25 new stories of trailblazing New Zealand women

Palaeontologist Joan Wiffen, transgender icon Carmen Rupe, politician Tirikatene-Sullivan, and writer Margaret Mahy, some of the women whose life stories have been published on the DNZB.

This week we’re publishing 25 new biographies of women in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (DNZB), to celebrate the 125th anniversary of women winning the right to vote:

Anderson, Amy Mona writer, rural memoirist

Bailey, Rona political activist, dancer, teacher

Bartlett, Patricia Maureen social morality campaigner

Blumhardt, Vera Doreen educator, potter, arts administrator

Clay, Marie Mildred teacher, developmental and child psychologist, literacy researcher

Donley, Joan Elsa midwife, home-birth advocate

Edmond, Lauris Dorothy poet and writer

Locke, Elsie Violet activist, writer

Mahy, Margaret May children’s and young adult writer

Paki, Te Ātairangikaahu Piki Koroki Māori queen

Paul, Joanna Margaret visual artist and writer

Raymond, Cherry broadcaster, journalist, feminist

Rehu-Murchie, Erihapeti researcher, health, human rights, and environmental campaigner

Rickard, Tuaiwa Hautai Kereopa (Eva) woman of mana, community leader

Rimmer, Eva Marion paraplegic athlete, disability rights advocate

Rupe, Carmen Tione drag queen entertainer, sex worker, entrepreneur

Sturm, Jacqueline Cecilia short-story writer and poet

Szászy, Miraka woman of mana, educator, leader

Tinsley, Beatrice Muriel astronomer

Tirikatene-Sullivan, Tini Whetu Marama politician, fashion icon, wahine toa

TuiSamoa, Agnes Rosa social worker, community advocate

Wallace, Georgina Catriona Pamela Augusta judge, lawyer

Wark, Elizabeth Cecilia (Betty) community worker

Whitehouse, Davina actor, producer, broadcaster

Wiffen, Joan palaeontologist

These women came to prominence in their fields between the 1940s and the 1970s. It would be impossible for any group of 25 women to capture the complexity and variety of the lives of New Zealand women, but we hope this group will reflect some of the diversity of experience. It would be hard to find two more contrasting lives than those of social morality campaigner Patricia Bartlett and transgender sex worker and nightclub entrepreneur Carmen Rupe. The rest run the gamut from writers to judges, community workers to scientists, broadcasters to athletes, activists to actors.

The new entries have been written by subject experts, including Barbara Brookes, Sandra Coney, Tessa Duder, Margaret Tennant, Rebecca Priestley, Roger Robinson and Jill Trevelyan. The entries, which collectively amount to more than 50,000 words, include over 200 images, videos, and sound recordings, many drawn from private collections and not previously published. We plan to have te reo Māori translations of the entries relating to Māori subjects available in early 2019.

This is the first substantial group of new biographies to be released since 2011, as I discussed in my November 2017 Signposts blog. It is the beginning of an ongoing publication programme, in which we aim to publish at least 20 new biographies each year on an ongoing basis.

This week we are also launching a new-look DNZB homepage, reflecting the DNZB’s renewed vigour and focus on the future. We hope you enjoy it, and look forward to sharing many more New Zealand lives with you in the years to come.

The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography rides again

Painting of two men and a lobster

Joseph Banks bartering with a Māori for a lobster. Watercolour and pencil by Tupaia, 1769. Source: British Library Reference: MS ADD 15508, folio 12

This week Te Ara marks an important milestone: the publication of the first new Dictionary of New Zealand Biography entry since 2011. Joan Druett has written a new entry on the Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, the subject of her award-winning biography published in 2011. We’re delighted to announce that this marks the beginning of a new phase in the life of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

The Dictionary was originally published in five print volumes between 1990 and 2000, under the general editorship of W.H. Oliver and later Claudia Orange. It comprised biographies of more than 3000 people who had risen to prominence before 1960 and died before the publication cut-off date of 1998. No living person was eligible for inclusion. Separate volumes reprinted the biographies of the nearly 500 Maori subjects in te reo Maori, which together with the te reo sections of Te Ara constitutes the largest Maori-language publishing programme ever conducted.

In late 2001 all the biographies were made available online, with a team of researchers locating images and in some cases audio and video recordings to illustrate the essays. In 2010 the online biographies were relaunched as part of Te Ara, with the biographies and encyclopedia entries enriching and amplifying each other. Fifteen new biographies were added to Te Ara in 2010–11.

Happily the Dictionary’s time has come again, and from 2018 onwards we will release a small batch of new biographies annually. The first round will place the spotlight on a number of high-achieving women, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Subsequent rounds will illuminate the lives of significant and representative people from a cross-section of New Zealand society, with a focus on the decades after 1960. The new biographies will be released online only.

