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Terry Dunleavy reflects on the Samoa of the 1950s

Terence (Terry) Dunleavy may be 90 years old, but he remembers his youth in Samoa like it was yesterday.

Mr. Dunleavy, a newspaper editor in pre-independence Samoa, has returned to celebrate the life of Hollywood actress Roberta Haynes’ whose final wish was to be interred in Lefaga, where the 1953 feature Return to Paradise was filmed.

Her only son, Jonathan Ward, and his family arrived in Samoa last week and the interment ceremony was on Tuesday afternoon at the Return to Paradise seaside chapel in Lefaga.

Mr. Dunleavy was in the film too, cast as Mac, an American airman whose plane had gone down over Samoa. 

He had moved to Samoa from New Zealand in 1951, to become the editor of the weekly Samoa Bulletin and was the manager of the Samoa Printing and Publishing Company.

Just 23 then, Mr. Dunleavy was on his second editing job at the monthly sports magazine The New Zealand Sportsman in Auckland, when he was enjoying a beer at the Commercial Hotel in Shortland Street, today known as DeBretts Hotel.


“A lot of people from Samoa when they came over on their long leave used to drink in the same bar, so I met some of them,” he said. “One day, Eugene Paul said to me: 'We hear you know something about running small newspapers and small printing businesses; we’re looking for someone in Samoa.'

“I said: 'Tell me more'. They told me more, and I came.”

So he moved to Samoa with his wife Barbara and one young child, to begin what he recalls as the most formative years of his life.

Today, he and Barbara have ten children, 19 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. Their eleventh child, Teuila was killed in a car accident. 

“Part of me, spiritually, is Samoan,” Mr. Dunleavy reflected, which is why he dressed for the interment ceremony in a crisp shirt from Eveni Carruthers, an i'e faitaga and a red ulafala.

His foray into Hollywood happened when the Return to Paradise team, Aspen Productions, visited the Samoa Bulletin to share the news of their work in 1952.

They asked for Mr. Dunleavy’s help with casting and eventually cast him too. 

“It was a huge event for the town,” he said.“There was no Cross Island Road in those days; we had to drive all the way around, and we did that every morning and back every night.

“You can imagine the effect of the social life of Apia".


He remembers Roberta Haynes as Maeva, not as an actor playing a character: “She is more one of the Samoan actors, she really became in real life, Samoan.”

Su’a Frieda Paul who would become one of Ms Haynes’ life-long friends taught her to Siva Samoa for the film, which she performed perfectly, he remembers. 

In the seven years he edited the Samoa Bulletin, Mr Dunleavy saw big stories come and go.

He covered the arrival and consequent mystery of the MV Joyita from which 25 passengers and crew disappeared after it docked in Samoa in 1955, and of course the filming of Return to Paradise.

In 1954, the American sailor William Willis sailed to American Samoa from South America on a raft - the Seven Little Sisters - which made  big headlines in neighbouring Western Samoa.

And though he returned home to New Zealand in 1958, Mr Dunleavy came back to Samoa in 1962 to help Eugene Paul produce a special edition of the Samoa Bulletin for the first Independence Day.

He was known around town as Ta’ilo from the phrase ‘ou te leiloa’ (I don’t know), which he used as his pen name for his for his front page gossip column called Town Talk.

“In those days, and probably still, if you say to someone: ‘Who took that?’ or ‘Who did that?’, they would say ‘ta’ilo!”

So this term, to many palagi, became a term for an Irish gnome who does bad things, so I thought well my Town Talk can be by Mr Ta’ilo.

“And then bugger me dead, I end up with that as my Samoan name – not great for a journalist,” he said.


His other achievement from the Samoan chapter of his life is choosing royal blue for the Samoan rugby team in the test matches he organised against Fiji in 1955, when the Apia Rugby Union (which then became the Western Samoa Rugby Union and then the Samoa Rugby Union) was established by him, Eugene Paul and Angus Macdonald.

“I am extremely proud of what Manu Samoa has been able to achieve in the years since,” Mr Dunleavy said.“Not only has Manu Samoa been very successful for a relatively small nation, there is no representative team in New Zealand without two, three or four players of Samoan descent. They are very important to the whole of New Zealand rugby.”

When he moved back to New Zealand in 1958, Mr Dunleavy left journalism to work in the printing business in Wellington for F.T Wimble and Company, and then Martin Printing Company after that. 

He spent seven years in Wellington before moving to Napier, and when Martin Printing Company was sold to an Australian company, Mr Dunleavy made his move to Auckland and into the wine label printing business and then eventually into the wine industry as a whole where he would make his greatest mark.

Today, Dunleavy is a big name in wine. He was the inaugural chief executive officer of the Wine Institute of New Zealand in 1976 (called today New Zealand Winegrowers), and in 1988 he founded the New Zealand Food & Beverage Exporters Council and has been one of the major players taking New Zealand wine to international shelves.

“I am proud of my contribution in the early years to New Zealand wine improving in quality and becoming a major export product,” he said. “We are now the fifth largest value of export from New Zealand, and I pleased to see there is plenty of it sold here in Samoa.”


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