Archive for the 'Nancy Swarbrick' Category

Life and music

The joy of music: eager young players in the Sistema Aotearoa programme (click for image credit)

The joy of music: eager young players in the Sistema Aotearoa programme (click for image credit)

Last week my 88-year-old mother retired from the orchestra she has played in for the last 24 years – Hamilton’s Phoenix Players. Deteriorating vision was making it difficult for her to continue, so she reluctantly put aside her violin. Her fellow players farewelled her with a special afternoon tea – an emotional occasion for someone who has been a keen violinist and member of various orchestras since first learning the instrument in New Plymouth back in the 1930s. The Phoenix Players (previously the Lyric Players) consists mainly of retired people who put on concerts for ‘old’ people in rest homes and hospitals around Hamilton.  Happily, there will still be music in Mum’s life: she will keep going to NZSO and Chamber Music New Zealand concerts, and has recently signed up for an opera tour of Switzerland, France and Germany, to the trepidation of her anxious offspring!

My mother’s experience is similar to that of many other New Zealanders who enjoy not just the experience of playing in orchestras and ensembles or singing in choirs, but the camaraderie of belonging to a close-knit group and the many friendships they forge through music. These people also make up a substantial proportion of the audiences at shows put on by touring and local groups and artists.

There is no shortage of such performances, for New Zealand has a long and rich tradition of classical music. Choirs were often formed by settlers coming out to New Zealand on immigrant ships, and Māori rapidly took to choral singing. Operas were staged by touring companies as early as the 1860s, and local musical theatre groups were established soon after. From the 19th century many small towns had their own small choir, orchestra or band. Te Ara’s entries on Choral music and choirs, Brass and pipe bands, Opera and musical theatre, Orchestras and Classical musicians refer to our strong amateur and semi-professional base, and also the crucial role of music teachers and conductors, who were often memorable characters. (Mum has vivid recollections of her first violin teacher, Miss Evelyn Dowling, who conducted a Saturday morning orchestra that was compulsory for all her pupils. At the half-time break, the 20 or so children would be told to change from slippers into shoes and Miss Dowling would lead them and her two fox terriers on a run around the block.)

New Zealand’s classical music scene nurtured some gifted individuals who went on to develop professional careers and gain international recognition, including singing superstars such as Kiri Te Kanawa, Donald McIntyre, Īnia Te Wīata and Simon O’Neill, pianists Richard Farrell and Michael Houston, and conductors Warwick Braithwaite and John Matheson. From it also emerged a diverse group of composers including Douglas Lilburn, Jenny McLeod, John Psathas and Gareth Farr.

Please enjoy our classical music entries, and the wonderful images, film and of course sounds that accompany them!

From the Te Ara inbox

Water race on the Otago goldfields (click for image credit)

Water race on the Otago goldfields (click for image credit)

Those of us who work behind the scenes at Te Ara have an interesting range of jobs that include responding to the many comments and enquiries we receive through our inbox. Occasionally we get fan mail: just yesterday one user wrote that he had just discovered our website while searching for information about gold in Otago. He commented that Te Ara ‘is an amazing website with a ridiculous amount of content’ and added that it ‘deserves more recognition’. We couldn’t agree more – emails like this really make our day!

Often, however, people are after information or help – asking us to identify an unusual bird, spider or some other critter (we have no scientists on staff, so have to refer these queries to other experts), seeking permission to reproduce our text or images, or wanting clarification of a point of fact. Recently I corresponded with the president of the New Zealand Horse Network, who wanted to know the exact date horses first arrived in New Zealand – was it 22 or 23 December 1814? It turns out that our entry on horses says it was the 22nd, whereas the entry in the 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand says the 23rd. After some to-ing and fro-ing, we concluded that the first horses arrived by ship at the Bay of Islands on 22 December, but were unloaded the next day.

Speaking of the 1966 Encyclopedia, many people assume its entries are up to date, though of course they were written nearly 50 years ago. Often the information they give is still very relevant, while sometimes it is clearly outdated but of historical interest. We present these entries on the Te Ara website as ‘a blast from the past’, and have a policy of not updating or correcting them, reasoning that people who are following up a particular topic will be keen to compare different perspectives over time. We do have a disclaimer on each page which warns users that the ‘66 entries have been superseded, but sometimes people do not read it and write in complaining that material is out of date or incorrect. As a result, we are currently looking at design enhancements to make the disclaimer more prominent.