We’re still working through the details, but the new Dictionary of New Zealand Biography will honour the tradition of rigorous and broad-ranging scholarship established by the Dictionary’s original editors, staff, working groups and authors. They have left big shoes to fill.

As the actress said to the woman bishop

Prompted by International Women’s Day (March 8), I decided to see if, where and how sexist language is used on Te Ara.

After a brief search I found these image titles: woman road marker, Jane Winstone with another woman pilot, Alice Baston, a pioneering woman accountant, a woman cyclist in knickerbockers, a woman farmer and a woman hunter.

The Victoria University Non-Sexist Language Guidelines say ‘Job titles that cannot be given a suffix are often prefixed with sex indicators.  We hear of a “woman painter”, a “woman lawyer”, a “lady doctor”.  There is no apparent reason for this — as with the practice of using suffixes, it implies maleness is the norm, and that women are “special cases”. As the titles come from the verb, that is, a painter is one who paints, there is no need for further indicators.’

But in each of the examples above the women they described were either the first in their field, or represented a small number of women in engaged in a particular occupation. They were special cases. Did that make it OK?

My question was answered when I found Anne Barry, firefighter.

Anne Barry, firefighter. Source: New Zealand Herald. Reference: 050307NZLJUBARRY01.JPG. Photograph by Jane Ussher.

Anne Barry, firefighter. Source: New Zealand Herald. Reference: 050307NZLJUBARRY01.JPG. Photograph by Jane Ussher.

Anne Barry became the first woman professional firefighter in Australasia in 1981, but she had to struggle long and hard to achieve this goal. Her initial application was declined, so she took her case to the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Human Rights Commission and to members of Parliament before being accepted for the recruitment course. She passed with flying colours and went on to a distinguished career in the Fire Service for more than 20 years.

Anne Barry was a special case too. She was the first in her field. But she wasn’t described as a “Woman firefighter” or worse, a “Woman fireman”. No, she was Anne Barry, firefighter.

Heartened by the description, I wondered if we could rewrite the other image titles? Could they be ‘Road marker’, ‘Jane Winstone with another pilot’, ‘A cyclist in knickerbockers’, ‘Jill Bluett, dairy farmer’ and ‘Keen hunter’? And what about Alice Baston – was she a pioneering accountant or was it being a woman accountant that made her a pioneer? What do you think?

I’m going to cross-reference the glossary of non-inclusive terms with Te Ara next. I know that sometimes the terms will have been used for good reason, but I’ve already discovered enough maiden speeches, man-powered and man-made terms used as descriptors, that I know it is time for change.

#BeBoldForChange #InternationalWomensDay #IWD2017

Webstock – demystifying tech and UX

Following on from my previous blog, this year at Webstock Ashley Nelson-Hornstein gave a great talk entitled ‘Humanities x Technology’, where she advocated for a demystification of the tech industry and inclusion of contributors with skills in the liberal arts.

I liked her comment that people shouldn’t need to feel like they are a genius, or good at maths or science to code or contribute to the tech industry, and I agreed with her wholeheartedly that marrying technology with liberal arts brings about great results.

An ex-employee of Apple, her talk left no doubt – it’s not the features or tech specs, but the experience/what you can do with the product, that counts. She stressed that at Apple the experience is conceived first, and then the technology is devised to bring it about.

This arrival back at what feels like the original, more meaningful, and less ‘industry-speak’ definition of UX, was a refreshing theme for me at Webstock.

Jared Spool also focused on the user’s experience in a highly practical and educational talk about how to reach the point of UX design mastery.

He explained the growth stages of understanding – relating how individuals and organisations grow from literacy to fluency to mastery, and how this ties in to the growth phases of a marketplace. The two real world examples he used to illustrate his points were both memorable and fascinating, the story of Disney Parks and Resorts, and the story of the Nest.

Jared is an accomplished educator and his talk was as enjoyable as it was informative. Rather than do it poor justice here, I highly recommend watching it: Beyond the UX tipping point, and that you check out his slides too.

Celebrating seventy years of symphony

Happy birthday to the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

On the morning of 24 August 2016, to the sound of a karanga, 23 NZSO players, crew and staff arrived at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori O te Waiū O Ngāti Porou, in Ruatoria – a township of 750 people near the East Cape.

They were greeted with a whole-school haka and a formal welcome; they shared kai and were shown a traditional kite made by the students; they performed to the school, parents and local community members, including some patients from the local hospital – none of whom had ever seen a live orchestra. As the players walked back to their bus, they were chased by half a dozen small boys who saw them off with an impromptu but enthusiastic haka of their own.

It is not an experience any other national orchestra in the world could claim.

It had been a long journey, in both kilometres and years. The NZSO is New Zealand’s oldest national professional performing arts organisation, and Monday 6 March 2017 is the 70th anniversary of its first public concert. It is celebrating with a free concert in Wellington – and among the audience will be a few who still remember that first appearance seven decades ago.

