Archive for the 'New Zealand history' Category

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.’

A history of Aotearoa in seven musical instruments

Māori girl playing a Jew's harp, early 1900s (pic: Alexander Turnbull Library, Tesla Studios Collection (PAColl-3046))

Māori girl playing a Jew's harp, early 1900s (pic: Alexander Turnbull Library, Tesla Studios Collection (PAColl-3046))

Following the success of Neil MacGregor’s radio series and book, A history of the world in 100 objects, it seems as though everyone is writing history through objects – and who am I to buck a popular trend? So, here are some key themes in the history of Aotearoa New Zealand, traced through musical instruments.

Pūtōrino – the natural environment. The pūtōrino is unique to New Zealand, and has both a flute-like ‘female’ voice and a trumpet-like ‘male’ voice, depending on how it is played. The story goes that Hine Raukatauri, daughter of Tāne, loved her pūtōrino so much that she decided to live inside it by turning herself into a case moth. The case moth’s long, tapering cocoon resembles, and may have inspired, the shape of the pūtōrino. Not only were taonga puoro, Māori musical instruments, made from natural materials but they were also inspired by the shapes and sounds of the natural world which Māori observed so closely.

Human voice – community. The power of the human voice unites us as human beings – almost everyone can sing or chant, after their own fashion. From the karanga welcoming visitors to the marae to traditional waiata telling of love, loss or ancestral deeds; more recent Māori songs of remembrance, celebration and political protest; folk songs recording the pleasures and pains of everyday life; wartime songs relieving the tension and boredom of military life; national anthems sung together on important occasions; the vocal virtuosity of beatboxing, an integral part of hip-hop culture; or the joy and power of singing together in choirs – singing reminds us that we belong to communities. Singing can be a means of self-expression, too, but even then we can take shared pleasure and pride in the talent of individual singers, from Kiri Te Kanawa to Lorde.

Jew’s harp – culture contact. The Jew’s harp is a small instrument played by placing one end in the mouth and plucking a reed attached to the frame, producing a twanging sound. Māori had a similar instrument, the rōria. Because they are so portable, Jew’s harps were brought to New Zealand from the earliest days of Pākehā settlement, and were used as part of the payment for the New Zealand Company’s ‘purchases’ of vast areas of Māori land (in Whanganui, for example). Like so many other new technologies and ideas, they were taken up enthusiastically by Māori, replacing traditional instruments.

Bugle – war. Māori had a number of instruments – such as the pūtātara and pūkāea (shell trumpet and wooden trumpet) – whose sound carried over long distances and which were therefore used for signalling in time of war. The bugle was used in a similar way by Pākehā. During the New Zealand wars, the bugle featured in such stories as that of Bugler Allen, killed at Boulcott’s Farm in the Hutt Valley, and Te Kooti’s lieutenant Peka Makarini, who used misleading bugle calls to confuse colonial troops. Bugles were also used in the First World War and later conflicts, and now play an important role in commemoration of war during the Last Post ceremony.

Piano – domesticity. For Pākehā, the importation (and, later, the domestic production) of pianos helped to create a sense of home. A piano in the home was both an important part of the décor and a focus for entertainment, with family and friends gathering around the piano to sing and dance. For women, playing the piano could sometimes be a respite (however brief) from household chores. There was a class dimension to all of this, of course – not everyone could afford a piano – and in time the more affordable, but arguably less participatory, radio took the place of the piano in living rooms.

Drum – diversity. Drums are often associated with uniformity – keeping people in time and in step. Yet they can also represent New Zealand’s diversity of cultures and beliefs. Traditionally, Māori had a range of rhythmic instruments, but unlike their Polynesian cousins they did not use drums – their closest equivalent was the pahū, a wooden gong. During the colonial period, drums were part of the equipment of war, but were also used by Māori who were dedicated to peace. Drums are an important part of New Zealand’s diverse marching and parading traditions, whether those parades are political, religious, military or carnivalesque in nature. More recently, migration and cultural exchange have brought a much wider range of drums and drumming traditions to New Zealand, including those of the Pacific, Africa and Asia.