We are, however, always interested to hear from users who can help us make our Te Ara or Dictionary of New Zealand Biography entries more accurate or informative. As someone who was lucky enough to work on the original DNZB project, I am always particularly delighted when someone, usually a family member, writes in to offer us a photograph of a biography subject. Just before Christmas, I had a nice exchange with an Englishman married to a descendant of Sophia Louisa Taylor. Not only did he draw our attention to the existence of a lovely portrait of Sophia, he pointed out an error in the biography. This currently states that Sophia ‘was a domineering mother who thought nobody good enough for her daughters, although she was a disappointed when they did not marry.’ As my correspondent noted, one of them did in fact marry, as his wife is a great-granddaughter of Sophia! I checked back to our paper file and found that this information was known to our researchers back in the 1990s, but for some reason did not make it into the entry. We will be correcting the text shortly, and will follow up the portrait, which shows Sophia to be as beautiful as she was strong-willed.

Picturing people

Aileen Stace and Fluffy in Stace's electric car, Atalanta (click for image credit)

Aileen Stace and Fluffy in Stace's electric car, Atalanta (click for image credit)

It is always a pleasure to announce the addition of images to the biographies section of our site. Recently 13 more were uploaded, some generously donated by descendants and others obtained by our researchers. I find it fascinating to put a face to a name – in the case of Minnie Dean, a notorious name (though she looks harmless enough here).

We’ve included some pictures of less well-known subjects, as well as the famous. It is so exciting to obtain photographs from family collections. Market gardener and winemaker Joe Ah Chan beams out from this candid photo, while midwife Inger Jacobsen and her husband sit proudly surrounded by their many children in a formal portrait.

We’ve also added to our gallery of artists and craftspeople. Clas Edvard Friström poses with his paint palette, while Margaret Butler is shown at work on a sculpture, ‘The shepherdess’. Pat Perrin sits for the photographer surrounded by examples of her innovative pottery.

Objects in the photographs often tell a story. The microscope to the side of the desk in this portrait of Charles Hercus proclaims his status as a scientist and medical researcher. Fashions and facial hair trends also send subtle messages. John O’Donovan looks every inch the gentleman with his neatly trimmed goatee, while Gilbert Mair was a swashbuckling figure in his day and would surely qualify as a hipster now with his luxuriant beard.

Finally, with the assistance of a descendant we have been able to include a lovely series of photographs of Aileen Stace throughout her life. Stace helped revive the craft of spinning, and also coped with disability in the days before much community assistance existed. These images from the family album show her as a teenager, with her supportive father and sisters, cuddling beloved pet dogs, and in her specially made electric car, which she named Atalanta. Her determination, courage and warmth shine out from these delightful photographs.

The journey continues

The team of five who will be continuing to work on Te Ara – from left, Kerryn Pollock, Caren Wilton, Nancy Swarbrick, Emily Tutaki and Melanie Lovell-Smith

The team of five who will be continuing to work on Te Ara – from left, Kerryn Pollock, Caren Wilton, Nancy Swarbrick, Emily Tutaki and Melanie Lovell-Smith

The last two weeks have been bittersweet for those of us working on Te Ara. On the sweetness side of the ledger, we have had the great satisfaction of launching our final theme – Creative and Intellectual Life – which explores the many facets of New Zealand creativity. This dazzling occasion brought to a close the work on the ‘first build’ of Te Ara, the world’s first born-digital encyclopedia. The Te Ara project was conceived and driven by Dr Jock Phillips, who much to our delight was two weeks ago honoured for this and his other ground-breaking intellectual work by the 2014 Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement for non-fiction.

While celebrating these triumphs, we have had the sadness of saying goodbye to colleagues. Jock retired last week, and received a fitting send-off. In addition Janine Faulknor, Ross Somerville, Helen Rickerby, Andy Palmer, Philothea Flynn and Angela Mitchell came to the end of their contracts and were farewelled with tears, laughter and song – as well as a drink or two. Back in September, too, we bid adieu to Marguerite Hill, who took up the role of curator human history at Canterbury Museum. Thank you all for sharing your amazing skills, your commitment and your friendship over the past years – your work for Te Ara will live on.

Many people throughout and beyond New Zealand have contributed to the making of Te Ara, and many more have found it a helpful starter for research, a rich source of useful facts and information, and a place to explore fascinating and illuminating images, interactives, sound and film clips. The good news is that Te Ara will continue to flourish and grow! A small team of us who have worked on building the site are staying on to ensure that the content is maintained and kept up to date (as much as is possible with such a huge website). We also plan to develop it with new entries and resources that will reflect the changing face of New Zealand.

