Te reo Māori was the door into a new career for television broadcaster Tini Molyneux. It was the early 1980s and she was perfectly happy working for Air New Zealand when her sister — who worked in television — dropped by with work colleagues Hone Edwards, Derek Wooster and Robert Pouwhare. When they conversed in Māori, her guests recognised something in Molyneux she never knew she had.
Soon she was in an empty TV studio, auditioning as a newsreader for Māori news show Te Karere. "I didn’t think I’d cope being on TV. I was really rattled by the audition...I didn’t realise that the faster you spoke, the faster the autocue rolled”.
Molyneux grew up in Ruatoki, in the heart of Tūhoe country. Māori was her first language. "At the time there was a concerted effort to whiten the 'Māori-ness' out of people ... if we hadn't lived in such a closed community, they may have succeeded with that." When she left to board at Hukarere Girls' College in Hawkes Bay, she was "surprised" to find herself among a minority of fluent Māori speakers, all of them Tūhoe.
"I was Tūhoe first...everything was Tūhoetanga," says Molyneux. "Being called a ‘Māori’ made you look like you didn’t have an identity”. The Māori language renaissance was yet to happen, and there was an underlying assumption that English was the language to get ahead in.
When Molyneux left college, she trained briefly as a nurse in Auckland (where she has family) before landing a job with Air New Zealand. Her sidestep into broadcasting was gradual; she felt she wasn’t a natural fit. Molyneux recalls her awe, not long after being accepted as a newsreader, looking around the green room at TVNZ where the likes of Judy Bailey, Angela D’Audney and Tom Bradley sat. The older hands lent support, especially legendary newsreader D’Audney. “Angela was a great mentor for those breaking into the industry. If you felt nervous about presenting she would say ‘come here, you’ and would put you through your paces”.
Tūhoe academic and elder John Te Rangianiwaniwa Rangihau was also encouraging. Taking Molyneux aside at her local marae in Panmure, he advised her to block out all the noise around issues of a ‘language stoush’ in the Māori world and stand strong in her Tūhoe heritage.
In the late 1980s Molyneux moved on from newsreading to fronting Waka Huia, presenting the series completely in te reo Māori. Created by the late Ernie Leonard and Whai Ngata, the long-running show travels around Aotearoa, preserving the memories of Māori elders.
Her evolution from daily newsreader to reporter had started at Te Karere. “When you’re working in Māori broadcasting you don’t have the luxury of being ‘just a presenter’ — you have to do all sorts of things”. When Molyneux began work at Māori current affairs show Marae , she sat amongst the action in the newsroom, picking up knowledge from fellow reporters. Marae covered topical issues affecting Māori in a magazine style format (Since the show was reinvented as Marae Investigates in 2010, Molyneux has produced many episodes.) While she loved gaining experience in the newsroom, the long-running nature of Māori current (and more often, past) affairs started giving her itchy feet.
“Some stories could be repetitive, Treaty issues for example can take about 30 years to move on. You’d get a bit frustrated and ask ‘how can I be effective in Maori issues?”
The answer came with her move to TV One's primetime news bulletin in 2002 to become Māori Affairs correspondent. She did live to air crosses and packaged stories across morning and evening bulletins. News-wise she couldn’t have picked a better time; the early 2000s saw a list of hot button issues for Māori come to a head. “Foreshore and Seabed hikoi, the birth of the Māori Party — there were all sorts of interesting things happening in Māoridom at that time”.
The period leading up to 2004's Foreshore and Seabed Act was fraught. Māori united to protest what they saw as a denial of their right to take their claims to court. A major hikoi was planned, starting in the Far North. Molyneux, Garth Bray and Mark Sainsbury (then TVNZ's Political Editor) followed the action. Molyneux and Bray attended hours of meetings, sharing the reporting duties. On 4 May 2004 the hikoi arrived at Parliament steps, a day of high drama after 13 days building up steam. The Act and its repeal would prove the catalyst for huge change in the Kiwi political landscape. The same year was also significant for Māori broadcasting, with the launch of channel Māori Television.
Politically speaking, Molyneux rates the defection of Māori MPs from Labour to NZ First as particularly exciting, as it was the first time Labour had lost its Māori seats. She also followed the Māori Party, born after ex Labour Party Minister Tariana Turia’s rejection of Labour over their treatment of the Foreshore and Seabed issue. “I went to every hui they had and at first I was sceptical...then I felt the momentum coming on board and I knew they would make an impact”.
Other stories were close to home — literally her old home town. In 2007 the Armed Offenders Squad entered Ruatoki on the suspicion of paramilitary activity in the Ureweras. Molyneux got a phone call: “you need to go home: you have terrorists in your backyard”.
Her biggest story was very different. The passing and tangi of Māori Queen Te Atairangikaahu, the longest reigning Māori monarch, holds a special place in Molyneux’s memory. The 2006 live broadcast proved "a bit of a coup because Māori don’t like talking about burials or somebody dying when they are still alive, so we negotiated with the tribe.” With the Queen ailing there was limited time to plan. “She got the most fantastic send off. 100,000 people there”.
Stories like these on Māori and land issues have widened New Zealanders’ understanding of their own country, and Molyneux was front and centre covering them on New Zealand’s highest-rating news bulletin. “We got into the nitty-gritty ... I was allowed to go wherever I wanted to follow a story”.
Over the years Molyneux has seen the development of communication professionals in Māori organisations, and a growing ease by people speaking Māori in the media. "When Te Karere first started, even Māori who spoke Māori wouldn't speak Māori ... That started to turn around when the first generation of kōhanga reo came along."
In November 2018 Molyneux received the New Zealand Television Legend Award, in recognition of 30 years as a key Māori broadcaster. Today she mentors younger reporters at both TVNZ and Māori Television, and is in good heart about the state of her beloved language. “This new generation are speaking beautiful reo, they are proudly Māori”.
Profile written by Gabe McDonnell
Published on 21 November 2018
'Tini Molyneux' (Radio interview) Radio New Zealand website. Loaded 13 January 2017. Accessed 21 November 2018
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