The Wellingtonian Interview: Peter Bush

MORE THAN RUGBY: For more than half a century, photographer Peter Bush has covered the All Blacks, and a lot more besides.
MORE THAN RUGBY: For more than half a century, photographer Peter Bush has covered the All Blacks, and a lot more besides.

Island Bay resident and noted photographer Peter Bush talks about rugby, the armed forces and a once-great newspaper.

Wellingtonian: You're often called our most famous rugby photographer. Does that irk you?

Bush: It does in a way. I've taken a lot of rugby photos and covered a lot of tests and tours, but I don't go to sleep under the goalposts. Rugby was the vehicle I rode, but I've done a lot more than rugby. I love the outdoors and have done a lot of landscape photography, and I've always been a news photographer. But you get labelled. There are worse labels, I suppose.

Wellingtonian: Why did you become a photographer?

Bush: Growing up on the West Coast, I used to see copies of Life and Look. I remember the great photographs in one copy of Life of the German blitzkrieg into France, and I looked at photo essays, and was fascinated.

Then at school in Auckland, I walked down Ponsonby Rd, a real working-class area back then, and bought a Box Brownie camera for 12/6 at one of the second-hand shops. It was a box of magic for me. I took pictures while working in a tobacco field in Motueka, photographs of guys with horses and things like that. Then I left the film at the local chemist to process. I got the photos back weeks later and don't think anything has given me a bigger thrill. I was hooked.

Wellingtonian: Cameras have changed so much. Have you enjoyed that?

Bush: I started with glass plates on the Herald. These days that's like saying you drove the stage-coach from Tuscon to Flagstaff. I am a bit of a Luddite and find the digital era overwhelming. I have persevered, with the help of young photographers, who've helped me through the minefield of digital photography. It's like the arrival of computers and I was never the most computer-literate of people.

The sheer speed of it now, the modern gear. It's like operating a fire hose  you're going to get something. The skill is the downloading and manipulating. The way things had changed dawned on me one day at the Stade de France when a young guy was taking photos with one hand and wiring them back to his office in the other. That was mind-boggling to me. A lot of the young guys now are bloody good. They have an aptitude for it.

Wellingtonian: How did your time in the service shape you?

Bush: I served in Malaya in the 1950s. I met a hell of a lot of good guys, and got an insight into the character of good, tough Kiwi blokes. It was no cakewalk there, with severe tropical conditions, diseases and so on. It's had an effect on me, on my self-discipline and my core values.

Wellingtonian: You worked for decades for Truth. It was called a scandal rag. Was it?

Bush: I was proud to work for that paper when I did, at its height. It was a paper no-one admitted to buying, but there were 250,000 copies sold each week! People would read them inside their Bibles!

There were some truly great journalists  blokes like Jock Anderson, Bill Rogers, Kevin Sinclair. Hedley Mortlock did the sport well. They were colourful characters. The political coverage was superb  fearless and inquisitive. The sport and racing was good, too.

Wellingtonian: The paper was based in Wellington until the early 1980s. Was that why you stayed here?

Bush: I'd worked in a lot of places. I had a great time on the Gisborne Herald in my early days. But I was happy in Wellington. The weather's bloody lousy. How often do you hear the weather man say, "Northerlies increasing to gale force late afternoon"? But the scene changes every day and it's magic. How many capital cities in the world are there where you can walk along the coastline to a colony of seals? If you like the outdoors, and city-life, Wellington's the perfect place.