Drive up Kaitaia's main street before dawn almost any day and you'll see, somewhere between the Z service station and a backpackers' hostel turned dosshouse, a solitary light burning in a side window.
It's a light that has been turned on at 5am every weekday for more than four decades as Peter Jackson, editor of the Northland Age, sits down to bash out another day's worth of stories at a desk half buried in paper.
On a good day he'll be out of there by 4.30pm. Often he's there much later, and then there are the countless evenings and weekends spent at fire brigade award nights, garden club get-togethers, car crashes and house fires, notebook in one hand and battered camera in the other.
How many words have those index fingers smashed out in 44 years at the Age, the last 38 of those as editor?
With 101 issues a year, or almost 4500 since he landed his first fulltime reporting job, a rough estimate puts the number of words at 67,000,000. Give or take a few million, of course.
Originally Jackson planned to be a history teacher. He started a BA at Auckland University but was ''stuffed from the start'' after signing up for a teaching studentship.
Instead of the history, political science and psychology he'd set his sights on, he was ordered to take history, German and geography.
He passed history but flunked the rest, then quit part way through his second year.
''So I came home and got a job cutting scrub under telephone lines. Then I worked as a barman, a labourer and in forestry — until I thought, 'I'm going to be pruning trees for the rest of my life if I'm not careful'. So I did a correspondence course in journalism and offered myself to the Advocate, which inexplicably turned me down.''
The Advocate did, however, offer the young Jackson a job as a stringer, or freelance contributor.
He didn't file any award-winning news stories but the Age, which was anxious to keep the Advocate out of the Far North, wasn't pleased. Eventually editor Derric Vincent offered him a job.
Jackson doesn't need to check any records for his starting date. It is stored, along with four decades' worth of Far North history, in that prodigious memory.
''It was the 6th of May, 1977, at 8.30am approximately."
The then 24-year-old had yet to develop his spectacular eyebrows or shock of white hair, or what later became his uniform of walkshorts and tautly stretched short-sleeved shirt.
He also hadn't yet learnt his way around a keyboard.
''Derric didn't ask if I could type so the first day was quite extraordinary. I was looking for letters on the keyboard and he was sitting there with his mouth hanging open.''
In those days the Age was owned by the Wagener family, who wanted Jackson to learn the ropes from Vincent before he retired.
The only trouble, from the Wageners' point of view, was that Vincent wouldn't go.
''Then one Friday afternoon in 1983 people started turning up with beers. Derric asked, 'What's going on?' and Wilf Wagener said, 'It's your farewell'.''
''They advertised the editor's job — I applied but didn't get it because I wasn't experienced enough, so they gave it to a guy from The Dominion. I was introduced to him, and then he said the most extraordinary thing: 'I'm really looking forward to coming up here, I've been writing a novel for years, and finally I'll have time to finish it'. Wilf's face was a picture. The two of them went back into the manager's office and shut the door. Then the new editor came out, got into his car, and was never seen again. Nothing was ever said.''
No attempt was made to recruit another editor, nor was Jackson given the job.
Instead, he and Ted Bagshaw, the photographer and sports reporter, carried on editor-less.
Years later, after Wilf Wagener had died, his son Owen Wagener was on his way out of the office one night when he casually said: ''By the way, you can consider yourself the editor.''
Jackson doesn't know what year that was — the title certainly didn't come with a pay rise — so he counts his editorship from Vincent's retirement in 1983.
During the past 44 years Jackson has seen huge changes in technology and media ownership.
The Age has gone from being family-owned to part of NZME, one of New Zealand's biggest media companies, and in recent years has faced drastic staff cuts.
During last year's Covid lockdown the Age was deemed a non-essential publication and was forced to halt publication for the first time in its 117-year history. When its post-lockdown return appeared uncertain a senior government minister — whose mum is an avid reader — reportedly called the NZME board demanding its reinstatement.
Despite tumultuous changes in the media in recent years, Jackson says the biggest change he experienced was the introduction of automatic phones.
Before that the Kaitaia exchange was operated manually and the newspaper had a two-digit phone number, 37.
''Automatic phones were great, fax was the next big thing, that was brilliant, then email. Without email you couldn't produce a paper like this,'' Jackson said.
