The one-time telegram girl has remained perpetually upbeat as she's steered her waka through a lifetime of personal tragedies.

As a teenage telegram girl Wiki (Wikitoria) Flavell knew what it was like to deliver sad news.

In the years before and since she's received far more than her fair share.

The mother she doesn't remember died giving birth to a younger sibling, meningitis claimed her first child, one of her twin boys succumbed to kidney failure, her husband dropped dead at her feet.


On Monday Wiki farewelled the step-sister who fostered her in Putaruru when she was 10.

Throughout her "other mum's" protracted tussle with cancer Wiki has regularly crossed the Mamakus to help nurse her. Only a decade's age difference separated them.

So much sadness to bear yet Wiki remains a perpetually upbeat soul, supporting others when times become tough for them too.

Crown that with her new-found athleticism.

At 79, measuring in at less than 5 foot (1.52 metres) yet powered with more vitality than an Energiser bunny, she's a regular at ex-army man Mitch Mitchell's Pakaru Tinana seniors' fitness programme (Our People, October 20, 2018) and has competed in the Kaumatua Olympics, Maori Iron Maiden and in February became a waka ama national medallist. Her crew entered the event after winning the regionals with only two lessons on the paddle.

All this is despite arthritis.

"I keep it in check with kawakawa ointment."

Wiki's so busy being busy, juggling quicksilver's easier than cornering her for a chat.

When she's not in the gym or on the water, she's a volunteer receptionist at Parksyde, a sidesperson and kai awhina (meeter and greeter) at St Faith's church, then there's the plethora of Māori land trusts she's involved in "up north".

Wikitoria Flavell is a meeter and greeter at St Faith's at Ohinemutu. Photo / File
Wikitoria Flavell is a meeter and greeter at St Faith's at Ohinemutu. Photo / File

The Far North was Wiki's birthplace; her father was Ngāpuhi, her mother's whakapapa was Te Arawa.

Most of her growing up was on Putaruru's Whakaatamiti Marae. That's the one-time telegram girl encapsulated.

It's sobering to reflect there's a whole generation who probably haven't a clue what communication by telegram was all about. Delivering telegrams wasn't Wiki's first job, that was in a Putaruru box factory "pushing timber through a machine".

"My [foster] mum said I could leave school if I got a job. I heard that one was going at the factory, stuck it out a few months then a guy from the marae said there was a vacancy in the post office taking telegrams around the streets. I could ride a bike, so I got it. They gave me a uniform and cap. I really enjoyed that job."

After 18 months Wiki was sent to Auckland to train as a teleprinter operator, another antiquity to millennials, probably their parents too. To those in the dark, Google the electronic messaging device of the 1960-70s and have a good giggle.

While at it check out morse code. When Wiki began work telegrams were sent and received via its dots and dashes.

Her teleprinter course meant separation from boyfriend, Peter Flavell. He was a marae neighbour.

"His name was originally de Flavelle, his Pākehā ancestors came from France. He was very proud of that."

Initially, she came home for weekends, "then I told him I wanted to stay in Auckland and go to the Māori Community Centre's rock'n'roll dances. It was an awesome place, no drinking, just somewhere to have a good time. He wanted to get married; I told him he had to hang out until I'd had my 21st."

Married life began in a mill house. Peter was working at PTY (Putaruru Timber Yard).

While pregnant with her first child, Wiki's foster parents cared for her in Tauranga. Daughter Teresa Vicky was born there.

"She got meningitis, died when she was 6 weeks old. She's buried in Putaruru. I visit her whenever I'm there."

Twenty months on Wiki gave birth to a second daughter, Eileen, delivered at Waikato Hospital "as a precaution".

All went well, so when Wiki became pregnant again seven years on, she was booked into Putaruru's less high-tech maternity home. She faced a bombshell.

"I went in to have one baby, two boys came out 10 minutes apart. Oh my goodness me, I can laugh about it now, but it was a real shock."

The twins were taken to Waikato Hospital without their mum.

Baby number one, Gene weighed in at over 5lbs (2.26kgs) and was soon home. Although identical in looks, his brother, Adrian, was 2lbs (1.360kgs) lighter, remaining in Waikato three months.

"In the end, Adrian was the bigger one, the more outgoing ... he went to Kea St Special School."

In 1975, when Peter Flavell became a supervisor at Rotorua's Pine Milling, Wiki returned to the world of teleprinters.

"We had a lot of fun there until fax machines and computers made us redundant."

Wiki had become hooked on golf.

"Three of us from telegraphs signed up for lessons at Springfield. It turned out we were naturals, got better and better. When the course ended, we were the only ones to get handicaps. Ours was 36."

She now plays off a 22, is a life member and former Hamurana Club committee member.

Peter Flavell suffered his fatal heart attack on the Hamurana course.

"I was caddying for him. He'd just teed off at the third hole when he tumbled over and couldn't be revived. I always feel I was meant to be with him that day.

"We took him home to his Putaruru marae to be with Adrian. We lost him when he was 19. He'd gone to Auckland Hospital to go on a kidney machine. When I got there, he said: 'Mum, I'm not well'. I hugged him as he faded out."

Poignantly he died on November 5, the same date as her infant daughter.

"Guy Fawkes Day's always been special for our whānau."

From the defunct telegraph office, she moved to the Millenium Hotel. There was no getting away with a sneaky drink on Wiki's watch.

"I had to be there by 6am to check the mini bars so guests' dockets would be ready when they settled up."

She left when her daughter moved to a job at Waiariki from M-tech Consultants.

"She said they were looking for someone to replace her, I said 'Why didn't you think of me?' Wiki became a company fixture, remaining until her retirement at 68.

"Since then I've kept on the go. I've been compiling our whakapapa so my whānau will know it, be proud of it."

Wiki Flavell
Born: Whangārei, 1940
Education: Horohoro Primary (Northland), Putaruru primary, intermediate, high school
Family: Widow, two daughters (one deceased), twin sons (one deceased), three mokopuna, eight moko tuarua
Iwi affiliations: Ngāti Whakaue, Tūwharetoa, Whakatōhea, Tairawhiti, Ngāpuhi
Interests: Whānau, whakapapa, golf: "The gym, I like the boxing, working up a sweat on the machines." Waka ama: "I'm in the number two seat, the one who turns the canoe." Parksyde, St Faith's. "Housie at the Citz's Club on Tuesdays," Land trusts.
On her life: "It's been interesting, Yes, I've had sadness but have had a lot of loving, caring people to help me through it."
On Rotorua: "It's home. I've lived here longer than anywhere, I'll never leave."
Personal philosophy: "God blesses us all."