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 Māori journalist, she was a pioneer in a largely Old Boys' Club and her knowledge of Māoritanga and Māoridom 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 trail-blazing career, and salutes her loving whānau who helped pave her way.

THE GIRL FROM THE PĀ

How ever did we arrive at this juncture: A girl from the pā now an "old fart" in that most non-Māori of establishments: mainstream New Zealand media.

It's been a long journey for a penny diver from Rotorua's Whakarewarewa, site of the historical Māori fortress of Te Puia, to studying journalism in Wellington in 1970 and 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.

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That's pretty much how I would describe being a pā kid in contemporary New Zealand: part of the whole but also individual and off to the side. We live in parallel universes: whānau and pā sitting alongside the city of Rotorua, old-world tikanga and modern laws. We pā 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 pre-schooler. My mother was hapū (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 pā.

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 Māori Catholic kid of my generation had to have a saint's name.

When I started work at the New Zealand Herald in 1986, one of the sub editors asked me what my name was before Māori became "fashionable". That was when the Māori renaissance was gathering momentum, when we were standing up for ourselves, not picking a Pakeha 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 whānau or hapū life.

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

WHAKAPAPA

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.

Mata Mihinui With Mike De Latour, chief sub-editor at The Daily Post in the late 1970s. Photo / Supplied
Mata Mihinui With Mike De Latour, chief sub-editor at The Daily Post in the late 1970s. Photo / Supplied

When our parents started their family they were older than was the norm in the 1950s; Dad in his mid-40s 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 pā 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. Whānau and whanaungatanga have been key during my life.

EDUCATION

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 Māori. 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 pā 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 pā 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. Māori was not an option at a school where more than half the roll was Māori. 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" Māori 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 life-changing it would be.

JOURNALISM

Mata Mihinui with Harold Collie, (left), a compositor at The Daily Post. 1970s. Photo / Supplied
Mata Mihinui with Harold Collie, (left), a compositor at The Daily Post. 1970s. Photo / Supplied

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

The Timaru Herald was an eye-opener. 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 came 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 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 Lamason 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.

NZ HERALD & MORE TRAGEDY

A Daily Post social gathering in the 1980s - Mata Mihinui (right). Photo / Supplied
A Daily Post social gathering in the 1980s - Mata Mihinui (right). Photo / Supplied

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 soul mate 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 Ngāpuna 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 and 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 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 world-wide 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 Rotorua Daily Post office, is the passion these young reporters and old-fashioned photographers have for their craft. I applaud their professionalism.

• Mata intends to spend her retirement immersing herself in te reo and weaving.