''We had to go out and find stories but we didn't have a company car. There was a van, which was used for delivering papers, taking rubbish to the dump, that sort of thing — that was available at times but you were pretty limited to how far you could go and who you could talk to. I don't know how we did it, quite honestly.''
Of the estimated 130,000 stories Jackson has filed for the Age some of the most memorable relate to fires, such as the blazes which destroyed Kaitaia's picture theatre and St Saviour's Church.
The most rewarding stories were those which changed the lives of people he was writing about, such as Juliet Garcia, a Filipina care worker at Switzer Home who fought for 12 years to stay in New Zealand.
A combination of Jackson's reporting and lobbying by Northland MP Matt King led to her being granted residency in 2019.
''But the best thing is just little local stuff where someone's done well, especially kids. Kids still get a buzz out of seeing their picture in the paper. It seems odd in this day and age, but they do, even with the internet and YouTube. That's a good feeling.''
Jackson's longest campaign, and biggest win, came in the 1990s when the Age fought to stop Kaitaia Hospital being downgraded to a ''super clinic''.
He insists credit for saving the hospital lies with many people, including John Carter, Northland MP at the time, and former Far North mayor Millie Srhoj.
However, when Rotary awarded Jackson a Paul Harris Fellowship in 2009 — the organisation's highest honour — it was for the crucial part he played in saving the hospital.
''We ran stories for seven years, it just went on and on. It was longer than the Second World War. We didn't get everything we wanted — we lost our 24/7 surgical capacity, for example — but we do still have a hospital, it still has surgical services, and it's probably the best small-town hospital in the country.''
Being an editor in a small community poses challenges unknown to staff in big-city newspapers.
''Everybody knows everybody, not quite to the same degree they once did, but there is a personal aspect to it. That affects how you work. You have to be aware of who you might offend and I've never knocked on doors after a death. A couple of times families have come to me after a murder and wanted to talk, but that's different," he said.
"A lot of the people you deal with are your friends, or you know them at least, and that makes it hard, particularly if it's something negative.''
Despite that Jackson said he hadn't lost many friends due to stories he has written.
''If something is balanced and fair they'll generally wear it, though they might go a bit cold for a while. And in a community like this people know who you are and where you live, so there's quite a degree of accountability.''
Jackson said the role of a small-town newspaper was ''huge''.
''The bread and butter of a local paper is giving people news they can't get anywhere else, not from the daily, not from radio, not from TV. That's changing now because of the internet. People don't need the paper like they used to.''
Another thing that has changed is the attitude towards newspapers, Jackson said.
''I think it's sad that newspapers are seen to be just another business but they're not really. [Former owner] Keith Wagener thought of the paper as a living entity as opposed to a business, but that attitude has gone.''
Jackson said there had been some trepidation in Kaitaia when the Age was sold to APN (now NZME) in 2009.
Many feared it would become a tabloid in the true sense of the word — with page 3 girls and headlines like 'My Mother Married a Tomato' — but the new owners had given the paper freedom to follow its own path.
''They've let me have a huge degree of autonomy and NZME has never interfered, until very recently, in what we can and can't publish.''
Now 68, Jackson said his standard 70-hour working week was starting to lose its appeal, and certainly wasn't as easy as it was 20 years ago.
For many years he didn't take a holiday, mostly because there was no one to fill his seat but possibly also because he wouldn't have known what to do with himself.
It was only when the Age became part of a large company that Jackson was ordered to take four weeks off a year, which he timed around the Snapper Bonanza fishing contest and rose growers' conventions.
He does, however, have plans for filling his time once he retires.
''My roses need a bit of attention, I've got fish to catch, books to read. Raewyn [Jackson's wife] has a list which runs to about 14 pages of things that need doing.''
He also hopes to keep his hand in by continuing the editorials he has written weekly since 1983.
Jackson's opinion pieces have won national awards — he took out the editorial writing prize in the 2015 Canon Media Awards — and pull no punches. They are occasionally controversial but even his critics concede they're well argued and based on genuine views.
When people say something is their life's work it's generally hyperbole. In Jackson's case you couldn't describe it any other way.
''It sounds a bit pompous really, but I have put my life into it. I have no regrets. I believe in what I've been doing, whether it's just the mundane run-of-the-mill stuff or something that's really made a difference for someone or the community in general. Or simply something that people have enjoyed reading.''