Guitar – fun. As in much of the rest of the world, guitars are central to popular music of all sorts in New Zealand, including folk, country and blues, pop and contemporary Māori music. Guitars also give New Zealand popular music some of its distinctive inflections, from the classic ‘jinka jink’ Māori strum to the jangling or droning guitars of the Dunedin sound and the Pacific flavour of New Zealand reggae (heavier on the guitar and lighter on the bass than the Jamaican original). Above all, the guitar has become New Zealand’s good-time, party instrument. Nothing symbolises this better than the enduring popularity in New Zealand of a relatively obscure Engelbert Humperdinck B-side, ‘Ten guitars’. The song has become a cultural reference point for everyone from bored troops in Vietnam to sculptors. So, all together now: ‘I have a band of men and all they do is play for me…’

Wild flowers from Palestine

In response to my earlier blog about a First World War souvenir book of pressed flowers from the Holy Land, Alison Parr, our wonderful oral historian at Manatū Taonga the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, brought in a similar book, Wild flowers from Palestine, which she had inherited from her mother. Her mother had nursed in Egypt during the 1940s and Alison thought that perhaps it dated from that time.

Book cover

Book cover

Interestingly it turns out that this book dates from the late nineteenth century, and was compiled by a Reverend Harvey B. Greene. He gives a lovely description at the beginning, explaining how he collected the flowers over three seasons, assisted by a large number of the local people and ‘a most faithful dragoman’. (I had to look up dragoman, as to my eyes it looks too much like dragon and I had images of a Victorian reverend accompanied by a large fire-breathing creature. Too much Harry Potter, I think. In case, like me, you didn’t know, dragoman actually refers to an interpreter or guide in a country speaking Arabic, Turkish or Persian).

Rose of Sharon

Rose of Sharon

One of Greene’s aims seems to have been to try and find the flowers referred to in the Bible, and each dried flower is matched with a Biblical quote or a snippet of poetry. In the case of the Rose of Sharon (‘I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys’) Greene refers to the English translations of the Bible, which note that ‘rose’ refers to an autumn crocus- and it is a crocus that he has chosen to include here. He names it as Crocus gaillardotii, today known more commonly as Crocus aleppicus.

Greene himself was American, born in 1864, and he graduated from Yale Divinity School in 1891. After serving for a few years as a congregational minister, he left the church and established a florist business in Lowell, Massachusetts. He first went to Palestine in 1895 and this book was first published that year, with subsequent editions in 1896 and this one in 1899 (I think. To be honest trying to work out the editions of this book is like swimming in treacle). Greene also compiled Pressed flowers of the Holy Land, which is very similar in content and feel.

Madonna flower

Madonna flower

Various interpretations I’ve read link these books with the increasing American interest in Palestine during the nineteenth century; with the wider Victorian genre of printed books with natural history specimens; and with a vogue for souvenir albums of pressed flowers. Certainly Greene and his books fit into all of these interpretations, even the last. He also produced a couple of floral souvenirs from American wildflowers.

Unfortunately Alison wasn’t able to ask her mother about the book, so we will probably never know how a book containing wild flowers from Palestine, collected by an American, and published in both the United States and Britain, ended up in New Zealand. But it’s a fascinating object and story all the same.

Happy anniversary, baby

Gay liberation protest at government failure to provide time for a private member's bill on homosexual law reform, 1974 (click for image credit)

Gay liberation protest at government failure to provide time for a private member's bill on homosexual law reform, 1974 (click for image credit)

Today is the 29th anniversary of the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Act, which decriminalised sexual activity between males. These days, with a wave of gay marriage legalisation across the globe, and politicians keen to get on-side with the gay community and be seen boogieing with drag queens at community events, it’s startling to think that not 30 years ago, consensual sex between adult men was illegal in New Zealand, and undercover police entrapped men cruising for sex on ‘beats’ such as public toilets or parks. Sex between women was not illegal, but many lesbians also joined the campaign for law reform.

I listened to some of the remarkable audio in Radio New Zealand’s 20 years out! documentaries, made to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the act, and was reminded of the degree of vitriol employed by the bill’s opponents, as well as what now seems like the extreme reasonableness – timidity, even – of the gay activists’ demands. The recordings include National MP Norman ‘Normal’ Jones thundering that homosexuals should ‘go back into the sewers!’ and a 1970 clip of Brian Edwards asking ‘Gary’ (it was an era when few gay men were willing to be identified as such) if he’d sought treatment for being gay. (He had – he’d been to a psychiatrist, who told him that his attraction to men was too fixed to be changed.) Interviewed in 1978, Chris Piesse of Auckland University Gay Liberation expressed his hope for ‘a society in which people, anybody, can express their sexuality without being hassled and put down and ridiculed for it’. Rather sadly, he added, ‘It’s a very idealistic view, but I don’t think it’s impossible.’

