You never think it's going to come to this, but one day, if you're lucky, retirement becomes a reality. And so it has for me. Four more days and it will be time to prune the roses, catch fish, read books, and tend to the myriad jobs that have been accumulating around the house for a very long time.
In 1977 this newspaper bore no resemblance to the Northland Age of today. And it was a very different world. No one dreamed that the fax machine would eventually appear, let alone email or the internet, a phenomenon that has been both embraced by and come to be feared by the print industry. Small newspapers thrived because they literally had no opposition, and the communities they served were largely insulated from the wider world.
We printed the Age ourselves in those days, on an old Cossar press that made our readers instantly identifiable - they had ink on their hands - although there was little of the relatively sensational news that emanates now even from far-flung corners of the country like this one. Stories beyond the purely local were hard to come by, and no opportunity was to be lost.
I have been asked to recall some of the bigger stories of the last 44 years, and I haven't found that easy. The seven-year campaign to save Kaitaia Hospital from being reduced to a super clinic was memorable, as were the fires that destroyed Kaitaia's Princess Theatre and St Saviour's Church. But some of the best never made it beyond our borders.
I took particular pleasure in writing about the discovery of what was believed to be the remains of a very small infant in a water-filled drain at Ahipara. Don't worry - it has a happy ending.
The local police responded as you would expect. The area was taped off, the CIB was summoned - it was a weekend - and for all I know the call went out for a forensic pathologist and the Police Dive Squad. Finally, after some hours, with the highest of drama, someone got into the drain and ever so carefully lifted the tiny bundle of remains out of the water, at which point they instantly became identifiable as those of a possum. So we all went home.
Speaking of possums, one Noel (Skin) Thompson, who years ago ran the family travel bureau and manned the terminal at Kaitaia airport, finally confessed to having had a hand in the first sighting of a possum in Kaitaia, probably some time in the late 1950s or early 60s. Whenever it was, the discovery of a dead possum outside the travel bureau, then owned and run by Noel's father (and Mayor of Kaitaia) Lionel Thompson, made headlines in the Age.
Skin finally unburdened himself. He had found the animal, deceased, at Dome Valley as he rode home from Auckland on his motorbike one night. He picked it up and dumped it in Kaitaia's main street.
Possums have arrived in numbers since then, of course, but he can't take any of the credit, or blame, for that.
Meanwhile some very kind things have been said of me as my time here nears its end. But if credit is to be paid, it must be shared. Those who believe that small towns should have newspapers of their own, and who value the fact that Kaitaia and the very Far North still has one, owe a huge debt of gratitude to Wilf and Muriel Wagener, who bought it in the early 1970s when Bruce Berry put it on the market. They did so at the urging of employee Merv Crene, who persuaded Wilf that if he didn't buy it the Northern Advocate would.
He was followed by his sons, firstly Owen, then Keith. By that time small newspapers were no longer the licence to print money that they had once been, and Keith and Cathy sank a great deal of money, and time and energy, into keeping the Age alive. Finally, in 2008, they were forced to concede defeat against changing times and costs that had already taken their toll on many of this country's independent newspapers.
They sold it to APN, now NZME, which was regarded then, by me at least, as very much the lesser of two evils, the other bidder being INL (Stuff). The change of ownership was not widely welcomed, however, many fearing that a corporate would strip the Age of its traditional local flavour, but that did not happen. Editorial control remained firmly in Kaitaia, and to a large degree still does. Much of the credit for that goes to Rick Neville, then chief operating officer at APN, who most of you will have never heard of. He too is owed a debt of gratitude by those who believe a local paper has value.
Gratitude is also owed to all those who have contributed to this newspaper over the years, and still do. A newspaper like this cannot survive without the active support of its community, and this one has never lacked that. My last request is that those who have been so generous throughout my time continue to support my successor, Myjanne Jensen. She will need you, and she will be as grateful as I have always been.
Meanwhile, the owners have generously offered me the opportunity to continue contributing a weekly editorial, which I intend to do, after a couple of weeks off. I am very grateful for that invitation. Writing the editorial on a Sunday morning has been one of a great many pleasurable parts of this job for many years, and hopefully I can continue for some time to come. I trust someone will tell me when I begin losing the plot. (That might fall to John Stewart, across the corridor at Printing.com, who over recent years has been my voluntary proof-reader).
I appreciate that that will not delight some as much as others. I accepted a very long time ago that it is not possible to please everyone, or to express a view that is universally popular. My philosophy, however, has always been to give everyone in this community the right of reply. I make no apologies for my slightly conservative instincts, but I would caution against compartmentalising people. Tom Young, the best-loved GP any community ever had, knew that. He once described me as a Nazi with a social conscience. Whatever their views, everyone is entitled to have their say, and if you don't agree, what harm is done?
We are becoming less tolerant though. When we broke the news, on our website, in March last year that we had ceased to publish thanks to Covid-19, the first response was commendably brief and to the point - 'Good riddance.'
Sadly for that person, we came back. And hopefully we will be here for many years to come.
For me, it has been an honour and a privilege to play what I believe to be a massively important role in this community. I might not have always handled it with quite the aplomb it deserves, but I believe Kaitaia and surrounds have been well served by some very good people over many years. My predecessor, Derric Vincent, and Ted Bagshaw, a linotype operator who morphed into a sports reporter and photographer, are at the top of the list. Ted and I made a good team, and his departure, into retirement, in 1995 was followed by a decade of successors who came and went, some displaying more ability and commitment than others, until Frank Malley was invented in 2005. He, sadly, became a victim of the restructuring forced by Covid-19.
It's been a funny old working life here at the Age, but a good one beyond all that I imagined it would be when I arrived, made possible by a tolerant, understanding and supportive Mrs Jackson. It is now time for change, which is never a bad thing. Over and out.