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Former Fair Go reporter Anna Thomas on championing the underdog

After a varied career, Anna Thomas reveals in her own words why people remain at the heart of her endeavours.
Robert Trathen

Her face is familiar to TV viewers as a journalist who championed the rights of Kiwis on Fair Go for many years, but it’s her dulcet tones people tend to recognise these days from Radio New Zealand. Anna Thomas, 56, catches up with the Weekly to fill us in on what she’s been up to since her Fair Go days and reflect on a varied career that she fell into by accident.

“I never planned on being a journalist. I wanted to be a cop. I left school at 16 because I knew I was going to fail UE [University Entrance], but I was too young to go into the police. I’d always liked English and creative writing, and a friend told me about a job going at Radio Avon in Christchurch. They got me to write a story and speak into a microphone, and said, ‘Right, we’ll give you a whirl.’ I thought I was a general radio cadet and I’d spend time in the newsroom, then go on to sales or marketing, but after about six months, I realised, ‘Oh, I’m a cadet reporter.’

It was 1985 and after two weeks in the job, I ended up interviewing [former Prime Minister] Robert Muldoon. It was a sink or swim moment. He’d lost the election the year before and I had to ask him about GST. I didn’t even know what GST was at the time. I said, ‘Mr Muldoon, I’m from Radio Avon, can I have five minutes of your time, please?’ He held up two fingers and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, he’s giving me the fingers.’ Then he said, ‘I’ll give you two minutes.’

I said, ‘What do you think of GST?’ and he said, ‘What do you think I think of GST?’ I thought, ‘Oh, no, this is a disaster.’ Then he gave me the 20-second grab I needed and that was it.

Fair Go flashback (from left): Mark Hannan, Weekly columnist Kevin Milne, Pete Cronshaw, Raewyn and Anna.

I love being a journalist. I feel so lucky that I get to do this for a career. You get to meet incredible people and have the privilege of telling their stories. I’ve been fortunate to do so many things over the years, from starting in radio to working on TV for Fair Go.

I’ve produced and written TV shows, I’ve worked for Tourism New Zealand, doing everything from writing and editing their magazine to filming their videos, and taking international media all over the country.

I’ve also worked for the Film Commission, promoting the work they do and the talents of incredible Kiwi filmmakers, finding the stories behind movies like The Power of the Dog and Avatar.

I’m now back on radio, working at Radio New Zealand as their permanent fill-in person. I’m a news-reader, host – including presenting the Summertime show throughout January for the last four years – and producer on the Checkpoint programme. I’m so happy to be back in radio, I love it.

Weekly cover girl Anna

I also freelance for magazines – I’ve just finished writing a magazine on film in New Zealand – as well as newspapers here and overseas, and I work as a freelance producer for ABC America. I helped their team when they came over here to cover the White Island eruption in 2019.

I look back at my eight years on Fair Go with great fondness, mostly because of the people I worked with. We were a really tight team – Kevin Milne, Raewyn Rasch, Pete Cronshaw and me. I felt like we really made a difference in a whole lot of areas and it was great when we were able to help people sort out their issues. It has stood me in good stead. I’ve had some battles with insurance companies and the knowledge I picked up from Fair Go has been really helpful. So has never taking no for an answer!

We had a flood and our insurance company tried to underpay us by tens of thousands of dollars until I picked up an error in their calculations. They backed down pretty quickly!

I left TV in 2002 to go to Bosnia. I went with my husband Chris, who was working as a peacekeeper for the United Nations, and our daughter Lily, who was 18 months old. I’d been to Bosnia and Croatia in 1993 during the Balkans War, doing pieces for the Holmes programme. The siege of Sarajevo was underway and it was a real eye-opener. It was peace time when I went back with Chris and Lily, and I did some freelancing while we were there. It made me realise how lucky we are to live in New Zealand.

I’ve been on the cover of the Weekly seven times. Five of the covers are hanging up in my garage. The first one was with Raewyn Rasch, who is still a really close friend, and the headline was “Damn the Dieting”. It was all about being on TV and not being a size 10. We were size 14s and proud of it. You wouldn’t talk about that sort of stuff now.

Anna is still good friends with former co-star Raewyn (left).

2016 was my annus horribilis. The year started with me finding myself out of a job and badly let down by a close friend, which meant the end of a 20-year friendship. Then, shortly afterwards, my dad died, followed a month later by my mum.

Workwise, however, the year turned out brilliantly. I picked up another contract with Tourism New Zealand, which involved travelling around the country with international journalists and TV crews. I met some amazing people and made some excellent work connections. I then started doing casual work at Radio New Zealand and I have been there ever since.

2016 taught me always have a plan B, especially when it comes to work, and treasure the real, honest and special people in your life. While life can deal you some pretty crappy hands at times, there’s always sunshine to be found and a lot to be grateful for. It also helps having a great husband and wonderful kids too!

My daughter Lily is 23 now and living in Brisbane. She’s done some acting, including appearing in Westside, and she’s got a psychology degree. She’s a very creative soul and at the moment, her creative side is coming out in floristry.

My son Rupert, who is 19, just did his first year at AUT doing sport and recreation, majoring in outdoor education. He’s still living at home because flatting is so expensive and it’s nice having him here with us.

Anna and Chris’ children are all grown up now! Lily’s flown the nest to live in Brisbane, while Rupert’s at home and studying.

I gave up surfing after having a couple of accidents. I was at Pakari a couple of years ago, having a refresher lesson. The waves weren’t that big, but the board went in one direction and my leg went in the other. I heard a pop and then there was the most excruciating pain. I had ripped my hamstring off my pelvis. I had to have surgery to re-attach my hamstring. I had medical staff say to me, ‘What are you doing surfing at your age?’ It made me really mad, actually – would they say that to a man?!

Then a year later, I was at the beach in Noosa, just jumping over waves, and the other hamstring came off my pelvis. I wasn’t even trying to surf. The surgeon said I could have a weakness as far as my hamstrings go. I’m doing well now – I’m back in the gym, but I don’t think I’ll be surfing again. I’m going to try paddleboarding, it’s much safer.

In the meantime, I’ve taken up cycling, which I absolutely love. Chris and I have done the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail in the South Island, and we’re planning lots more bike adventures.

I’m really keen to do more work in the not-for-profit sector. I volunteered to go to Fiji with the Hearts 4 Kids Foundation that does heart surgeries on children there. They hadn’t had much publicity, so I went along and interviewed the kids and the surgeon, and it ended up in lots of media. I’d taught myself to use a camera while I was working for Tourism New Zealand and to also do basic edits – it’s really important to keep building your skills.

Chris and I would like to go and work for not-for-profits in places like Timor, where he served. It’s so satisfying being able to do something where you feel like you’re making a difference. With him being ex-army and police, and my comms background and being able to use a camera, we could be quite useful.

If I could go back and say anything to 16-year-old Anna as she was starting out in her career, I’d tell her, ‘Be more confident – you can do this.’ And also, ‘You’re so lucky to have got into journalism. You’re going to have some amazing experiences and get to meet incredible people. You’ll have the best work stories!’”

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