Archive for the 'Nancy Swarbrick' Category

Beautiful people

Sunrise over Hikurangi, East Coast (click for image credit)

Sunrise over Hikurangi, East Coast (click for image credit)

I am very sad to be writing this farewell blog to all our loyal Te Ara users. Along with the other four staff who have been working on the Te Ara website content for the past year, my contract ends in a few days. We’ve been very busy over the past twelve months developing new processes and ways of working, and getting our heads around the multitude of jobs that have to be done to keep the site reliable, useful and engaging for the many people who refer to it each day. Among many other things, we have:

Completing the Peoples entries and various other entries in process, and undertaking the major, ongoing task of updating the 980-plus Te Ara entries (including the large number of science entries) will now be the job of the new Research and Publishing Group of Manatū Taonga. This team will be managing the site from 2 November, and I wish them well with that important responsibility.

The title of this blog, ‘Beautiful people’, comes from the hit song ‘Sensitive to a smile’ by Herbs, which features in our entry about the East Coast, written by Monty Soutar. The video was filmed by soon-to-be famous director Lee Tamahori and John Day on the coast in 1987, and, like the song, was a huge success at the time. Watch it, and you will understand why. It is one of my favourite resources on Te Ara, and to me it exemplifies what has been created through the site – a rich, nuanced and affectionate portrayal of this unique country and its peoples.

I would like to thank the many beautiful people I have been privileged to work with down the years, first during the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography project under the leadership of Bill Oliver and Claudia Orange, and then during the Te Ara project, until 2014 under the guidance of the inspirational Jock Phillips.  It has been my great good fortune to belong to two wonderful teams, and I will never forget the laughter, the arguments, the camaraderie and the sheer hard work. Out of all that came two taonga: the DNZB and Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. I hope they will be cherished and looked after as they deserve for years to come.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to an amazing, staunch group of women who not only helped to build Te Ara, but have done their best this past year, under very difficult circumstances, to put it on a secure footing for the future. Kerryn Pollock, Caren Wilton, Mel Lovell-Smith and Emily Tutaki, I salute you. May you find new paths, and be truly respected and rewarded for your great talents.

We all know that an online encyclopedia like Te Ara is never really finished – to remain relevant it must be constantly updated and refreshed. That will be the challenge for our successors, and you, the users, will judge whether or not the goal is achieved.

Pressing forward

Equal pay cartoon on Coalition for Equal Value Equal Pay tea towel (pic: private collection, Fran McGowan)

Equal pay cartoon on Coalition for Equal Value Equal Pay tea towel (pic: private collection, Fran McGowan)

The other day I read a rather gloomy article entitled ‘Gender pay gap still there: so what are we doing about it?’ On average New Zealand men still earn roughly 10% more than women for an hour’s work – and the gap has actually widened in the past year. Equal pay for women has been an issue here since the 19th century, when feminists identified it as one of the prerequisites for women’s emancipation. As the Te Ara entry on Women’s labour organisations shows, despite many years of activism, this goal has not yet been reached, even though the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1972. While the gross injustice of men being paid a higher rate than women for doing exactly the same job has been rectified, female-dominated occupations such as early childhood education and aged care are still poorly paid, a reflection of the low value society still places on the work of looking after and nurturing others – work traditionally done by women. Moreover, career progression is often fraught for women in all kinds of occupations, especially for the large number who work part-time or take breaks from the workforce to raise children.

There are promising signs though. Recently Lower Hutt rest-home caregiver Kristine Bartlett, with the support of the Service and Food Workers Union, took a test case against her employer, TerraNova, arguing that her measly pay of $14.46 an hour was less than the rate men with similar skills would earn, and was so low because she worked in an industry where most of the employees are female. The Employment Court found in her favour, ruling that female-dominated industries should receive pay equivalent to what would be offered if that industry was male-dominated, and after TerraNova appealed, the Court of Appeal agreed with the Employment Court decision. Inspired by this landmark victory, Wellington nurses Erin Kennedy and Ann Simmons have just gone to court, alleging that hundreds of women working as nurses and caregivers are being significantly underpaid.

I will be following this case with great interest, but in the knowledge that the fight for equal pay and pay equity has a very long history, and that progress has been slow and hard-won.

On 19 September we will mark another Suffrage Day, and New Zealanders will once again be reminded that New Zealand was the first country in the world where women gained the right to vote. It is good to celebrate this, but we should also remember what has still to be achieved. As Margaret Sievwright, one of those who campaigned successfully for the vote, remarked in 1894, ‘We have reached one milestone, it is true, the milestone of the suffrage; we pause, but only again to press forward.’

Remembering Tairongo Amoamo

Tairongo Amoamo shows Hutt Valley High School students Māori biographies (pic: Quintessential Images)

Tairongo Amoamo shows Hutt Valley High School students published Māori biographies (pic: Quintessential Images)

Last Saturday I had an unexpected reunion with some of my old colleagues from the Dictionary of New Zealand biography project, but the occasion was a sad one – the farewell for Tairongo Amoamo, who passed away on 8 July. From 1990 to 2000, Tairongo was Māori editor for the Dictionary, with responsibility for translating the entries on Māori subjects into te reo. He was a native speaker of the language, and his reo was, as Ranginui Walker said in his eulogy, ‘impeccable’. Tairongo was passionate about his work on the Māori volumes, known as Ngā tāngata taumata rau – the people of many peaks.  But he was much more than a translator – he was a generous teacher and friend to those of us who worked with him. Through him we were introduced to the important principles of tikanga and manners – imparted in a kindly, patient but very firm way!  Listening to him talk in te reo to Māori visitors in the office revealed to us that it was a living language of everyday life, as well as being a vehicle for poetry and history.  And he loved to recount the stories of the people whose lives we were recording – people like Tuakana Āporotanga, Te Pairi Tūterangi,  and of course Mokomoko. When he told these stories with such relish, they became incredibly vivid, and their ongoing deep significance for him and many others was evident. It was a lesson that in this country, history is not just about the past.

