Archive for the 'Megan Cook' Category

Why is looking good so important?

This month we focus on three recently launched stories which look at the ways people change their appearance for social and cultural reasons. In Personal grooming Bronwyn Dalley explores the changing fashions of hair and beard styles; in Tā moko – Māori tattooing Rawinia Higgins shows the importance of facial tattoos to Māori identity; and in Body shape and dieting Caroline Daley shows that the ideal body shape among New Zealanders has been affected by cultural as well as physical factors. In this blog post Megan Cook reflects on these three fascinating stories.

Our Movember portrait gallery features some of the fine moustaches you'll find on our biography subjects

Our Movember portrait gallery features some of the fine moustaches you'll find on our biography subjects

Movember – the 11th month of the year, previously known as November – begins like any other, goes through a messy, semi-groomed phase, then – appearing on the face of a man near you – blossoms into glorious moustaches, often with outrageous sideburns. Grown to raise funds to support men’s health, it’s hair we don’t see much of the rest of the year. It used to be commonplace – a man without a beard was a rarity in the 19th century. With the introduction of first safety razors and then electric razors in the 20th century, facial hair was cut back and a clean-shaven face became the norm.

It wasn’t the first time new technology had changed the face of New Zealanders. Māori, who traditionally made their unique scarred and coloured moko (tattoo) with bone chisels, shifted first to metal chisels and then to needles. The moko that resulted were more defined and detailed, and prompted a resurgence of interest in moko. It wasn’t the last – in the late 20th century and early 21st century, ta moko became an assertion of Māori identity and strength and were no longer a rare sight.

There are many reasons why we might change our appearance: to support a cause, because technology lets us, to proclaim our identity, to look good and because it’s fun. When Prussian bodybuilder Eugen Sandow visited New Zealand in 1902–3 he inspired a generation of body shapers, who used his exercise and diet regimes to develop the perfect body (or as near as they could get to it). Perhaps, while they lifted weights and stretched, they gazed at a photograph of Sandow, who favoured Grecian poses, columns, and leopard-skin loincloths. Those without the patience or inclination to lift weights or diet could make do with a corset.

Corsets, like make-up, were generally worn by women, whose ideal appearance was more mobile than that of men. Over the 20th century hair was long and up, short and sculpted, long and down, curly, straight, and in between. The ideal woman’s body went from curvy to flat chested to buxom to slender, getting taller all the time. Achieving the ideal wasn’t always possible, and in the early 21st century cosmetic surgery was increasingly common – breasts, upper arms, bellies and thighs were the body parts most frequently altered.

Most alterations people make to their appearances are not as permanent as cosmetic surgery. And, to return to the men with moustaches, a great many who grow them for Movember whip them off quick smart come December.

Trouble with slugs

One of the great things about Te Ara is its capacity to help solve practical problems, often by providing an essential first nugget of information.

For months I’ve watched as my plants were chewed by an army of small slugs. Seedlings were routinely destroyed. Out one day, fit and healthy; vanished the next, ground up and sucked into the tiny maw of a slug. Larger plants survived, but were left looking like paper doilies made by toddlers. One slug colony became fixated on petals, nibbling flowers back to their centre. Others liked to eat flower stems, and the bud or bloom would suddenly flop.

A portrait of my enemy: the grey field slug (click for image credit)

A portrait of my enemy: the grey field slug (click for image credit)

I got advice from others with the same problem: knee pads and a torch, crunched up eggshells, saucers of beer – none of it was effective. The little pale brown, grey and white slugs were hard to see, seemed able to slide under the egg shells and mostly didn’t drink. Bait then, starting with the old fashioned kind. I left out food scraps, including a fish head, and got nearly two dozen.

So, a garden dotted with fish heads…  Looking for an alternative, I checked Te Ara’s entry on snails and slugs. It told me ‘In urban areas, you are more likely to find two introduced species – the common garden snail (Cantareus aspersus) and the grey field slug (Deroceras reticulatum)’.

Now armed with the name of my enemy: Deroceras reticulatum, I went web searching and found an answer on PestWeb, a site to help New Zealand farmers and agricultural professionals identify and deal with pests. The preferred control method for grey field slugs involved grazing 300 ewes or 120 cows, but there were other, more achievable options. A well-dug garden, soil reduced to a fine tilth, the weed compost moved, and my problem will probably be gone.

Maybe a lot of people use Te Ara this way, arming themselves with local information before setting off into the internet, or using it as a quick reference?

