Fifty years of variety

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Fifty years ago this week, 17-year-old Dawn Murphy passed her interview with flying colours and started a job in the Otago Daily Times North Otago office.

Five decades on, she still holds the same role with Allied Press.

“Gee, I’m a real mover and shaker, aren’t I?” Mrs Murphy joked.

Mrs Murphy (67), nee Mills, left Waitaki Girls’ High School in the sixth form and successfully applied for a job as a receptionist at the ODT

“I can still remember the interview. Mr [Maurice] Tonkin had me spell ‘accommodation’, ‘Otematata’ and asked about the moon landings that were all over the news.

“If you were working at the paper you had to know a bit about current affairs – you couldn’t be a complete numpty.”

In those days, jobs were more segregated, she said, and women and men tended to gravitate towards certain jobs. Mrs Murphy was the only female staff member when she started.

“It was very much boys did one job and girls did another.

“[But] they were all really nice – I never once had a problem.”

The role of a receptionist was varied and included helping out with whatever needed doing – from helping to develop film or dividing up the week’s wages in cash.

Each day, two buses travelling to Dunedin would load the stories, ads and photographs on board to go to print that night.

In those days, reporters would be out in the field more, covering a variety of meetings around the district, she said.

“And it was mostly hard news, there wasn’t a lot of personality pieces in those days.”

Mrs Murphy remembered her wage as about $8 or $9 a week and the first Christmas shout was $1 to buy strawberries and ice cream.

Her 50 years at Allied Press was not an unbroken stand though; she was lured to the bright lights of Sydney for two separate stints in the 1970s and early 1980s.

It was at a hangi at Bondi Beach where she met her future husband, the late Terry Murphy, a “Maori Irishman”.

When their first child, Lea, arrived, and they outgrew their Sydney home, they had to decide to move to “the sticks” or home. They chose Oamaru and Mrs Murphy returned to her job at Allied Press in 1986.

By that stage, technology had advanced so copy was faxed to Dunedin, rather than mailed and, since the advent of the digital age, emailed.

Oamaru had always been home to Mrs Murphy and she said she enjoyed being close to her family and, of course, back at the front desk.

“I have loved it though the best thing has been the people – customers and colleagues.

“There is always variety and there have been some real characters.”

Over the past 50 years, there has been one change that sticks out – they don’t make them like Dawn Murphy any more.