Gordon McLauchlan was born in Dunedin and worked in several North Island towns before settling in Auckland. As a journalist he worked on various newspapers as sports writer, feature writer, sub-editor, columnist and book page editor for New Zealand Herald. In 1973 he became a freelancer and this led to his long career as cultural critic and social historian. He wrote and presented for television and radio. His best-selling, Passionless People (1976) inspired a series of television programmes. He spent ten years as editor-in-chief of The NZ Encyclopedia and published A Short History of New Zealand (2004) which is still in print.
Gordon was a staunch member of the New Zealand Society of Authors, and the Society has much to thank him for. During his tenure as President (1994-6) he was a steady hand at the helm while PEN changed its name. He also charted new waters. In 1994 the government was rewriting the Copyright Act. Within that Act the NZ Publishers’ Association was the only entity with the right to collect fees for educational photocopying of copyrighted works. Gordon considered this situation paternalistic. Authors, he rightly claimed, as 50% owners of the rights, were more than capable of jointly overseeing the process. He insisted that authors’ inclusion was the only fair approach and that it be enshrined in the revised law. He fought this issue on several fronts, and won. Thanks to him, NZSA is an equal partner with publishers on what is now Copyright Licensing NZ (CLNZ).
Not content to leave it at that, after some time on the board, and with the realisation that publishers received considerable monies from their combined authors, while individual authors received very little, Gordon instituted Copyright Licensing Award which has supported many writers financially over the years.
He was an active member of the Society until recently, working on the Contract Advisory panel and representing the Society on other boards and committees.
Gordon McLauchlan was widely respected. He was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours, and Broadcasting Minister, Kris Faafoi, said of him: ‘Gordon held a statesman-like place in New Zealand’s media.’ He was an inspiration to many, in life and in his dying. A man with a generous spirit, he was erudite, honest, forthright, compassionate and a good ‘mate’. In a letter written to friends and colleagues in December he said of his imminent death: ‘I’m okay with it, neither angry nor depressed. I’ve had a long and satisfying professional life across media and a remarkably lucky personal life with many close, companionable and giving friends; and I’m inside a loving and sensible family of three generations.’
Even in his last weeks Gordon was still writing. Ever the journalist, he had deadlines to meet. Two of these books were published by Bateman Books just prior to his death – A Short History of Farming in New Zealand, and a book about growing old, of which Gordon said when he knew his time was short – ‘It will obviously need one more chapter. I am attending to that now.’
by Joan Rosier Jones