Statistics on some pages support this theory. A good example is our story about on spiders and other arachnids, which included the 23rd most popular page on Te Ara in the last year: ‘Poisonous spiders‘. The average time spent on that page was two minutes – long enough to decide whether that spider in the living room was a white tail or not – and more than two-thirds of those who looked at the page left Te Ara from it. Presumably they were off to either find out more information about their unwelcome visitor, or to escort it from their premises.

120 years of women’s suffrage

'V is for vote' stamp featuring Kate Sheppard (click for image credit)

'V is for vote' stamp featuring Kate Sheppard (click for image credit)

Today, 19 September 2013, is the 120th anniversary of all New Zealand women gaining the right to vote in parliamentary elections – a world first. Most of us – male or female – don’t think about it much, or at all. Come election day, we take it for granted that all New Zealand citizens will cast their vote as they see fit. And that’s a lovely thing – one fight over and done with. The push for gender equality moved on to other issues (you can track some of them in Te Ara’s stories on the Women’s movement and Gender inequalities).

The fight for women’s suffrage is a good story though, with fierce campaigning, deep conviction vehemently expressed, conniving and cheating, money and the drive to maintain power, ambivalence on the part of some politicians despite their genuine support of the move, differences among the campaigners and conflict between men. The minor celebrations of women’s suffrage – campaigner Kate Sheppard on the $10 note, memorials of one kind or another scattered through New Zealand cities – do little to give a sense of how exciting it was, the fear women felt when they stood and spoke on a public stage, and the delight of the first election in which women could participate.

Go to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and you’ll find Kate Sheppard and Anna Stout, John Hall and John Ballance, Henry Fish (at this distance a pantomime villain) and Richard Seddon. Less well known are Lily Kirk, bright and shining star of the campaign platform, and her devoted husband Arthur (who suggested they should go into lodgings to avoid housework), Elizabeth Caradus, one of the few working class leaders of the campaign (who shunned positions of authority, perhaps because having 15 children limited her free time) or Meri Mangakāhia (who spoke to the Māori Kotahitanga parliament, arguing that women should get the right to vote and be able to stand for election).

The campaign for women’s suffrage did not stand alone – it was part of the push to get the suffrage extended to all competent citizens, regardless of property ownership or gender (for more on this, see Voting rights). But in New Zealand women getting the vote caused more controversy, generating heat in a way none of the other extensions of suffrage did.

To find out more, download the latest Manatū Taonga – Ministry for Culture and Heritage ebook: New Zealand women and the vote, or look at NZHistory’s feature on New Zealand women and the vote, which includes a searchable database of those who signed the last of three giant suffrage petitions.

The Waihī miners’ strike, 100 years on

Waihī strikers, 1912 (click for image credit)

Waihī strikers, 1912 (click for image credit)

In one photograph (above) a crowd of strikers gathers in a small-town street, two small boys running to join it. In another photograph strike breakers march en masse from the local gold mine. The photographs are two in a series of images of the 1912 Waihī miners’ strike in our entry on the Hauraki-Coromandel region.

The strike began in May and ended in the defeat of the Waihi miners’ union in November the same year. The miners’ union had withdrawn from the arbitration system. The refusal of its members to work with a group of the engine drivers, who had broken away and formed their own union under the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1894, was the immediate catalyst for the strike. The strike was, and would remain, bitterly divisive.  Waihi was a company town, dependent on the mine and its mainly British-based owners for employment and most of the local council’s revenue.

The months the strike lasted, the resulting loss of employment by others in the town, the involvement of large numbers of police and strike breakers after a fiercely anti-union government was elected, the shooting of a policeman and the death of a miner, and the forced eviction of many strikers and their families from the town all contributed to the depth of feeling for and against the strike.

Some of those who had left returned to Waihī and made it their home again. For decades after, many of those who had remained staunch and those who had returned to work or been employed to break the strike maintained separate communities within the town. Their children did not mix in the playground, their grandchildren were told whose side was whose.

In 2012 feelings about the 1912 strike remain strong, coalescing around the shooting of policeman Gerald Wade and death of miner Fred Evans. After hearing evidence that Evans had shot Wade (from police and strike breakers) and that he hadn’t (from strikers), a coronial inquiry concluded that Evans was responsible. Evans, who died after a savage beating inflicted in part by Wade, became a working-class martyr whose death was remembered each year.

On 12 November 2012, the centenary of the violent encounter between Evans and Wade, an exhibition eulogising Wade opened at the Police Museum and Shades of black, a book on the shooting, was launched.

