Dame Christine Cole-Catley Dies

Posted by on Aug 21, 2011 | 6 Comments

Dame Christine, with other Devonport notables Graeme Lay and Kevin Ireland on Cheltenham Beach earlier this year

Dame Christine, with other Devonport notables Graeme Lay and Kevin Ireland on Cheltenham Beach earlier this year

Acclaimed journalist, publisher, author and Devonport resident Dame Christine Cole Catley has died.

She died in Devonport Sunday morning after battling lung cancer, aged 88.

Dame Christine was awarded the Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in June 2006 for services to literature.

She began a distinguished journalism career, freelancing for the Taranaki Daily News while still at school. At university, she was a part-time reporter for The Press in Christchurch. She was a foundation reporter for the Labour Party’s daily paper, The Southern Cross, in Wellington in 1946 and continued writing, often under pseudonyms, for the Listener.

In 1948 Dame Christine had begun broadcasting for Radio New Zealand twice weekly commentaries on most aspects of New Zealand life and then became foreign correspondent for Australia’s ABC Network.

She established its office in Indonesia in 1956 and for two years she travelled widely throughout Indonesia, covering the so-called State of War and Siege. Travelling in the entourage of President Sukarno, she was summoned to sing duets with him at his mass rallies.

When television came to New Zealand, she was the first TV critic for The Dominion, writing as Sam Cree, and the first TV critic for the Sunday Times when it began, writing as Hillary Court.

In 1973 Dame Christine was appointed to the Broadcasting Council, but was removed by prime minister Robert Muldoon after they crossed swords.

In 1952, with Helen Brew, she founded what became known as the Parents Centre educational movement for pregnant women and their husbands. This spread throughout the country and influenced maternity hospital policy and procedures, making doctors and nurses aware of the important emotional aspects of childbirth and mother-infant bonding.

She entered publishing as a freelance editor for what was then New Zealand’s leading firm, A H and A W Reed, and set up her own firm, Cape Catley Ltd, in the Marlborough Sounds in 1973.

She published more than 100 books, continuing to write, edit, publish and conduct writers’ workshops when she shifted to Devonport on the North Shore in 2000.

She wrote books for publication in the United Kingdom and New Zealand as well as being editor or co-editor of a number of anthologies, and had innumerable feature stories published in newspapers and periodicals around the world.

In 2006 the crowning achievement of her writing career, Bright Star, the biography of remarkable New Zealand astronomer Beatrice Hill Tinsley, was published to wide acclaim.

Dame Christine was the tutor-in-charge of New Zealand’s first polytechnic school of journalism in 1967, in Wellington.

She insisted that half the students were female – a move that accelerated the number of women employed in the industry.

In 1961, while working as an advertising copywriter, she was tasked with renaming the Chinese Gooseberries to appease the American market, which was uncomfortable with the Communist overtones of the fruit’s name.

As a result, Dame Christine coined the name kiwifruit.

She set up and chaired the Frank Sargeson Trust to benefit writers and was instrumental in forming another charitable trust to commemorate her friend, the historian and biographer Michael King. The Michael King Writers’ Studio Trust, which runs the Michael King Writers’ Centre on Mt Victoria.

Last year she was awarded a CLL (Copyright Licensing Writers’ Award) to write her autobiography, which was nearly completed when she died. It is hoped to be published next year.

Dame Christine leaves behind three children.

Editor’s Note: The Speculator would be delighted and honoured to take any comments  / stories / anecdotes about Dame Christine and add them to this article.



  1. Ben Clark says:

    Chris will also be greatly missed by the local Labour Party of which she was an active member. A great encourager to others working hard too.

    We had a moments’ silence last night to remember her – she will be deeply missed.

  2. Ruth says:

    I have known of Chris’s works but it was only in the last year that I met her: at Sam’s “Never Too Old” gym class at Just Workout. She was lively and inspiring for all the younger N2Os! I am sure she left with a skip, hop and jump. We will miss her.

  3. Chris Darby says:

    Chris Cole Catley had an enormous heart for people and spilled joy upon all she engaged with. She was always upbeat, always contributing and always uplifting to those who chanced to come her way. She shone huge for 88 years.

  4. Gail Griffin says:

    When I read that Dame Christine had died I thought – bugger! Ahe was a woman with what it takes … thank you Chris for your Parent Centre initiatives, and for the literary fosterings.

    I will miss your sharings and quick witticisms at Devonport Library Associates, and just seeing you whilst making our choices at the local fruitshop.

    Rest well.

  5. Sonja Yelich says:

    Dame Christine Cole Catley was such a warm and giving woman – and always supported and nurtured NZ writers. I will be ever thankful for her past involvement on the Sargeson Trust.
    May you rest peacefully, Chris.

  6. Janne Hosking says:

    Dame Chris will be missed terribly. A wonderful lady with an amazing sense of humour and a voice you could sit and listen to for hours.
    R.I.P. Chris xx

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