In an era when the achievements of women in sport received scant regard from New Zealand newspapers and radio, Dot Simons made the field her own. She was born Dorothy Edith Nash on 16 February 1912 in Greymouth, the daughter of English-born parents Edith May Atkins and her husband, John Stephen Nash, a laundryman and boxing judge. She was educated at Greymouth District High School, Greymouth Technical School and Nelson College for Girls. On 16 November 1933, in Wellington, she married Lindsay Malcolm Simons, a railway worker who played fullback for the New Zealand rugby league team.
As a young woman Dot was a talented cricket and hockey player, representing Wellington and Auckland at both sports. In 1938 she managed the first New Zealand women’s cricket team to tour overseas, visiting New South Wales. In the late 1930s, disappointed at the lack of coverage of women’s sport, she approached the editor of Wellington’s Evening Post , who responded by offering her a job as a free-lance sportswriter. She later contributed to the New Zealand Sportsman magazine and edited the short-lived New Zealand Sportswoman in 1949. However, the major vehicles for her long career were to be the Auckland Star evening daily and its weekend 8 O’clock sportspaper.
Moving to Auckland in 1940, she received early encouragement from Star sports editor Geoff Black. Women’s cricket and hockey were her first assignments, but when the Star found it had no one to cover men’s hockey in the early 1960s, Black suggested Simons might like to try her hand. He later recalled that she ‘was prepared to do the hard work and was also willing to take the knockbacks she got from some male elements, at the same time concealing her own feelings’. She also wrote a weekly column, ‘Women in Sport’, in which she presented insightful and accurate profiles of sports personalities.
One sport which benefited greatly from Simons’s interest was women’s golf. From the 1960s to the early 1980s she rarely missed any of Auckland’s major tournaments. From the provincial scene she graduated to national strokeplay and matchplay championships and the interprovincial Russell Grace Cup tournaments. These involved spending hours on the golf course, writing and telephoning in running reports during the day to catch at least two editions, and producing overnight pieces on the leading contenders.
Simons was not a naturally fluent writer, but her ability to make tight deadlines and supply back-up photography for her own stories, together with her indefatigable work ethic, made her a valuable asset in the newspaper world. In addition to her heavy workload, she raised a family of two sons and two daughters, and competently ran her household. She could easily have become a full-time staff member, but preferred free-lance work because it gave her ‘the time to keep a close eye on a growing family’.
The highlights of her sportswriting career were undoubtedly the three Olympic Games she covered for the Star : Munich (1972), Montreal (1976) and Los Angeles (1984). Montreal was the most memorable, as ‘her boys’ not only made the men’s hockey final but beat arch-rivals Australia to win the gold medal. Simons was the only woman reporter covering the men’s tournament and telephoned the full story back to the Star .
Another achievement was the publication, after six years of painstaking work, of her book, New Zealand’s champion sportswomen (1982). The benchmark for women’s sportswriting in New Zealand, it profiled 26 champions from 16 sports, featuring well-known figures such as Olympic long-jump gold medallist Yvette Williams, long-distance runner Allison Roe, Maori tennis champion Ruia Morrison, and New Zealand’s first woman jockey, Linda Jones, alongside lesser-known, but equally dedicated sportswomen such as Elsie Wilkie (bowls), Dot Coleman (fencing) and Cheryl Kemp (softball).
Outside journalism, Simons was president of the Auckland and North Shore Women’s Cricket Associations and the International Women’s Cricket Council. She was also a member of the board of governors of Takapuna Grammar School, and coached sport at a number of North Shore schools. For her long devotion to sport and the community she was made an OBE in 1974.
Her husband, Lindsay, had died the previous year. Dot retired from the Star in 1985. Over the last 14 years of her life she suffered a series of nine debilitating strokes, but she fought back each time, swimming and walking to regain fitness. She continued to live on her own, with her beloved poodle, until old age and ill health forced her to move into a nursing home. She died at Bayswater, Auckland, on 13 September 1996, survived by her children. A popular, energetic woman, whose eyes sparkled behind thick-framed glasses, Dot Simons pioneered women’s sportswriting in New Zealand during a journalism career spanning nearly 50 years.