Two days earlier a centenary seminar organised by labour history groups in Wellington and Auckland was held in Waihī. The seminar was followed by the opening of an exhibition at the Waihī Art Gallery and Museum of paintings inspired by the strike, and the launch of a book – Waiheathans – providing new evidence on the subject. It includes an interview with the son of Fred Evans’s best friend, who maintained throughout his life that Evans did not and could not have shot Constable Wade, as the police and government claimed. On 11 November a commemorative service was held on the site of the Miners’ Hall where Evans died.

Commemorative service for Fred Evans, the miner killed in the 1912 strike, 11 November 2012

Commemorative service for Fred Evans, the miner killed in the 1912 strike, 11 November 2012

The seminar heard a series of fascinating, well-written papers on:

  • the 1911 Royal Commission into Mining
  • new documentary evidence on the strike and wider labour movement
  • the political context of the Waihī strike
  • comparisons between the Waihī strike and others in Wellington and Blackball
  • the activities of the women known as ‘scarlet runners’ in support of the strike.

In a moving session some descendants of those who had been involved spoke of the strike’s effects on their family, and told stories that had been passed down. Monique Cochietto, great granddaughter of Bill Parry (president of the Waihi Miners’ Union, 1909–1912) described her grandmother as a little girl leaving Waihī, surrounded by hostile strike breakers, not daring to raise her eyes from her feet as she walked to the railway station. Bob Richards, grandson of Wesley Richards (Parry’s successor as union president), also spoke of the family leaving Waihī. As they stood on the railway station platform in the baking sun, Richards had reached into his pocket for a handkerchief to wipe his forehead. One of the watching strike breakers, believing he was reaching for a gun, pulled one, jammed it in Richards’s side and ordered the family onto the train.

Te Ara has more information about Waihī’s Martha gold-mine and the 1912 strike at http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/hauraki-coromandel-region/8, and on gold mining generally at: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/gold-and-gold-mining.

Women in the military

Woman soldier in the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (click to read credit info)

Woman soldier in the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (click to read credit info)



Jacinda Baker, a 26-year-old medic in the New Zealand Defence Force’s Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamyan, Afghanistan, was killed on 20 August 2012, when an improvised bomb destroyed the Humvee in which she was riding. Two other New Zealand soldiers died with her: Corporal Luke Tamatea (31) and Private Richard Harris (21).

Described by her commanding officer as ‘the mother hen, who we would not swap for the world’, Lance Corporal Baker was known for her professionalism and courage. She was the first female New Zealand soldier to be killed in action since troops were sent to Afghanistan, and the first woman to be in killed in conflict since nurse Lesley Cowper of the New Zealand Surgical Team died in Vietnam in 1966.

New Zealand’s army, which Baker joined in 2007, is one of the few in which she would be allowed a combat role. (Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Israel, Serbia, Sweden and Switzerland are the others.) Her death provoked discussion in Australia, New Zealand’s closest military ally, where women have been allowed in combat roles since 2011. The treatment of women in the Australian military has been the subject of scandal and a damning report by that country’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner (released in August 2012).

The road to women’s inclusion in New Zealand’s defence forces was surprisingly smooth. There was a precedent for women in combat roles – Māori women had taken part in fighting in the 19th century. Most well known was Hēni Te Kiri Karamū, who fought against the British at Gate Pā in 1864, and for them against Hauhau (adherents of the Pai Mārire faith) in 1865. Pākehā women first went to war as nurses – 35 New Zealand women went to the South African War (1899–1902) as nurses. Numbers swelled during the First World War, when 640 went as nurses. Of this group, 17 died.

During the Second World War, women’s auxiliaries became part of all three branches of the military. A civilian Women’s War Service Auxiliary (1940) found women to work as clerks, cooks and waitresses in New Zealand military bases and service clubs in the Middle East. Once women were accepted into the army in 1942, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was formed, and Vida Jowett appointed chief commander. The closest WAACs got to combat was as drivers, radio operators and signallers, with some trained for coastal and anti-aircraft defence work and as part of artillery units.

Members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, led by Kitty Kain, worked in mechanical and aircraft trades, and as dental mechanics and meteorological assistants. The Women’s Royal Naval Service (New Zealand) was led by Chief Officer Ruth Herrick. Like women’s auxiliaries in the other arms of the military, the service provided clerks, drivers and mess staff.

As Te Ara’s Armed Forces entry explains, women’s roles had diversified, but no women actually fought. When women became a permanent part of New Zealand’s military after the Second World War, their numbers were small – only 4–5% in the 1950s and 1960s. Separate women’s services ended in 1977, and women were allowed to take combat roles from 2000. In 2012 women were 16% of non-civilian Defence Force personnel.