On Friday, when Jackson arrives before dawn, turns on the light and settles himself behind a desk piled high with paper for the last time, it will mark the end of an era.
Kaitaia, and New Zealand's 181-year-old newspaper publishing tradition, will never be the same again.
'The mighty tōtara has not fallen': Northland pays tribute to Peter Jackson
Pat Newman, principal
Peter Jackson is the only editor I know who picked up the phone or email and asked the real hard questions, not just accepting what was dished out.
Over the years I have come to respect him highly as a professional; as a genuine person who used his skills and position to get the news out, no matter what the cost.
He fought for Northland, especially the Far North. He epitomised all the values of the truly professional journalist.
Unfortunately, these days, those values seem to have been replaced by the number of viewing clicks, as the sole measure of a story's value.
Who will be Northland's watchdog now Peter's retired?
Peter's views were both left and right of the political spectrum but guaranteed to be as he saw things and their impact on Northland. He stood up to be counted no matter the cost to himself!
Peter, like a block of granite, has weathered and in many cases outlasted those who wished to curtail his independence to say it as he saw it.
The mighty tōtara has not fallen. He has just left the building with his head held high, with his mana, integrity and professionalism intact.
Eric Shackleton, pharmacist
When I first came to Kaitaia in 1973 Peter was a skinny young man from hard work with a chainsaw up in the Aupōuri Forest. He has changed slightly over the years.
When Derric Vincent had him come to work at the Northland Age Peter was keen as to be a reporter. It was a good move for him, one he has enjoyed, and an even greater one for our community.
He has fought the good fight with enthusiasm and skill. Like a one-man band, he has been writing editorials that are not only thought provoking but exhibit a man totally committed to his readers.
His wonderful editorial work has gained him recognition with the New Zealand Order of Merit showing what a great effort he put in on our behalf.
Whilst none of us is irreplaceable, fitting into Peter's shoes will be a massive task. He will be missed by many as he usually turns up to occasions with his camera and notebook and provides us with a record of the wonderful happenings in the Far North.
Thanks Peter and enjoy your retirement.
John Carter, Far North Mayor
Peter Jackson is a "one-out-of-the-box" person who the Kaitaia area and Northland have been very fortunate to have had as the editor of our local paper for many, many years.
He has led and helped develop our district with his insightful editorials and amazing reporting.
But not only has he reported on and kept us informed of our community's activities, he has also encouraged and supported many, many clubs and individuals, giving them confidence to take on challenges that they would otherwise not have done.
Peter is responsible for encouraging and helping develop our people and our organisations by giving them the confidence to "have a go".
And of course, as a consequence, he has won many awards that are a tribute to his skills and abilities. He is simply one of New Zealand's leading editors.
Most importantly, the Peter Jackson I know is a decent, community-minded person, a good bloke who we are very lucky to have in our district.
He has dedicated his life to the Far North and Northland and we are all the better for having him in our place.
Rachel Ward, Northern Advocate editor
I have only had the privilege of working with Peter for the past three years.
While Peter's work ethic is second to none and we could all learn something from that, it is his honour, honesty and sense of humour that stand out for me.
Peter once said that a true local paper sticks to its local roots and that is exactly what Peter has done.
He has fought fiercely for his readers, the community and has provided a place for all voices. Peter has never waivered from that and it is a truly admirable.
Peter's career saw him awarded the NZ Order of Merit in 2011, a Paul Harris Fellowship from Rotary, and a (then Canon) Media Award for editorial writing in 2015.
During his tenure the Age was recognised in various awards over the years, and Peter won the respect of an entire town and region, as well as colleagues in the industry throughout the country.
In an age of instant everything to be acknowledging Peter's 40 plus years at the Age and in journalism is extraordinary.
Peter Jackson is a legend and the legacy he leaves not only with the Age but in New Zealand journalism is something he can be very proud of.
Thank you Peter for everything you have done and enjoy your retirement and being an Age reader for a change!
Kelvin Davis, Tai Tokerau MP
In an age where sticking at one job for a few years is considered an achievement, Northland Age editor Peter Jackson's contribution to the community has been immense.
After more than four decades at the paper, Peter is finally stepping down and must be feeling proud of all he has achieved.