The new team members are:

  • Myself – Nancy Swarbrick. I joined Te Ara as managing editor in 2002, and was tasked with organising and keeping track of schedules and workflow, but I’ve also had the pleasure of writing some of the entries.
  • Kerryn Pollock, a brilliant researcher and writer (and latterly, also a resource researcher) who joined Te Ara in 2008.
  • Melanie Lovell-Smith, who has been the doyenne of resource (image, video etc) research since 2003, bringing her creativity to every theme, and who is also renowned for her technical expertise.
  • Emily Tutaki, who has been with us since 2007, and whose knowledge of things Māori has enriched the many entries she has resourced.
  • Caren Wilton, a production editor since 2006, who is known for her eagle eye for detail and her wonderful way with words.

Basil Keane, director of Māori digital projects here at Manatū Taonga, will watch over the Māori content on Te Ara, and we will be supported by our highly skilled colleagues in the Web Team, led by Matthew Oliver. They include designers Kristy Mayes, Julia Vodanovich and Dean Johnston, who have created many of our lovely maps, graphs and interactives down the years.

We look forward to travelling with you further along te ara – the pathway to knowledge about all aspects of New Zealand life.

Seeds of hope

Jane Goodall in 2007 (click for image credit)

Jane Goodall in 2007 (click for image credit)

Yesterday I was part of a capacity audience that gathered at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, to hear celebrated English scientist and chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall speak and promote her latest book, Seeds of hope.

Her story is a remarkable one. Growing up in the 1940s, she showed a strong affinity for animals and an enquiring mind. Early on she decided that she wanted to go to Africa to study animals and write about them. But her family did not have much money – she wasn’t able to go to university – and in any case, at that time girls were not encouraged to dream such big dreams.

However, Goodall persisted, and when the opportunity arose to visit a school friend in Kenya she waitressed to raise money to travel there. In Kenya she visited archaeologist and palaeontologist Louis Leakey and so impressed him with her knowledge that he offered her a job as an assistant. With Leakey and others she went on a field trip to the Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, and her abilities convinced Leakey that she was the person to study wild chimpanzees at Gombe Stream National Park, also in Tanzania. She first went to Gombe in 1960 (with her mother as her only companion) and gradually gained the confidence of the chimpanzees so she could observe their behaviour.

There she made a breakthrough discovery that changed the way we think about animals. One day she noticed a chimpanzee sitting beside a termite mound, poking a piece of grass into it. The termites clung to the grass and the chimp then proceeded to eat them. Then she saw another chimp stripping the leaves from a twig in order to do the same thing. She concluded that chimpanzees could not only use tools, but make tools – an attribute previously considered to be the preserve of humans. As Leakey remarked when she reported this to him: ‘Now we will have to redefine man, redefine tool, or accept chimpanzees as human.’

This work prompted National Geographic coverage of her work and instant celebrity. Leakey encouraged her to go to Cambridge University to study for a PhD – a huge challenge for someone who did not even have an undergraduate degree. There she was affronted by the attitude of scientists who insisted that she should not have named the chimps in her study, but rather given them numbers, and who rejected any suggestion that animals had emotions. This conflicted with her observations, which convinced her that chimpanzees not only had complex social behaviours, but expressed emotions such as fear, rage, happiness and grief. And, as she remarked to the audience, anyone who has shared their life with a pet knows they have personalities and feelings.

Goodall nevertheless enjoyed academic work, gained her PhD and returned to Gombe to continue her fieldwork and setting up the Jane Goodall Institute. She wrote numerous books, including In the shadow of man (1971), which I remember poring over as a child.

But a conference she attended in the 1980s led to a change of direction. The discussions focused on the threat to various species because of the worldwide loss of habitats. As she put it, she went to the conference a scientist and left an activist.

On her return to Gombe she realised that the forest, which had been extensive when she first arrived, was now reduced to a fragment, threatening the viability of chimpanzee populations within it. She also recognised that the people who lived nearby were struggling to scratch a living from the infertile soil. So her first step was to approach them to see how she could help improve their lives. This led to a range of development programmes to establish tree nurseries, improve water supplies, and encourage further education, particularly for women and girls. The social benefits were soon apparent, and one consequence was that the locals agreed to leave the forest margins to regenerate. Many of them became involved in the work of monitoring the chimpanzees.

Goodall went further, supporting the conservation of species worldwide – and she referred to extraordinary efforts in New Zealand to bring species such as the black robin back from the brink of extinction. She has also started a youth programme that now operates in over 130 countries, called Roots and Shoots. Young people are encouraged to adopt three projects in their local communities – one to benefit people, one to benefit animals and one to benefit the environment. Her recognition of the interconnectedness of causes resonated strongly with me and clearly with the rest of the audience, who rose to their feet at the end to give her a prolonged ovation.

A fragile-looking, elegant woman, at the age of 80 Goodall still travels 300 days of the year to promote conservation and animal rights and spread her message of hope. To hear her talk and see her sincerity and respect for all species is truly inspirational.