Continuing the journey

Alumni achievers, f1 — By on May 24, 2017 4:31 pm

Carol Hirschfeld (Ngāti Porou, Rongowhakaata), Bachelor of Arts 1984, Faculty of Arts.

One day during the years when Carol Hirschfeld was fronting TV3 News, she popped into a bank to get some money. “A young Samoan teller leaned over the counter and said: ‘it’s so good to see another brown person on TV’.

“It’s that simple,” says Carol, using this anecdote to reflect on her impact in the community. “I hope I show others you can have a prominent role despite there not being many people who look like you.”

Most Ingenio readers will know Carol’s face from our television screens. For 12 years she worked as a reporter, director, presenter and producer on programmes such as Frontline, Assignment, One News, Holmes, Fair Go and Crimewatch. In 1998 she moved to TV3, where she read the news with John Campbell. Since then she has been in the public eye as head of production at Māori TV for five years, and now as Radio New Zealand’s head of content, responsible primarily for news. She’s also been in the public domain as an MC and speaker, and as an ambassador for the Breast Cancer Cure Trust.

“I have always just got on with what was in front me,” says Carol, of her success. Yet she is also very aware of what is behind her.

Carol’s father Charl is an Australian engineer who came to New Zealand in the mid-1950s. Her mother, Ngawiki, was a “Ngati Porou princess” who left Rangitukia, a small town about two kilometres from Tikitiki out on the North Island’s East Cape, when she was 15.

“Mum was eldest of her family and was kept home from school to look after the younger ones. So she had no formal education. It must have taken enormous courage to leave her small Māori-speaking community to work in the city.”

Ngawiki moved to Wellington and then eventually Auckland, where she was a nurse aid and met Charl Hirschfeld in Otahuhu. They were married for 17 years until Ngawiki died prematurely at the age of 36 of a cerebral haemorrhage. Carol was 10.“You learn that life means you’ll lose somebody you love,” she told E_ Tangata magazine in a candid interview.

But her mother’s story remains warm. When I ask Carol what Ngawiki would think of her Distinguished Alumni Award, there is a poignant moment as she says: “I hope she’d be proud. She started this journey.”

Carol’s father is now 85 and she is quick to assert that he has been her greatest teacher. “All roads lead to dad. He is the fairest person I have ever met and that sense of fairness has carried over to every aspect of my life.”

Education was “a non-negotiable” in her family. “For dad it wasn’t about whether we could go to university; it was about what we would do there. There was an absolute belief in us.”

When Carol was 14 she spent a year on Sulawesi in Indonesia where her father was posted as an electrical engineer. She looks back on that as “liberating and eye-opening”. She then spent a year with relatives in Bendigo, Australia, and worked on the local newspaper getting her first taste of journalism.

Back in New Zealand she passed up a 7th form year to work on a trade magazine Hospitality. When she rocked up to Auckland Technical Institute (ATI)’s journalism course and didn’t get in, she decided to enrol for a Bachelor of Arts at Auckland the following year.

She took the advice of her older brother and chose subjects that really engaged her: a major in English literature and minors in history, art history and Bhasa (the native language of Indonesia).

“University was an essential bridge to adulthood. It helped me learn to set goals, develop the capacity for critical thought and gave me insights into many different worlds.”

There were also many hours spent at the student café with her sister and various friends “drinking too much coffee, smoking furiously (we didn’t know the dangers back then) and dreaming of what our lives might become”.

From the outside Carol’s career does seem like the stuff of dreams. After University she got into the ATI journalism course, became a cadet reporter for Radio New Zealand and a sub-editor, first at the Auckland Star and then at TVNZ. The rest is history. Her career has kept growing and changing. A one-time television director of long-form current affairs programmes, she is now steeped in management.

“I miss deeply the creative side of being someone who produces stories directly and I miss being involved in the hurly burly of the newsroom.”

But innovation excites her and is part of her role at Radio New Zealand.

“I am a decision maker and one of the truly innovative things is to be able to open your mind and allow diverse input into how you make those decisions, and allow others to be part of those decisions. It’s exciting to allow the younger generation to inform the decisions you make. I want to be a conduit for that. That is how sustainability is achieved.”

Making Radio New Zealand a sustainable organisation is key. “I want it to be recognised by New Zealanders as a taonga that needs to be cared for and also as the ‘go to’ in terms of connecting and informing them. We are involved in storytelling and hopefully we are truth tellers. It’s very difficult to know in today’s world.

“I feel very strongly that I want to be a guardian of credible journalism.”

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