Archive for the 'Simon Nathan' Category

A Dutch play

The youngest children at Waiuta School dressed as flowers, under the command of Gwen Jones (right) as a fairy

The youngest children at Waiuta School dressed as flowers, under the command of Gwen Jones (right) as a fairy

When I was researching the work of mining-town photographer Joseph Divis a few years ago, I came across a small group of images of children from Waiuta School, apparently dressed in costumes for a play or plays. There were no labels, and no one could tell me anything about the play. Waiuta is now a deserted mining village, and the school was closed in 1951.

In 2009 I took the photographs to a meeting of the Friends of Waiuta in Christchurch, and passed them round to see if anyone had any ideas. To my delight, Gwen Poole (nee Jones), then in her 80s, had vivid memories. She was the fairy in the photograph above, and remembered that the play, performed at Waiuta in 1933 or 1934, was called Jan of Windmill Land. It was a musical written by Clementine Ward, and widely performed through the British Empire – on Papers Past you can see reviews of when it was performed locally by Southbridge District High School in 1931 and Miramar South School in 1938. This musical was particularly suitable for schools as it had parts for children of all ages. The youngest children were flowers under the control of their guardian fairy.

The older children dressed as Dutch men and women, with some ‘men' pretending to smoke pipes

The older children dressed as Dutch men and women, with some ‘men' pretending to smoke pipes

The older children played Dutch men and women, dressed in traditional dress. It was a wholesome picture of Holland seen through British eyes – possibly rather different to the memories of the large number of Dutch settlers who came to New Zealand.

The play contained a segment about the Dutch festival of Sinterklaas, when St Nicholas (known in English-speaking countries as Santa Claus) arrives in Holland accompanied by Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) and his black assistants wearing golliwog masks.

Jan and his friend together with Sinterklaas, Zwarte Piet and his black assistants

Jan and his friend together with Sinterklaas, Zwarte Piet and his black assistants

Gwen Poole remembered that the costumes, which were circulated around different schools by the Education Board, arrived at school in boxes. There was great competition among the children for different costumes as everyone wanted a golliwog costume.

Present-day readers may be horrified at the images of boys smoking pipes (or at least pretending to) and children dressed in golliwog costumes – a reminder of how ideas about what is appropriate or offensive changes over time. I wonder what parents in 80 years’ time will tut-tut about when they look at pictures taken in 2014.

Source: Simon Nathan, Through the eyes of a miner: the photography of Joseph Divis. Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2010.

Aviation at Ikamatua

A group of West Coasters, dressed in their best, photographed with Faith in Australia at Ikamatua on 15 January 1934 (BW-pl-446)

A group of West Coasters, dressed in their best, photographed with Faith in Australia at Ikamatua on 15 January 1934

It is well known that the first flight from Australia to New Zealand was made by Charles Kingsford Smith, with his co-pilot Charles Ulm and two crewmen, flying the Southern Cross in September 1928. It is less known that Kingsford Smith and Ulm made return trips in 1933 and 1934 when they were trying to establish an airmail service across the Tasman Sea.

They were always short of funds, and in order to pay for the fuel for return flights they had to tour the country giving short rides to paying passengers. Prendergast’s Paddock near Ikamatua was then the largest airstrip on the West Coast of the South Island, and we are fortunate that photographer Joseph Divis from Waiuta was there to record two of the landings, as shown in the accompanying photographs.

In January 1934 Charles Ulm carried the first airmail from Australia to New Zealand in Faith in Australia. He landed at Ikamatua on 15 January 1934, and the newspapers reported that there was a large queue of people waiting for flights at 10 shillings a time (approximately $55 in today’s value).

A group of from Waiuta photographed in front of the Southern Cross (BW-pl-230)

A group of from Waiuta photographed in front of the Southern Cross

Charles Kingsford Smith arrived only two months later, on 14 March 1934, in the Southern Cross – one of several planes with same name. The date and time that Kingsford Smith would arrive was known in advance, so a special train was arranged from Greymouth. In the late afternoon Kingsford Smith, his wife and the crew were taken back to Greymouth by train, gave a broadcast at the local radio station and stayed overnight at Revington’s Hotel.

