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“Robert Messenger Bio”


You may have seen his name in dispatches recently . 

He has sent us this interesting and informative bio on himself as we look forward to some more pearls of history that have been forgotten and that Robert is now bringing bringing back to the forefront in our 125th Anniversary year.


Blaketown primary school under 5 stone 1958

I was born in Greymouth in 1948 and attended Blaketown Primary and Greymouth High schools.

Played rugby for Blaketown 1956-67, West Coast under-18s 1965-66, but was advised by brother Ron, president of the NZRFU 1976, that my rugby future lay in writing about it rather than playing it. So this is how that all began:

In early 1958 Digby and Phil James imported an Original Heidelberg printing press from Germany to install at their print works opposite the Regent Theatre.

Before the machine was set in concrete at the works, they demonstrated it at the West Coast Agricultural and Industrial Fair at Victoria Park. It was operated by Brian McEnaney, a close family friend who worked for the Jameses. I was hypnotised by the machine, got printer’s ink in my blood, and from that time on was set on a career in the print industry.

My father had given me an Underwood Universal portable typewriter in 1957 and I had started to write rugby stories on it (at first for my own benefit only!) at age nine. For Christmas 1957, I was given Volume Two of Arthur Swan’s History of New Zealand Rugby, 37/6! It may sound sacrilegious, but that was my bible. Offset web printing enabled Volume One to be finally republished to mark the 75th anniversary of the NZRFU, which I covered for the Grey Star in 1967.

Brother Ron

One very important thing was that we were all encouraged to read back then, and the more we read, the better we were able to write. When I read The Wild West Coast, by Christchurch Press journalist Leslie Hobbs, published to mark the West Coast centenary in 1960, I was imbued with a love of history and how it could be written in an entertaining way.

After the Industries Fair episode, I “haunted” the James printworks every day after school for three years. Phil and Digby James, who had bought a full set of NZ Rugby Almanacks 1935-1959, strongly encouraged me to use their facilities and to submit pieces for West Coast representative match programmes. I started doing that in 1960, aged 12, for the match NSW Country v West Coast (I was also a ball boy for that match). I continued to write for the WCRFU programmes through into 1961.

I started high school the next year and using my typewriter started writing “Rugby News” for GHS distribution (it went into the GHS library – I still have bits and pieces of copies). I also actually wrote to Rugby World in London in 1960, but wasn’t published by them back then. But I kept the “rejection slip”.

Having set my path on a sports writing career, my parents, brother Ron, his friends the McEnaneys, and the Jameses were all very supportive. Through their many connections I got to meet people such as Ron King, Bob Scott (also had a menswear store, in Wellington), Charlie Saxton (Rotary colleague of my dad), Frank Freitas (fishing mate of my dad), Fred Allen (my first cousin Bob Harvey was a trainer of the Auckland rep team in the late 50s) and 1953-54 AB Doug Wilson (a travelling tie salesman).

One of my most treasured possessions is a photo of George Nepia and Bob Scott together (below) , taken in 1954, bought by me in Gisborne in 1960 for 12 shillings, and through Doug Wilson, autographed by Bob Scott (who also gave me a silver fern badge) and taken by 1924-28 All Black Ian Harvey to George Nepia and also signed by Nepia. I still have the covering letter from Ian Harvey, and one from Bob Scott. I also met Teddy Isaacs, member of a famous Otago rugby family who was briefly editor pro tem of the Grey Star, and of course Russell Nelson, who gave me my first job at the Star when I left school at the end of 1965.

George Nepia and Bob Scott
Father Wally Messenger

In late 1967 I was recruited by Terry McLean to join the New Zealand Herald sports staff, then in 1970 I joined The Australian in Sydney as a sports columnist. In 1974 I became rugby correspondent for the Irish Press in Dublin, and travelled the world covering Irish rugby.

I was also Irish rugby writer for the Sunday Times in London and editor of Irish Rugby magazine. I returned to Australia in late 1979 and became sports editor of the Sunday Independent in Western Australia and the Sunday Sun in Brisbane. During that time I was on the executive of the WARFU and the Wests club in Brisbane. In 1991 I was festival director for the International Golden Oldies in Perth. I formed the Senior Citizens’ Rugby Union Movement (SCRUM) in WA.

The last 17 years of my career, 1997-2014, I was with The Canberra Times, mostly as a sport columnist. I covered the 2003 Rugby World Cup and Super 12 for The Canberra Times.

Sorry if you’ve found all this a bit boring, but I like to think that coming from the background I had in Greymouth, with my own family’s connections and the friendship and encouragement of people like the Rochfords and Harveys, Jameses and McEnaneys, then working with such a brilliant team of journalists at the Grey Star, enabled me to enjoy the career I had.

I grew up with a passion for rugby, and for writing, and the Greymouth environment fully nurtured that. It stood me in excellent stead for the career I’d set my heart on, and went on to have.

Robert Messenger


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