Dolphins of Yesteryear

A 55-year-old news clipping brings back memories

Black file cabinet

My old filing cabinet

An old black metal filing cabinet sits in my cluttered attic. Stuffed into its four drawers are fifty-five years of my stories, some published, most not. Sooner or later someone will have to dispose of all the dog-eared pages and travel-worn manuscript boxes. In the meantime, I’ve set myself a little project for this blog: go through the files and find pieces of my past that you, my readers, might find interesting.

Here’s one, to start us off. On January 6, 1960, I was fresh out of college, and this was my first day on the job as a cub reporter at The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand’s morning newspaper.  My boss, the city editor, handed me a four-year-old clipping about the death of Opo, a bottlenose dolphin who chose to join children at play in the surf at Opononi, a beach settlement  in the Northland region. The grieving residents had commissioned a statue.  “Here, update this story,” he said. “The sculptor lives in Christchurch. His phone number’s in the book. I’ve heard he’s nearly finished.”

Statue of Opo

Russell Clark’s statue of Opo and a child

I had a pleasant conversation with Russell Clark, the sculptor, who was making the sculpture free of charge as his tribute to Opo. It is of Hinuera stone, which is buff colored and coarse in texture. The sculpture was indeed nearly finished, and would be shipped to Opononi the following week. I was so proud when my little story appeared exactly as written, along with a nice photograph, in the next morning’s edition, having survived unscathed the eagle eyes of The Press’s copy editors, gruff eminences who ruled from a curved dais in back of the press room.

I did not meet Opo, but have my own dolphin memory. We were returning from a family vacation on Tuhua, an island offshore from Tauranga. The day was brilliantly sunny, the launch was bouncing through waves, and I had just learned that I’d been awarded a national scholarship to attend university. A school of dolphins surrounded the boat. Leaping joyously through the waves, they escorted us back to land. As I stood at the bow, I felt like a princess.


11 Responses to “Dolphins of Yesteryear”

  • Jewels:

    What a lovely success story. I keep old writings in a box under my bed. I call it “the morgue.”

  • Marjolaine:

    Lovely story! I can almost see you and hear you laughing with the dolphins!

  • Nona:

    Charming, delightful story, Maureen.

  • You were queen of the world! Lovely piece.

  • Henri:

    A great idea for dealing with those files that refuse to disappear, haunting us with history we’re afraid to destroy, because, who knows, a wonderful event we’d not thought about for years is suddenly with us again and available to share–
    thanks, Maureen

  • Sandy Peters:

    No wonder, Maureen!
    You are a princess in so many ways!
    And such a blessing!

  • Alice Richards:

    Indeed Maureen, there are no coincidences.

    What a memorable experience. Imagine you can still see the dolphins surrounding the boat. What a wonderful time in your life.

  • Linda Foote:


    What a charming story. I especially enjoyed the closing comment. What a great visual–one that left me chuckling.

  • Oh, Maureen, this is an envious project, worthy for the reconnection. Today on our doorstep was a filing box sent from my wife Claire’s brother with family albums. She’s only begun to remember. But a filing cabinet, how wonderful. We’ll be looking forward to each release from this treasure.

  • Kate:

    I love the idea of your going through old stories and sharing them with us!
    This is a wonderful piece. I want to hear stories about Opo and how he interacted with the children. (Perhaps I’ll Google.)
    The visual you portray about the dolphins surrounding you when you learned you got a scholarship took me there and made me joyful for you.

  • What a sweet slice of history. I love these “stories behind the stories” glimpses. A children’s book on our shelves holds a story “Opo: The Happy Dolphin” by Julia Graham, illustrated by Tony Oliver. Perhaps the same Opo? A dolphin who rescued a fisherman from Opononi gone overboard?

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