The National Orchestra gave its first performance at the Town Hall in Wellington on 6 March 1947. The programme, shown here, included a variety of mostly 19th-century works. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library, ref: Eph-B-MUSIC-NO-1947-01-title

The National Orchestra gave its first performance at the Town Hall in Wellington on 6 March 1947. The programme, shown here, included a variety of mostly 19th-century works. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library, ref: Eph-B-MUSIC-NO-1947-01-title

Our national orchestra was established in the wake of the Second World War, at a time when people and politicians were finally free to turn their attention to future-building. The new optimism was reflected at the orchestra’s launch on 24 October 1946 when Governor-General Sir Bernard Freyberg, V.C., was introduced as ‘launching a peace offensive in the interests of music’.

It was a humble beginning. The original band consisted of talented but often self-taught musicians, many of whom had never heard a symphony orchestra. They were led by Vincent Aspey, a miner’s son from Huntly who had fortuitously persuaded his mother to buy him a violin he saw in a second-hand shop when he was nine years old.

Seventy years later, the NZSO is an orchestra of international standing. It has played with the likes of Vladimir Ashkenazy, David Oistrakh, Renée Fleming and Sting, and been conducted by Igor Stravinsky. It has recorded extensively for Naxos and EMI and in 2016 was nominated for a Grammy alongside top international orchestras.

The NZSO has performed in the Albert Hall, the Musikverein, the Concertgebouw and the ‘Egg’ in Beijing. Its European tour of 2010 earned it standing ovations and rave reviews – The Neue Luzerner Zeitung called it a ‘sensation’.

Most importantly, through seven decades the NZSO has tirelessly toured up and down the country, bringing world-class music to our local concert-halls.

Not that it hasn’t had its critics, like one ‘disgusted mother of thirteen’ who wrote to her local paper in 1954 calling the orchestra an ‘expensive luxury’ (quoted in Joy Tonks’ The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra: The first forty years). Former Prime Minister David Lange claimed not to see the point of helping fund an orchestra when he preferred Dire Straits.

It’s a question that will surface from time to time, especially in a world where you can carry the Berlin Philharmonic around in your pocket. Depending on where your values lie, there are many answers that come to mind.

One of the most compelling was articulated by an audience member when the NZSO performed Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony in Christchurch a few months after the February earthquake. In an email to the NZSO in August 2011, the audience member commented:

Just wanted to let you know that I have come home from the Leningrad performance in Christchurch absolutely uplifted, it was a glorious experience, standing ovation… I felt like I turned the corner and could put some of the difficult last months behind me.

The immediacy and communal vibe of a concert have the power to affect people in a way nothing else can. As the digital age advances, promoters all over the world are finding that consumers want experiences more than products. A live NZSO concert is to a recording what a rock concert is to iTunes – it cannot be replaced.

For us here in New Zealand it’s a long trip to hear a world-class orchestra overseas. The NZSO enables people to have this experience who otherwise could not – as demonstrated by its long but memorable journey to Ruatoria, and dozens of dedicated concerts for small communities, hospitals, schools or rest-homes each year.

The NZSO seeks to provide something for everyone in New Zealand’s diverse communities. 2017 has begun with a tour with New Zealand’s Modern Māori Quartet, and will finish with the annual ritual of The Messiah, an integral part of people’s pre-Christmas celebrations. In between, the NZSO will perform community concerts in Porirua, Palmerston North, Manukau and Takapuna; a Spring Pops tour of seven cities called ‘Pianomania’, with Freddy Kempf; and Lands of Hope and Glory, a (mostly) British programme to coincide with the Lions rugby tour – in addition to its more serious concerts of classic and contemporary repertoire.

Eve de Castro-Robinson was commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) to compose The glittering hosts of heaven. It celebrates Matariki, the Māori New Year, and was premiered at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, on 14 June 2013.

Eve de Castro-Robinson was commissioned by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO) to compose The glittering hosts of heaven. It celebrates Matariki, the Māori New Year, and was premiered at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, on 14 June 2013.

The unique way in which the NZSO can serve was demonstrated 10 days after the September 2010 earthquake, when it made its scheduled concert free for residents, hoping the gesture would lift their spirits. Like the Wellington Town Hall in 1947, the Christchurch Town Hall was full to capacity.

In that historic first concert, the audiences knew something very special had been created. Their optimism has been proved well-founded over seven decades. At a time when nationalistic rhetoric is gaining momentum internationally, New Zealand’s musical ‘peace offensive’ may be more important than ever – speaking the common language of music and reminding us what humanity is capable of at its best.

The NZSO and everyone who has been touched by it – whether a senior citizen in Auckland or a school student from Ruatoria – have every reason to celebrate what NZSO Chief Executive Chris Blake has termed a ‘national treasure’.

We wish you all at the NZSO a very happy 70th birthday!