25 Jun 2016

Peter Bromhead: a life on the page

From Saturday Morning, 10:10 am on 25 June 2016
Peter Bromhead

Peter Bromhead Photo: Marti Friedlander

Peter Bromhead is one of New Zealand's most popular satirical cartoonists, and an illustrator, children's book author, newspaper columnist and interior designer. He's also most likely New Zealand's oldest dad after becoming a father again aged 78. His new illustrated memoir Bromhead: Scratching a Living, is out on 1 July.

Interview highlights

Kim Hill: Tell me about your father?

Peter Bromhead: Well, I didn’t really know much about my father. Only that he spent most of his time in a sanitorium and the man my mother was living with, who I thought was my father, was a submariner.  

And the only thing I can tell you is: My mother spent most of her time telling me what an awful person my father was, but I never knew why.

So, I discovered he died in 1939 or 1940 of TB, and spent most of my young life living in the sanitorium.

Yes, it pays to remember that streptomycin didn’t come along until later.

Exactly. A lot of people died of this awful disease at the time.

In fact, whenever I’ve had miniature chest x-rays, I’m immediately sent along for a major x-ray because I still have TB scars myself.

You thought that your stepfather was your father until how old?

He died, his submarine went missing in 1940. So, at that point I thought he’d gone. But for most those early years, in the late ‘30s and 1940, I thought he was my father.

It was sort of a strange discovery.

The only clue I had was that I had was this medal with the name James Hancock on it.

But I never really understood. I thought it was a friend of my father. But it was the man who eventually became my stepfather.  

How old when you discovered that?

The reality? Oh, when I was 82.

How old were you when you first married?

I got married when I was 22 or 3, I think it was.

That’s quite young, isn’t it?

Well you know, I was alone and isolated and very unsure and very unclear about the world.

Because I’d run away from naval school and that, I had no education. I think I must be the only person on the planet who’s been able to hold jobs like curator of the Auckland Art Gallery and be a university lecturer who doesn’t even have basic School Certificate.

*edited for brevity and clarity.