Saturday, April 19, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: Q is for Queen

Queen Victoria's reign began in 1837, just a few years before New Zealand's founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, was signed. So her reign and the nation that was the most distant of her dominions were of a similar age.

Only a small proportion of those New Zealanders alive at the end of Victoria's sixty-three year reign would have remembered its beginning. The era we call "Victorian" covered a period of changes and developments in many areas, technology and fashion included. But the adjective still calls to mind a period of strict morality (outwardly, at any rate) and rigid social structures.

New Zealanders were generally perceived, not least by themselves, as loyal members of the British Empire. No public function was complete without a toast to the Queen. Many towns and cities have Victoria (or Queen) Streets, and the country has many statues of Queen Victoria.

View of the statue of Queen Victoria in Albert Park, Auckland. Price, William Archer, 1866-1948 :Collection of post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-000451-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Unveiling of the statue of Queen Victoria at the head of Queens Wharf, Post Office Square, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-007908-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: P is for Piano

In the days before gramophones and radios, if a family wanted to enjoy music they had to provide it themselves. A piano was a prized addition to many households.

Music was also an important part of entertaining guests. It might be a feature of an elegant soirée in a stylish drawing room, or perhaps a more modest entertainment in a small parlour; what Lizzie insists on calling a "soyree" (it's generally a mistake to let Lizzie know how a word of foreign origin is spelled, rather than just telling her how it's pronounced).

New Zealand Graphic & Ladies Journal: A Musical Evening, [by an unknown artist]. 1890. Ref: PUBL-0163-1890-001. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The soirée (or soyree) might be a gathering of only family and close friends, or might include people whose closer acquaintance was wished. And sometimes it might be a way to show off the accomplishments of a marriageable daughter, thereby increasing the prospects of a good match.

And sometimes the piano was played simply for pleasure, perhaps as a respite from the demands of a busy household.

Unidentified woman playing piano, location unknown. Williams, Edgar Richard:Negatives, lantern slides, stereographs, colour transparencies, monochrome prints, photographic ephemera. Ref: 1/1-025675-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: O is for Opotiki

The Bay of Plenty near Opotiki

Opotiki is my old home town, where I spent the first seventeen years of my life. It's small and little-known, even within New Zealand. It's also the real-life inspiration for the fictional town of Ruatane, a setting in my books.

I paid a return visit to my home town a few years ago. Memories and photographs from that visit: Ruatane in Real Life

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: N is for Nurse

Maternity nurses and midwives, to be specific.

In the Victorian and Edwardian periods, when large families were the norm, these women were vital members of the community. Some would come to the expectant mother's house for the delivery, and perhaps stay on to look after the household while the new mother was confined to bed. Others might provide accommodation for a small number of women, particularly those who lived in remote areas.

With two weeks considered the minimum "lying-in" time, and perhaps longer after a difficult birth or if the mother had a particularly gruelling journey ahead of her, many mothers and nurses must have got to know each other well—even more so after the sixth or seventh baby, a number that would not have been especially noteworthy. No doubt they often forged strong bonds, and many nurses must have enjoyed watching the progress of "their" babies.

Nurse holding an infant. Photographer unknown: Photographs of a baby and children. Ref: 1/4-016328-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: M is for Malcolm

Malcolm is the oldest son of a father who is immensely proud of him, while being obstinately determined not to show him any sign of that pride. The two of them have something of a mutually destructive relationship.

Eager for adventure and the chance to see the wider world, Malcom joins up for the South African War, back then more familiarly known as the Boer War.

This conflict was the first time New Zealand was formally involved in an overseas war. Our Prime Minister of the day, Richard John Seddon, was eager to show New Zealand's willingness to accompany Britain into battle—so eager that he offered troops before war had actually been declared.

He certainly had no difficulty in making good the offer. All 6,500 New Zealand troops who served in South Africa were volunteers, and there was a steady supply of them, despite the requirement for each soldier to provide his own rifle and equipment, and preferably his own horse; a total cost of around £25, which was a substantial sum in those days (over $4,000 in today's money). The New Zealand troops were mounted riflemen, and the volunteers had to pass riding and shooting tests as well as medical ones. 8,000 horses went with them from New Zealand.

Group of soldiers departing for the South African War. Ref: 1/2-030101-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.  
Somewhat romanticised images like this one probably did recruiting no harm:

Montbard, G, fl 1900. Montbard, G :A tight corner, a New Zealander [ca 1900]. Ref: A-256-002. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.  
Albert Park, Auckland. New Zealand soldier of the South African War.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: L is for Lizzie

I'm returning to characters for L, because I couldn't possibly leave Lizzie out. Her formal name is Elizabeth, but the last time she was called that was probably on her wedding day. She's always Lizzie.

Lizzie is Amy's cousin. One could ask for no more loyal a friend—albeit an occasionally maddening one. She and Amy are about as different as different can be, but that doesn't stop them from loving each other dearly. Lizzie is down-to-earth and practical, and she would tell you that she's not at all bossy. As she says to Amy one day, when she's asserting that she always does what her husband says,

Well, except when he’s wrong about something, then I just explain how he’s wrong until he sees it for himself.

Any family members who are paid a visit by Lizzie should be prepared to find their household arrangements carefully appraised, and their cupboards reorganised. It's generally easier to just go along with her—even as the one supposedly in charge (i.e. the author), I've certainly found that to be the case.

Styles family on their dairy farm, Taranaki district. McAllister, James, 1869-1952 :Negatives of Stratford and Taranaki district. Ref: 1/1-008141-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The A to Z Challenge: K is for Kiwi

(One thing we never use "kiwi" for is the fruit. To us it's always "kiwifruit", and it gives pause for thought whenever I hear someone talk of eating a kiwi!)

"Kiwi" originally referred only to the bird, an endearing (at least we think so!) stocky, flightless creature, with some unbirdlike characteristics all its own, like nostrils at the end of its long beak, cat-like whiskers at the beak's base, and soft feathers that are almost more like mammal hair than typical bird plumage. They're fully protected, but are relatively rare now—I saw my first one in the wild, as opposed to in a special kiwi house, just last year.

Kiwi became accepted as our national symbol around 1900, appearing on stamps and bank notes, trademarks and crests. Back then it stood for the country, but during the First World War something changed: it started to mean the people of New Zealand. These soldiers, many of them very young, were on the other side of the world, as far away as possible from their loved ones, and facing imminent danger. The kiwi is a creature found in its natural habitat only in New Zealand, and when a colloquial term was needed that referred to New Zealanders and could refer to no one else, they used the name of that familiar bird.

The name took root. We had become Kiwis. It's still how we typically refer to ourselves.

At the end of the war, thousands of Kiwi soldiers were packed into Sling Camp in southern England, waiting to return home. While they waited, they carved a reminder of home into the chalk of the hill overlooking the camp. It's still there today.

Sling Camp, Salisbury Plain, England, during World War 1. Johnson, Margaret :Collection of photographs and postcards of assorted subjects. Ref: PAColl-6129-02. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.