Page 1: Biography
Blake, Joan Isabel Faulkner
This biography, written by Linda Faulkner Blake, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Joan Isabel Faulkner, born in Cambridge on 30 January 1921, was the second of three daughters of Edward Ernest Faulkner, a storekeeper, and his wife, Rhoda Vera White, a milliner. After schooling in Waikato and Auckland, Joan became a cadet journalist at the Dominion, Wellington, in 1938. There she honed her writing skills and, as ‘Kiwi’, edited the children’s pages. In 1941 she moved to Taranaki to work on the Hawera Star. She met Englishman Norman Charles Blake, a chartered accountant, here and married him in Napier on 2 December 1941. She retained the use of her maiden name, becoming known professionally as Joan Faulkner Blake.
In 1949, after holidaying in South Africa, she found work with the South African Broadcasting Corporation and the Sunday Express. Later she visited London, and was a reporter on the first turbo-jet passenger plane to cross the English Channel in 1950. By 1956 she had flown over 50,000 miles on aviation publicity work.
In the decade after Blake’s return to Hawera in 1950 she had four children (twins died in infancy), wrote regular columns that were syndicated to newspapers in the four main centres, worked as a reporter on the 1953–54 royal tour, and assisted Doris Gordon, a Stratford doctor, to write two autobiographies. These books led to a radio documentary on Gordon, ‘Woman with a sword’. Produced by Blake for both the New Zealand and British broadcasting services, this programme was chosen the best documentary in New Zealand by reviewers in 1957.
Following this success, in 1961 she began recording a regular ‘New Zealand Letter’ for radio audiences in Britain, Canada and South Africa; she continued this work for 24 years. From 1963 she was heard regularly on New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation national and commercial radio networks. For more than a decade she commentated on current affairs for ‘Behind the Headlines’, was a reviewer for ‘Today’s Book’ and a regular panellist for ‘Sunday Supplement’.
Her involvement with radio extended to programming and production: she was a member of the NZBC’s Central District Regional Programme Advisory Committee for two terms and produced several series. In 1969, for example, she researched, wrote and produced a series for the bicentenary of Captain Cook’s Pacific voyages; the rights for this series were sold internationally. Her interest in history led to the collection of taped reminiscences from Maori and early European settlers. From this material she made several radio series on the early pioneers of Taranaki, the Maori traditions and legends of the mountains Egmont (Taranaki), Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and Ruapehu, and on the national parks of New Zealand.
Blake’s knowledge of the mountains and national parks had developed during a four-year (1944–48) term as lessee of the Dawson Falls Hostel on the south-eastern slopes of Mt Egmont. She continued to act as a national park naturalist and guide when the Blakes resettled in Hawera. Her voluntary work also extended to welfare organisations: she was a Girl Guides Association captain for 10 years, served on the executive of the Hawera branch of the New Zealand Crippled Children Society, was a member of Volunteer Service Abroad and national secretary of Servas (the international home hospitality organisation), and was inaugural secretary of the Hawera Superannuitants’ Association. In 1971 she was chosen as one of the ‘Women of the Year’ by the Wellington branch of the Save the Children Fund for her fund-raising work.
Blake’s experience as a free-lance journalist and broadcaster was utilised by educational institutions, such as Massey University, in extension courses, the Taranaki Polytechnic and the WEA. She was involved with the New Zealand Parent–Teacher Associations and the Educational Priorities and Educational Development conferences. She adjudicated at many public-speaking and debating contests and tutored creative writing groups in Taranaki. In 1990 the Stratford Writers’ Group began a national short-story competition (the Joan Faulkner Blake Memorial Short Story Contest) for schoolchildren and for adults. She died on 6 March that year, at Hawera; Norman had died in 1985. She was survived by a daughter and a son.