Monday, May 09, 2011

Blog Post #1985: He's leaving home [Don't Go!]

1985 was a banner year. I spent the first six months on the journalism diploma course at ATI [now the Auckland University of Technology]. At the time it was one of the few vocational courses available to would-be journalists in New Zealand, and competition for places was high. Nearly 300 applied, but only 24 got in - including me.

The course was a pressure cooker, designed to simulate the brutal working environment you would find in newsrooms of the day. If you passed the course, you could survive like as a working journalist. One tutor took a Darwinian pride in the fact a sixth of each student intake would quit or fail, believing it best to eliminate the weak early.

I'd never worked so hard. Having cruised through school on natural intelligence and the ability to bullshit, this course was a shock to the system. No longer was I top of the class, it took all I had just to stay afloat. But I got through it and work placement led to a job offer from Taranaki's morning paper, The Daily News.

[I wonder how many of that class are still journos? Susana Lei'ataua became an actor, writer and artist. Nui Te Koha is a senior writer at Melbourne's Herald Sun. Nemo Adam does web design. Liane Clarke presented TV, now runs marketing and communications. Always wondered what happened to the others, people like Susan Harris?]

I left home on July 4th 1985 [this was my Independence Day] in a newly purchased but decidedly second hand Fort Cortina [as seen in the rather blurry phot aboveo, taken that morning]. The radiator almost exploded fifty miles later and a five hour trip took closer to ten, but I eventually arrived in Hawera to start my first proper job.

Less than a week later several French spies blew up the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior while it was docked in Auckland's Waitemata Harbour. [Several of my former classmates had been on board only hours before.] The story made headlines round the world. I was covered golden wedding anniversaries and minor house fires in Taranaki.

Live Aid? My family came to visit that weekend, which was lovely - but only made my homesickness worse after they'd gone. And I couldn't stay awake to the wee small hours to watch David Bowie perform. Within a month I'd dislocated my knee and spent three weeks in crutches. I worked 39 days out of 42 in one six week stint. Not much fun.

Nevertheless, 1985 was the year I became a professional writer, the year I left home and grew up fast. It's probably the year I learned the most about myself. Seems like a lifetime ago, but an awful lot of who I am now got formed during those twelve months - for better, and for worse. Now, for a musical memory from 1985...

On the journalism course we were forbidden from taken part in any political protests. Our tutors insisted we had to be impartial to write balanced coverage of any story. We could have our own views in private, but not in public. In a decade of agit-prop, that didn't sit well with a lot of students. It prompted me on to my one and only march.

Four years earlier the South African rugby union team had toured New Zealand, causing a storm of protest. The Springboks were seen as representatives of the oppressive aparthied regime, which didn't go down well in a country struggling with its own multi-cultural identity issues and a bad history of colonialism and exploitation.

A return tour by the All Blacks to South Africa was planned for 1985 [how do you like your irony - well done?], but legal action stopped that. A year later many of the players chosen for the aborted tour went to SA anyway as the Cavaliers, despite further protests. You could argue it's where rugby union turned more mercenary.

[IIRC, the Cavaliers were flushed out of the All Blacks, forcing the creation of a new squad full of bright young talents. A year later, they won the inaugural Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. The All Blacks haven't managed to repeat that feat since, but get another chance this year as the contest returns to NZ. Fingers crossed it happens.]

Anyway, in 1985 a lot of kiwi musical talent got together and recorded a protest song against the proposed All Black tour to South Africa. It helped propound the case against supporting aparthied, even if only on the rugby field. The video's a dog's dinner, but I still like the Pacific reggae feel of the song. Your mileage may vary.

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