Kingsford Smith and Ulm were unsuccessful in their bid to start an airmail service. Although their flying prowess was admired, both the Australian and New Zealand governments felt the venture was too risky.

Flying certainly was a risky occupation. Ulm disappeared in December 1934 while attempting to fly from California to Hawaii. Kingsford Smith disappeared a year later while attempting to fly from India to Singapore.

Further information: Simon Nathan, Through the eyes of a miner: the photography of Joseph Divis. Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2010.

Waiuta’s 25th jubilee, 1931

Children, dressed in their best clothes, wait for the start of the procession at the beginning of the Waiuta jubilee in November 1931

Children, dressed in their best clothes, wait for the start of the procession at the beginning of the Waiuta jubilee in November 1931

Following Jock’s previous post about anniversary seasons, Simon Nathan discusses an anniversary at a small West Coast town over 80 years ago – wonderfully illustrated with images by local photographer Joseph Divis.

Most gold-mining settlements only lasted a few years before the gold ran out, but in 1931 the isolated gold mining town of Waiuta, near Reefton on the West Coast of the South Island, celebrated an important milestone – its 25th jubilee. It was a company town, based around the Blackwater mine. Although New Zealand was in the midst of a depression, this had caused the government to raise the price of gold, and the mine was doing well, suggesting that the town had a future as well as a past.

Photographer Joseph Divis was a working miner at Waiuta, and took a series of photographs of the celebrations, many of which were published in the Auckland Weekly News. Divis used a shutter time release for his photography, and often appeared in his own photos.

Waiuta’s earliest miners pose beneath the banner erected to welcome them back to town. It was a formal event, and everyone was wearing a suit.  Joseph Divis, who had worked at Waiuta since 1912, is standing in the front, on the far left.

Waiuta’s earliest miners pose beneath the banner erected to welcome them back to town. It was a formal event, and everyone was wearing a suit. Joseph Divis, who had worked at Waiuta since 1912, is standing in the front, on the far left.

Old-timers George Bannan, E. W. Spencer, Thomas Bannan and Jimmy Martin. Spencer was the general manager of Consolidated Goldfields of New Zealand, and Martin was one of the party that discovered the quartz reef that was later developed into the Blackwater mine.

Old-timers George Bannan, E. W. Spencer, Thomas Bannan and Jimmy Martin. Spencer was the general manager of Consolidated Goldfields of New Zealand, and Martin was one of the party that discovered the quartz reef that was later developed into the Blackwater mine.

A typical menu for a New Zealand celebration in the early 20th century, featuring a big variety of meat. The lack of vegetables apart from potatoes is typical of the West Coast. Because of the high rainfall there were few vegetable gardens, and vegetables were expensive.The Pioneer Dinner was held in a marquee, hosted by the cricket club. Although the menu says that wine was served, the bottles are actually whisky and beer.

The Pioneer Dinner was held in a marquee, hosted by the cricket club. The menu was typical for a New Zealand celebration in the early 20th century, featuring a big variety of meat. The lack of vegetables apart from potatoes is typical of the West Coast. Because of the high rainfall there were few vegetable gardens, and vegetables were expensive. Although the menu says that wine was served, the bottles are actually whisky and beer.

It was unusual to have a hāngī on the West Coast, but at Waiuta it was a feature of community events, organised by Dick Davis (sitting, third from right), one of the few Māori miners in the area. Joseph Divis is sitting on the far right.

It was unusual to have a hāngī on the West Coast, but at Waiuta it was a feature of community events, organised by Dick Davis (sitting, third from right), one of the few Māori miners in the area. Joseph Divis is sitting on the far right.

A Queen Carnival competition was run over three months before the Jubilee to raise money for the development of the recreation ground. Various sporting bodies chose their nominee (a princess) for Carnival Queen and started fund-raising. The winner was the princess whose supporter raised the most money, and competition was keen.


Carnival Queen Hester Nitschke, representing rugby league, sits on her throne surrounded by attendants. It may have appealed to Divis’s sense of the ironic to place the group in front of the mine buildings – or perhaps he just wanted a sheltered place out of the wind.

