Something unusual happened to me last night. I found myself talking with two men who, it suddenly occurred to me, had both been instrumental – quite unintentionally – in propelling me into a career in journalism.
One was the former Wellingtonian Spiro Zavos, long domiciled in Sydney, where he writes about rugby for the Sydney Morning Herald and the sports website The Roar. The occasion was the launch of Spiro’s book, How to Watch the Rugby World Cup 2011 – his eighth rugby book, and the latest in a series of “How to” titles released by the innovative niche Wellington publisher Awa Press.
Also in attendance was Wellington lawyer Paul O’Regan, whose wife Mary Varnham founded and runs Awa Press.
Back in 1966, when I was in the lower sixth form (as it was then known) at St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, Spiro was my history teacher and Paul, who was a year ahead of me, edited a school newspaper called the Silverstreamer.
I was a newcomer to Silverstream, having been dispatched there because of my undistinguished academic record at Central Hawke’s Bay College. “Orry”, as Paul was known (there were three O'Regan brothers at Silverstream, all known as Orry), promptly signed me up as pop music columnist for the Silverstreamer for no better reason, I suspect, than that my brother Justin hosted the nightly Sunset Show on 2ZB, which all the Silverstream boarders listened to on their transistor radios. As it happened, I loved music and needed no encouragement. So Paul gave me my first taste of journalism, and my first byline.
Spiro’s contribution came several months later. The heroic instigators of Radio Hauraki were trying to break the state’s monopoly on broadcasting and the Holyoake government was doing everything it could to stop them. I was appalled at the lengths ministers and bureaucrats were prepared to go in their efforts to prevent the pirate ship Tiri putting to sea and broadcasting from beyond the territorial limit.
Spiro was always good for a discussion on the issues of the day – like many good teachers, he was easily distracted – and he readily responded when I asked what he thought about the Radio Hauraki furore. He said the government had adopted the Nazi tactic of using a law out of context to suit its own purposes.
I liked the sound of that and promptly wrote a letter to the editor of The Dominion, shamelessly repeating Spiro’s line as if it were my own. It was published as the lead letter – my first appearance in print (and, I hope, the last time I used someone else’s words without due attribution).
Up until that time I’d had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but it may have been the experience of writing that pop column, and seeing my letter in print in the Dom, that encouraged me a few months later to make the appointment with the editor of the Evening Post that resulted in my first job. If so, then Orry and Spiro have a lot to answer for.