Most prominent in opposition to the bill was the Coalition for Concerned Citizens, which in 1985 presented 91 boxes of their anti-law-reform petition to Parliament in an overblown, flag-laden ceremony that some compared to the Nuremberg Rally. Norm Jones banged on predictably about legalising sodomy, and the organisers claimed to have more than 800,000 signatures in their boxes (labelled ‘The people have spoken’). However, many of the signatures were later discredited, and the act passed the following year, by 49 votes to 44. The second part of the bill, which would have prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, was rejected; it was another seven years before the Human Rights Act was amended to include sexual orientation. The road towards equality has been long and slow – it was not until 2005 that same-sex couples were able to legally formalise their partnerships in a civil union, and only in 2013 that same-sex marriage was made legal in New Zealand.

So I’m taking a moment today to remember all those brave men and women who came out about their sexuality despite a society that ridiculed and vilified them, who were staunch and steadfast and worked so hard for repeal of a manifestly unjust law. Happy 29th anniversary of the Homosexual Law Reform Act, everyone.

Flowers from the Holy Land – a First World War souvenir

Flowers and views of the Holy Land, Jerusalem – the book's title page

Flowers and views of the Holy Land, Jerusalem – the book's title page

Wellingtonians (and ex-Wellingtonians) might remember Quilters, the second-hand bookshop run by John Quilter for 36 years. Earlier this year John decided to close the store (although he plans to keep selling rare New Zealand books online), and, as is traditional, he had a closing-down sale.

As I waited in line to pay for my small pile of goodies, while brooding about whether I should buy the incredibly fluorescent poster for Hair (I should have), I noticed a small book with a wooden cover on the counter. I had a quick look and discovered that it had pages of pressed flowers from sites in the Middle East. Having never seen anything like it before, I added it to my pile and took it home.

Flowers from, and an illustration of, Bethlehem

Flowers from, and an illustration of, Bethlehem

It turned out to be a book of ‘Flowers and Views of the Holy Land, Jerusalem’. It has lovely, slightly naïve prints showing places such as Bethlehem, separated by tissue paper from delicate dried flower arrangements collected from the same location. My copy has 12 plates and 12 matching flower arrangements, as well as a title page and the wooden cover. The lithographs are credited to A. L. Monsohn of Jerusalem, which, according to Wikipedia, was a lithographic press that began in 1892.

A bit more of a web search revealed that these little books were popular souvenirs from the Middle East from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries. The covers were generally made from olive wood. (I can’t tell if mine is or not, but I’m going to assume so for now.) Some of them, like this one from the Australian War Memorial Museum, have a carved cross on the cover. Others have ‘Jerusalem’, surrounded by a carved and coloured border, or silhouettes of camels and palm trees. Mine is much plainer, and has ‘Jerusalem’ stamped on the cover. It would appear that some of these books only have the pressed flowers, and some have much more elaborate flower arrangements, such as this one, where the leaves, grasses and flowers have been arranged into a picture of a tree in a meadow.

Pressed flowers, purportedly from Bethlehem (left) and the Tomb of Rachel (right)

Pressed flowers, purportedly from Bethlehem (left) and the Tomb of Rachel (right)

So how did this book end up in New Zealand? The inside cover has a pencil note, ‘to Auntie Anne [or Annie?], from Kenneth M Stevens in Palestine’, with 1916 added in pen. The handwriting is a little hard to make out, but I think that’s right. So, assuming that this little book was sent back by a New Zealand soldier, I had a look at Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Cenotaph – where I found a record for Kenneth McKenzie Stevens, 13/2375, of the Auckland Mounted Rifles. On Archway, Archives New Zealand’s website, I found two First World War records for Kenneth Stevens – the one above, and Kenneth Murdock Stevens (13/237). Both men served in the Auckland Mounted Rifles, which fought in Palestine in 1917–18. My best guess is that one of the Kenneths picked this book up and sent it to ‘Auntie Annie’ – but which one will have to wait for another day.

I’m fascinated by this little book, and would love to know if anyone else in New Zealand has one. It also raises other questions, such as who did the flower arranging, and were the flowers really collected from the specific locations, or were they pulled out of one large pile? Possibly unanswerable, but interesting to think on.