Having started back in the ''golden age'' of media, he has navigated the industry's recent turbulence through the internet age with a steadfast commitment to letting readers in our region know what was happening.
One thing I have always admired about Peter is his ability to state his mind, to challenge and critique issues and decisions.
His sense of humour has held him well, as his wealth of knowledge accumulated during an astonishing 38 years as editor.
His opinion and mine may not have always aligned, but to me that's the sign of a healthy democracy. Peter has dedicated his life to informing the community, a worthy contribution that has left us all better off.
Peter, I wish you all the best for your retirement and look forward to seeing you out and about in the region you have dedicated so much to.
Haami Piripi, Te Rarawa chairman
The Far North has been a place of legends, wonder and heroes. Consequently, we have been host to some powerful events which have helped define the region and highlight the turning points in the provenance of our local history.
These events have been both celebratory and devastating for communities, leaving their mark on the psyche of the people.
For decades now Peter Jackson has been reporting and writing about these events and their impact upon our society. His ''countryfied'', friendly approach has endeared him to the public as an unassuming character who is always after the right story.
And so he has nestled his way with words into the hearts to occupy the minds of generations of newspaper readers with stories of great significance, and at times controversy.
Over the years Peter has personified the role and responsibilities of the fourth estate and often been the arbiter of the public record in the form of the Northland Age.
As a senior representative of the press, integrity has been his constant companion and as a result he is woven by his work into the fabric of our community.
Now approaching his twilight years he is perfectly poised to bless us with his continued presence as we in turn are blessed by his legacy.
Colin ''Toss'' Kitchen, former Kaitaia fire chief
It is with both a degree of sadness and also with delight as I pay tribute to Peter Jackson, Pete, PJ, the Editor, or as he was affectionately known to me, Pedro.
Saddened, because I believe that a big hole will be left in the Northland newspaper industry and in particular in the Kaitaia and surrounding areas. In saying that, I know that no one is irreplaceable.
Delighted, as Pedro, after 44 years at the Age office and 38 years as the editor of the Northland Age, taking over from another community icon, the late Derric Vincent, will now have quality time with his beloved roses and surfcasting with his grandson Jackson.
My association with this rock-solid man goes back over six decades as we were school buddies and in the same class on a number of occasions — until secondary school, when he became too brainy for me and left me behind in lower grade classes.
I remember going to his birthday party and the highlight was being picked up by his late father Tony in his brand new state of the art Chrysler Valiant.
Whilst Pedro was not a member of the Kaitaia Volunteer Fire Brigade he was well respected by past and present members and the rapport and indeed trust he had with the officer group was second to none.
He was our ally who we always welcomed onto the incident ground, asking questions and always getting his facts right before putting print to paper.
He often attended brigade functions at the drop of a hat, giving our valued volunteers coverage and in doing so enhancing our profile within the community. He was a great advocate of the volunteer sector who did not tolerate fools and for that I say thank you.
You are truly a Northland icon and I know that I am a better person, as are other community members, for having been associated with you.
Robin Shepherd, educator
Who would have predicted that our Peter would by more accident than design
Have spent a working life serving us with news and views refined?
But that has been his destiny with pencil, pen and paper and keyboard and with screen
He has tracked our lives from birth to death and events in between.
He has felt the rural pulse and the heartbeat of our town
He has witnessed visits by sports stars and Imperial crown
He has chased sirens to see devastation and destruction
He has witnessed demolition and followed new building and construction
He has observed humanity and its good and bad behaviour
He has listened to clerics preach hell fire without a saviour
He has sat in court witnessing the torn tapestries of life
He has listened daily as police have recounted their managing of strife
He has been harangued and castigated for telling how things have been
He has taken pics in thousands of the local passing scene.
A forty-hour week was never a platform for his writing
He came and went at all hours capturing the mundane or exciting
Responding to the tableau, often unscheduled or bizarre
Then checked his facts and sources coming in from near and far
He has worked through hot lead and linotype
Survived without a website or interviews on Skype
Transited to tabloid when broadsheet ceased to be
Published on the internet rather grudgingly
He has served our local Age as reporter and proof-reader
The editor and champion of the local rag, news leader.
Peter has been to his craft, a master, champion and slave
A voice of conscience in the opinions which he gave
For all of that we salute him our newsman, story-teller
And we all agree wholeheartedly that he's a dinkum feller.