By John Keast
The skidoo was hurtling down Mt Hutt.
Maureen Bishop was on the back clinging to the driver – and a camera.
The idea had been that she take photos of the slopes on the way down.
That, as the skidoo gathered speed, was the last thing on Mrs Bishop’s mind.
It is a little tale from a long life in journalism, a career that has spanned video splicing and editing at DNTV2 in Dunedin, three years at the Otago Daily Times (the owner of this newspaper), councils, celebrities, characters, a chief reporter with a booming voice, being the first woman editor of the Ashburton Guardian, and two stints at this newspaper.
It is a career remarkable not just for the length of service – Mrs Bishop – 72 in March – but for its breadth: she has seen it all and done it, too.
Today, she walks out of a newspaper office as worker for the last time.
She takes with her a remarkable knowledge of the industry, its characters, its foibles and its glories and its value – and were she young, she would do it all again – without hesitation.
“The joy of this job is the people you meet, from royalty to the prime minister to the person running the fundraising event for the kindy.”
Mrs Bishop was born in Cromwell where her father was a raceman for the Ministry of Works.
When she was a tot, the family moved to Earnscleugh, and she went to primary school in Clyde and secondary school in Dunedin.
There was always a love of words and writing, and Maureen applied to the Otago Daily Times to be a reporter.
She was asked if she was going to varsity and she was not, but soon got a job at the regional television station, DNTV2, established by the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation in 1962.
Her first job was putting the advertisements into taped programmes and taking them out again the next day before the tapes were sent on.
That work was all right, but if the news editor did not want to work through his break, the young Maureen was asked to edit film – a job she relished.
After six months, she went back to the ODT, confirmed she was studying at varsity – but never went back – and began as a cub reporter.
The jobs were menial: the shipping report, the fruit and vegetable round.
Then came more demanding work – council reporting, but only after she confirmed to the chief reporter she had her driver’s licence.
She, unlike him, did.
“He said, ‘did you get it?’ and I said I did, and he said ‘you can go to the Port Chalmers Borough Council then’.”
She did – in the ODT’s Triumph Herald, a car she had never driven before.
“I didn’t know where the dip switch was and I had to go around all these bends to Port Chalmers.”
Maureen covered plenty of local councils: Mosgiel, Green Island, St Kilda. Most have gone, merged into greater councils.
“I’ve watched a lot of councillors in action over the years. Later, when I shifted to South Otago, I went to Kaitangata and Balclutha and Gore councils.”
Maureen was at the ODT for three years before marrying and going to live in Riversdale, Southland.
She never stopped writing, stringing (a part-time correspondent) for the Gore Ensign, and moving to Ashburton in 1970.
Here, she used to write reports to the Guardian for the organisation with which she was involved, and was offered a part-time job at the Guardian.
She later became its first woman editor.
Years earlier, she had been the Lady Editor at the Otago Daily.
“Lady Editor is not a term found these days. We had a women’s page each day and I had to find stories for it.”
She recalls going to a meeting and working beside the late Shona McFarlane, who worked for the Evening Star but who became an artist of note and television personality.
“She gave me a running commentary on the women at the top table.”
Mrs Bishop said the thing about working in small papers was that you got to do anything and everything.
“I always think you have a little knowledge about everything and not a lot of knowledge about anything.”
At The Courier, under its founder Frank Veale, that included developing photographs and page make-up; taking pages to Oamaru for printing after missing a bus.
Then there are the people, in and out of work.
She met Kiri Te Kanawa after she won the Mobil Song Quest in Dunedin – and she struck up a conversation with the Queen’s surgeon.
That was during a Royal visit for which the reporting protocols are strict.
Reporters are given clear guidelines about who will be where – and when.
Her job, during a Royal walkabout in Ashburton, was to follow the Duke but not to mingle with the Royal party.
“But the Duke’s party went faster than the Queen’s party and we ended up with the Queen’s party.
“I found myself with the Queen’s lady in waiting and the Royal surgeon who seemed keen to know where Ashford’s was as he was a spinner.
“I retreated fairly quickly.”
Mrs Bishop knows more about newspapers than most.
She recalls being bawled out by a chief reporter for a spelling mistake – which she never made again – and the time she asked to move to the sub-editors’ bench.
She was advised that that might not be appropriate because of the language and the late finishes.
Mrs Bishop, like most reporters of the day, learned on the job, and she learned well.
There was no editorialising, as now; just straight reporting of what happened.
She hopes in this changing media world that there is always a place for papers like The Courier, for papers which reflect the community they serve.
“When I see big papers pull out of towns I fear we will see a bland type of news from Auckland and people will not know what is going on in their community.
“I think standards have slipped. I still buy a paper every day and I sometimes wonder why I am doing that. We get so much in sound bites. I would dearly like to think there is a future for print.”
But it has not all been newspapers. Mrs Bishop has done office work and spent 14 years as a road safety co-ordinator for the Ashburton council and Environment Canterbury.
It is a job that is disappearing.
When the road safety role came to an end, with ECan opting out of the role, Mrs Bishop, the young woman who wrestled the Herald around Otago harbour, who had neat shorthand, came back to newspapers and The Courier.
When she leaves today, Mrs Bishop says she will be apprehensive – and will miss the people, the chatter, the tidbits from council, the hub-bub of reporting. But she has much to do. First is a trip to Bangkok to see her daughter and family, then a trip to Vietnam.
Photo: Maureen Bishop