Tairongo knew that at the Dictionary, we were making history in more than one way. His lasting achievement is his contribution to Ngā tāngata taumata rau, which when complete was the largest Māori-language work to be published since the translation of the Bible in the 19th century. It was the model for subsequent translation of Māori entries in Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Haere rā Tairongo – your work will live on. Haere ki te kāinga i whakaritea e tō tātou Kaihanga mō tātou katoa.

In search of ‘Auntie Naughty’

Poster advertising Mrs W. H. Foley, 1858 (pic: Canterbury Museum, Canterbury Pilgrims and Early Settlers' Association Collection)

Poster advertising Mrs W. H. Foley, 1858 (pic: Canterbury Museum, Canterbury Pilgrims and Early Settlers' Association Collection)

In August last year I received an intriguing email from Ernest Huggins, a retired school teacher from London, Ontario. He had just come across our Dictionary of New Zealand biography entry on Mrs W. H. Foley, one of the varied band of entertainers who travelled round the country in the 19th century, bringing song, dance, poetry and spectacle into the lives of ordinary New Zealanders. Mrs Foley was a much-fêted actress, but somewhat elusive – when her biography was first published in 1990 we knew only her stage name, and had no details of where she was born, her early life or what happened to her after she apparently faded from the scene in 1867. That was about to change. Mrs Foley, Ernest told me, was his great-great-aunt, and his cousin, Zoe Cant, had details that could fill in some of the gaps: ‘She has quite a file on Mrs Foley, aka “Auntie Naughty” and I am sure would be delighted to share it with you.’

Indeed Zoe had a wealth of information on Mrs Foley. For starters, she knew her original name – Catherine Huggins – and had discovered that she was born into a family of actors in Lincolnshire, England around 1821. In 1843 Catherine Huggins gave birth to a son, Charles, and she married his father, Daniel Caparn, two years later. The family emigrated to Tasmania in 1847. Catherine ran a dress shop in Hobart for a while before she and Daniel separated. She went on her own to San Francisco; Daniel ended up in Honolulu, where he died in 1851.  That same year, Catherine married William Henry Foley, ‘a charismatic clown, circus proprietor and theatrical entrepreneur’ in Sacramento. In 1855 they arrived in New Zealand with their circus, and Mrs Foley soon branched into acting. This was the point at which our original biography had started.

Realising that major amendments and additions would be needed, I contacted the author of the DNZB biography, Peter Downes. It turned out that, with the assistance of Catherine Bishop, a PhD student, and Ian Harding, another family historian, Peter had found out even more information about the feisty Mrs W. H. Foley. After the birth of a daughter, the Foleys had parted company in 1857, and some time later Catherine took up with her company’s new leading man, Vernon Webster, who confusingly also went by the name Lowten Lowten. In 1867 Catherine and Lowten embarked on an unsuccessful tour to Chile, followed by a period in England. In 1882 they married (bigamously, as William Foley was still alive), and the following year came back to New Zealand. They made a brief return to the stage, then retired to Napier to run a hotel. Catherine died there in 1887, and is buried in the Napier cemetery. Her gravestone gives no clue that she was once the celebrated Mrs W. H. Foley.

Peter’s revised version of the entry is now up on the site and makes a fascinating read. The discovery of all this rich new information is the result of some great collaborative detective work, made more impressive because of the many names Mrs Foley went by during her lifetime. Mrs W. H. Foley, aka Catherine Huggins, aka Catherine Caparn, aka Lucy Catherine Foley, aka Lucy Kate Lowten and Mrs Lowten Lowten, enjoyed her finest hours in New Zealand. It seems fitting that her bones now lie in New Zealand soil.

There is one more mystery I want to solve: what did she look like? If you have or know of the existence of a portrait of Mrs W. H. Foley that we could attach to her biography, I would love to hear from you!

Te Ara pays tribute to Jack Body

Jack Body (left) with gamelan teacher Joko Sutrisno, about 1988 (pic: Victoria University of Wellington, Image Services)

Jack Body (left) with gamelan teacher Joko Sutrisno, about 1988 (pic: Victoria University of Wellington, Image Services)

Those of us who work behind the scenes at Te Ara are saddened to hear of Jack Body’s death. He was a warm supporter of our project, generously supplying images and allowing one of our staff to photograph his well-known gamelan orchestra, Padhang Moncar, at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Wellington back in 2004.

As one of New Zealand’s foremost composers and university teachers he naturally features in a number of our entries. His major compositions, many drawing on Eastern influences, are described in our entry on Composers, which also notes his unwavering support of other writers of music. His involvement in musical theatre composition gets a mention in Opera and musical theatre, and his composing of music for voices is referred to in Choral music and choirs. And the Media art entry describes his organisation of Sonic Circus festivals in Wellington from 1974.

My favourite reference to him comes in the Classical musicians entry. There we have a video of pianist Stephen de Pledge playing Body’s composition ‘The street where I live’ – and the composer/narrator is listening with obvious delight in the audience. This quirky, poignant piece talks about Body’s deep affection for his long-time home in Aro Valley, Wellington. It is a fitting coda to the life of a great New Zealander, and a staunch Wellingtonian.