charge re­porter at the

Pu­taruru Press and as a re­porter on the South Waikato News in Toko­roa.

I hadn’t got the rest­less­ness out of my soul so I went to Hast­ings where I worked in the Napier of­fice

of the Hast­ings-based Hawke’s Bay Her­ald Tri­bune.

I re­turned to Ro­torua the same week that Elvis Pres­ley died in Au­gust 1977.


In 1986, I went to the New Zealand

Her­ald in Auck­land. I loved work­ing at the Her­ald and I loved Auck­land.

But it was one of the most test­ing times of my life.

I had a lovely man, my soul­mate and the rea­son I moved to Auck­land. His name was Paddy Poumako and I met him in Toko­roa where I boarded with his par­ents while I worked on the South Waikato News.

Paddy was a sol­dier and we lived in Pa­pakura Camp un­til he was posted to Waiouru. We bought a house at Manukau and planned to re­turn to Ro­torua in about three years when he re­tired from the army.

But in Au­gust 1988 he was in­volved in a head-on col­li­sion. A speed­ing driver came too fast round a cor­ner near Ti­rau. Paddy suf­fered crit­i­cal in­juries and died in Waikato Hospi­tal about 24 hours later.

I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated the pres­ence of then sube­d­i­tor Rod Pas­coe and then chief sube­d­i­tor Gerry Wal­lis at his fu­neral in Nga¯ puna and the sen­si­tive treat­ment I re­ceived on my re­turn to work. Some­times, even months later, I found it dif­fi­cult to even get out of bed. The ed­i­to­rial man­age­ment team went the ex­tra mile for me and never docked my pay. From that time on they had my un­di­vided loy­alty.

I was in at the start when the

Her­ald in­tro­duced “new tech­nol­ogy”, as a mem­ber of the team that tested “di­rect ed­i­to­rial in­put”. Gavin El­lis was our team leader. It was ex­cit­ing to be in­volved in such a ma­jor project and we wrote the user man­ual and trained the re­porters and subs — the younger re­porters eas­ier to train than the older subs! The sports guys took the cake. We es­tab­lished a good rap­port and I didn’t mind go­ing at a speed that suited them.

For a short time I was the Her­ald’s chief sube­d­i­tor, but that didn’t work out — prob­a­bly be­cause I was too dif­fer­ent.

Luck­ily for me, the Her­ald needed a rac­ing sub. I didn’t know any­thing about rac­ing but those guys taught me what I needed to know about it and I’m a quick study and was ea­ger to learn.

Rac­ing was just across the way, so I filled in for them, too, which helped when I went to the Her­ald on

Sun­day whose first edi­tion was pub­lished on Oc­to­ber 3, 2004.

Even though I re­tired in 2006 to come home be­cause my mother was get­ting frail, I have worked for Wil­son & Hor­ton and now NZME all that time. I didn’t ac­tu­ally re­turn to Ro­torua un­til 2015 be­cause my mother died be­fore I even had my house on the mar­ket.

I didn’t work full­time again un­til Page­mas­ters, a com­pany pro­vid­ing de­sign and sube­dit­ing ser­vices, among oth­ers. But work­ing part-time left me plenty of time to please my­self.

One of my most en­joy­able jobs was edit­ing the now de­funct Col­lege Her­ald, a weekly in­sert pub­lish­ing work by high school stu­dents. I was also happy to work on the team that pro­duced the Christchurch Star after their presses were dam­aged in the 2011 earthquakes.

The 2015 plan was to re­tire to Ro­torua. But Kim Gille­spie, NZME’s head of re­gional op­er­a­tions and ru­ral con­tent, of­fered me a job as a sports sub on the re­gional mast­heads when I was leav­ing Page­mas­ters, so here I am.

By far the great­est changes I’ve seen are hap­pen­ing now: Dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, the world­wide web, in­stant news, com­ment, video — it’s some­times too much for my brain to take in. The ad­vances mean jour­nal­ists can work any­where they have Wi-Fi and at any time.

One thing that hasn’t changed, and which I ob­serve when I sit at my desk in the Daily Post of­fice, is the pas­sion these young re­porters and old-fash­ioned pho­tog­ra­phers have for their craft. I ap­plaud their pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

Photo / Stephen Parker

Mata Mi­hinui on one of her last shifts in the Ro­torua Daily Post of­fice be­fore she re­tired.

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