New Zealand journalism pioneer dies

Christine Cole Catley had a distinguished career in journalism and coined the name Kiwi berry - which later morphed into kiwifruit - as an alternative moniker for the Chinese Gooseberry in 1961. Photo / David White
Christine Cole Catley had a distinguished career in journalism and coined the name Kiwi berry - which later morphed into kiwifruit - as an alternative moniker for the Chinese Gooseberry in 1961. Photo / David White

Acclaimed journalist, publisher and author Dame Christine Cole Catley has died.

She died in her Auckland home in Devonport this morning after a brief battle with lung cancer, aged 88.

Dame Christine was awarded the Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in June 2006 for services to literature.

She began a distinguished journalism career, freelancing for the Taranaki Daily News while still at school. At university, she was a part-time reporter for The Press in Christchurch. She was a foundation reporter for the Labour Party's daily paper, The Southern Cross, in Wellington in 1946 and continued writing, often under pseudonyms, for the Listener.

In 1948 Dame Christine had begun broadcasting for Radio New Zealand twice weekly commentaries on most aspects of New Zealand life and then became foreign correspondent for Australia's ABC Network.

She established its office in Indonesia in 1956 and for two years she travelled widely throughout Indonesia, covering the so-called State of War and Siege. Travelling in the entourage of President Sukarno, she was summoned to sing duets with him at his mass rallies.

When television came to New Zealand, she was the first TV critic for The Dominion, writing as Sam Cree, and the first TV critic for the Sunday Times when it began, writing as Hillary Court.

In 1973 Dame Christine was appointed to the Broadcasting Council, but was removed by prime minister Robert Muldoon after they crossed swords.

In 1952, with Helen Brew, she founded what became known as the Parents Centre educational movement for pregnant women and their husbands. This spread throughout the country and influenced maternity hospital policy and procedures, making doctors and nurses aware of the important emotional aspects of childbirth and mother-infant bonding.

She entered publishing as a freelance editor for what was then New Zealand's leading firm, A H and A W Reed, and set up her own firm, Cape Catley Ltd, in the Marlborough Sounds in 1973.

She published more than 100 books, continuing to write, edit, publish and conduct writers' workshops when she shifted to Devonport on the North Shore in 2000.

She wrote books for publication in the United Kingdom and New Zealand as well as being editor or co-editor of a number of anthologies, and had innumerable feature stories published in newspapers and periodicals around the world.

In 2006 the crowning achievement of her writing career, Bright Star, the biography of remarkable New Zealand astronomer Beatrice Hill Tinsley, was published to wide acclaim.

Dame Christine was the tutor-in-charge of New Zealand's first polytechnic school of journalism in 1967, in Wellington.

She insisted that half the students were female - a move that accelerated the number of women employed in the industry.

In 1961, while working as an advertising copywriter, she was tasked with renaming the Chinese Gooseberries to appease the American market, which was uncomfortable with the Communist overtones of the fruit's name.

As a result, Dame Christine coined the name Kiwi berry, which later evolved to kiwifruit.

She set up and chaired the Frank Sargeson Trust to benefit writers through the Buddle Finlay Sargeson Fellowship and was instrumental in forming another charitable trust to commemorate her friend, the historian and biographer Michael King.

Last year she was awarded a CLL (Copyright Licensing Writers' Award) to write her autobiography, which was nearly completed when she died. It is hoped to be published next year.

In a statement issued by her family, they said Dame Christine would be remembered for her enthusiasm for life, her belief in people, her mentoring of new talent, her liberalism and her sense of fun.

"To her family, Chris was a true Renaissance woman, loving mother, grandmother and literary godmother to the many journalists and writers she taught and encouraged.

"Witty, wry, both playful and deeply thoughtful about the needs of her friends and for the country she loved, she was a great raconteur who loved a good story above all else."

Dame Christine leaves behind three children, Sarah Beck, Nicola Scott and Martin Cole, and six grand-children.

- NZPA

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