Carnival Queen Hester Nitschke, representing rugby league, sits on her throne surrounded by attendants. It may have appealed to Divis’s sense of the ironic to place the group in front of the mine buildings – or perhaps he just wanted a sheltered place out of the wind.

Runner-up Lorraine Broderick, representing cricket, poseds in a typical Waiuta landscape with cut-over bush in the background.

Runner-up Lorraine Broderick, representing cricket, poses in a typical Waiuta landscape with cut-over bush in the background.

Sadly Waiuta did not survive until its 50th jubilee. The Blackwater mine continued to produce gold through the 1930s and the Second World War, although the workings were getting deeper and profits decreased. After a major fall in the ventilation shaft in 1951, a decision was taken to close the mine. No other work was available in the town, so within a few weeks most of the residents had left. There was a nationwide shortage of building materials at the time, so most of the houses were moved or dismantled. By the end of 1951 Waiuta was a ghost town. Waiuta is now public conservation land, managed as an important historic site by the Department of Conservation.

Further information: Simon Nathan, Through the eyes of a miner: the photography of Joseph Divis. Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2010.

Mining history in music

Mining and music do not often go together, but on Saturday 10 May the Orpheus Choir of Wellington presents a concert paying tribute to mining communities worldwide and to events that have irrevocably changed their lives. Premiere performances will be given of three new works related to mining in New Zealand and overseas. The 150-strong Orpheus Choir will be joined by the award-winning Wellington Brass Band and Wellington Young Voices.

The concert features a new work by legendary New Zealand singer-songwriter Dave Dobbyn, who has been commissioned to write a tribute to the 29 West Coast miners who died in the Pike River mine disaster in 2010.

The second work is ‘If blood be the price,’ composed by Ross Harris to words by poet Vincent O’Sullivan commemorating the death of Fred Evans, a miner who was killed during the Waihī miner’s strike in 1912. This work was specially commissioned by the Wellington Brass Band Association.

The major work in the concert is the New Zealand premiere of ‘17 days’ by British composer James McCarthy, inspired by the dramatic rescue in 2012 of 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days. This work has been widely acclaimed in Britain, and the chorus ‘Do dreams lie deeper‘ is now sung as a standalone concert piece.

The concert is in the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, at 7.30 p.m. on Saturday 10 May. For those outside Wellington, it is also being broadcast on the same day, starting at 8 p.m., on Radio New Zealand Concert.

Seeking Amy Castle

Do you know where we can find a photo of Amy Castle?

Do you know where we can find a photo of Amy Castle?

Several years ago, when working at Te Ara as the theme editor for the science themes, I had a personal campaign to obtain photographs of scientists featured in the Biographies section of Te Ara (most of which came from the Dictionary of New Zealand biography).

With the help of colleagues from all over the country, most of the gaps have now been filled; but one person still lacks an image. Does anyone know of a picture of Amy Castle (1880–1971), who was an entomologist at the Dominion Museum?

Amy Castle was originally employed in 1907 as a temporary assistant at the Dominion Museum. In those days female employees were paid less than men, and filling junior positions with women was a way of saving money. She was obviously talented, and took on scientific responsibilities looking after the entomology (insect) collections. Despite her lack of formal training she was eventually appointed to a professional position as entomologist – one of the first women in the public service to be employed as a scientific role. But all the time she was only being paid two-thirds of the rate of an equivalent male employee.

Through the 1920s Castle continued to expand the entomology collections, helped groups interested in insects, undertook fieldwork and published several scientific papers. In 1931 staff numbers at the museum were cut as part of a government economy drive, and Castle was made redundant. Having been poorly paid as a woman all her career, part of the reasoning for her early retirement was that she didn’t have a family to support.

Her biography in the printed version of the Dictionary of New Zealand biography says that nothing was known about Amy Castle after 1931 – not even the date or place of her death. Subsequently, with the help of her relations, it has been established that she left New Zealand in 1957, and died in England in 1971. Her death certificate gives her occupation as ‘retired entomologist’.

We know nothing of the last 40 years of Castle’s life, and nor has a photograph of her come to light. The late Ross O’Rourke did an exhaustive search through Te Papa’s archives, without success. Can anyone help?