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New Zealand Obituaries


New Zealand Obituaries

The master of obituary writing in New Zealand is the Dominion-Post’s Peter Kitchin, who goes to great lengths to research well-composed obituaries of colorful, but frequently obscure, local people. Lately, they have provided insights into people who were controversial during their time such as Bob Walton (police chief) and Charlie Dempsey (soccer manager). There are also others who are of less public exposure such as teachers who have committed their lives to inspiring their students, migrants who lived their lives with much zest, a boot maker, a songwriter who wrote hits, a market gardener, and a Maori kuia.


Such obits are easily found on the Dominion-Post’s website, and really contribute something significant to the paper itself. The New Zealand Herald appears abashed by death, or even celebrating life. You really have to hunt to locate their obituaries. For example, who would dream of looking for a story on Alexander Solzhenitsyn on the sports section’s inside back-page? And they rarely feature New Zealanders. The paper has selling rights to the obituaries of the Independent, and although the offerings of that paper are conspicuously used elsewhere in the Herald, some of the resident writers likely feel that the obituaries are less conspicuous. 

There was this feature on New Zealand’s version of Marilyn Monroe. It is a flimsy association, but few have ever heard of the Jill Adams, supposedly a 1950s bombshell, who grew up in New Zealand and passed on recently at the age of 78. To all accounts, she sounds like Diana Dors, only classier. Her face was utilized on a Wrens recruiting poster but she couldn’t seem to get out of low budget movies.

But for victory over success, a good example is Joan Campbell who had just recently died at age 96 and was hailed “the gruff cookery writer who put Australian food on the map.”

Her happy life as a debutante of Brisbane was spoilt, when she was 20 years old, by the sudden death of her first love in an accident caused by a tractor’s crank handle.


Campbell subsequently married the heir of a rich family, who would not let her to do anything serviceable. According to her friend, Cherry Ripe, a well-known food writer from Australia, “She spent her days in a social round of polo picnics, race meetings and beach houses.”

By her mother-in-law’s orders, Joan was not permitted in the kitchen. This led her to have a sub-kitchen built at the back of the house, in which she busied herself by making chutney and jams. When her in-laws found out that she had purchased an Aga cooker without asking their by-your-leave, they purportedly deducted their son’s legacy by over three thousand hectares.
The marriage didn’t last long, and Campbell said goodbye to the heir and took up with a one-armed journalist who was penniless. In the beginning, she used a small amount of money from the family to purchase two un-insured airplanes for crop-dusting which unfortunately crashed.


At the age of 60, she successfully reinvented herself as a stylist, food writer, and editor for women’s magazines.



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