Monday, 20 November 2017

Waikowhai Park

“As Auckland grows every open space which is preserved for the use of the public is an asset of incalculable value,” a writer said in the NZ Herald in 1914. “Every city, in order to keep its inhabitants healthy, must have breathing spaces for the adults and playing grounds for the children.” Few of those spaces, it seemed, compared with Waikōwhai Park, Auckland’s newest, beautiful reserve on the shores of the Manukau Harbour.

General view of Waikawai Bay, showing Onehunga channel and portion of Manukau Harbour. Auckland Weekly News, 1902. Sir George Grey Special Collections, AWNS-19020227-8-2
The land had been purchased from Māori in the 1840s, and a decade later, nearly 500 acres was granted to the Wesleyan Mission. Used for camping and fishing, its location on the outskirts of the isthmus was perfect for a public reserve. In 1911, the Waikōwhai Park Act was passed: a collaboration between the Mt Roskill Roads Board and the Wesleyans (who gifted a portion of the land for the park). Both the central Government and the Roads Board came up with the finances to create it, including grading the roads for motor vehicles to use, and laying a two-mile long water main for picnickers. On February 28, 1914 the Park was officially and ceremoniously opened.

The Hon, F.W. Lang, speaker of the House of Representatives and member for the Manukau Electorate, opening the Waikowhai Park, adjoining Manakau Harbour, on February 28. Auckland Weekly News, 1914. Sir George Grey Special Collections, AWNS-19140305-39-1.
With its profusion of Kōwhai, Waikōwhai Park covered 50 acres and offered much for Aucklanders to enjoy. The NZ Herald summed it up: “Patches of bush alternate with undulating grass which is here and there cut up by picturesque creeks. Sheltered picnic spots are numerous and there is a special area laid out for camping and games. The sea frontage extends for three-quarters of a mile. Bold, rocky promontories alternating with pretty sheltered coves, make an attractive coast line.” Day trippers could fish and gather shellfish, swim in the harbour (changing sheds provided) and from all points take in the magnificent view over the placid water of the Manukau Harbour.

Transportation to get to the park was catered for as well. While one could catch a launch from Onehunga Harbour, there were bus services. A regular service ran from Customs Street in the city, via the Domain and Cornwall Park, and on one occasion, staff from Rendells department store travelled by buses to the park for an afternoon sports event where the beauty of the new park was commented on with pleased surprise. And there were, of course, motor vehicles, able to drive close to the beach while passing through beautiful portions of the park.

Beauties of Waikowhai Park. View taken from just inside the gates of the recently-opened park at Mount Roskill, Auckland. Auckland Weekly News, 1914.  Sir George Grey Special Collections, AWNS-19140312-44-2. 

However, the downside to public spaces eventually became a problem. In 1924 the Roads Board were concerned enough to suggest that greater supervision was needed to prevent the damage caused by careless campers; campers were also taking advantage of loose firewood and it was suggested greater controls needed to be put in place to preserve the native bush, “lest the trees be used also.”

Frederick George Radcliffe. Looking south south west from Waikowhai Road across Manukau Harbour towards the Manukau Heads, 1915. Sir George Grey Special Collections, 35-R246.

By the 1960s, though, part of the park was reclaimed for use as a rubbish tip. From 1962 to 1972, it became the landfill for waste, not only from residents (including septic tank effluent) but also industrial waste from freezing works and tanneries. As a 2015 Heritage Study on the Waikōwhai  Coast noted: the tip would scar the bay for decades to come and contribute to the pollution of the Manukau Harbour.

Waikōwhai Park tip. Auckland Council Archives, MRB 009-243.

Today, while the park no longer has the prestige it once did, much is being done to resurrect it. Native bush is regenerating, the foreshore is undergoing restoration, and a project to construct a boardwalk has begun. Aucklanders can also admire the landscape and the Manukau from the 10km Waikōwhai Walkway, just one link in a chain of New Zealand-wide walks.

Author: Joanne Graves

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Toni Savage, entertainer and philantropist

Laura Joan 'Toni' Swan (née Savage) was an entertainer who began her career singing and dancing, mixed with some accordion playing and ventriloquism for New Zealand and American troops during the Second World War. She continued entertaining throughout her life, and after her death in 2011 her executors donated her archives (known as the Toni Swan papers, NZMS 1746) to Sir George Grey Special Collections at Auckland Central Library.

Ref: Toni performing for troops. From: Toni Swan. Papers. NZMS 1746, 4.3.1 (14)
Ref: The Kentucky Korn Kobs. From: Toni Swan. Papers. NZMS 1746, 4.3.1 (21).
Ref: The Mexicanos. From: Toni Swan. Papers. NZMS 1746, 4.3.1 (26)

Monday, 6 November 2017

Dr Grace Russell and the Dobie sisters

When I started researching New Zealand women who worked in the war effort overseas during the First World War, I realised much of the material I needed was in a cupboard in someone’s spare room – or in a box under the bed.

While the soldiers of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and the nurses of the New Zealand Army Nursing Service all had numbers – and files at Archives New Zealand – women who paid their own fares and often worked with the British, the French and the Serbs were more or less untraceable.

Enter Kate de Courcy who contacted me when she saw a little plea for information under an article I wrote for North & South magazine on the World War 1 Oral History Archive interviews I did with Nicholas Boyack in the 1980s – when our veteran interviewees were between 86 and 99 years old.

Kate sent me transcriptions of letters from her grandmother, Dr Grace Russell from Auckland which are in her family’s possession.  Grace had been a port doctor at Port Said, largely dealing with quarantine matters, but when war broke out she had just been put in charge of the training of maternity nurses in Egypt.
Portrait of Grace Russell, later Grace de Courcy, the second New Zealand woman to qualify as a doctor, in graduation gown, photographed in Brussels in 1898. Sir George Grey Special Collections, 1050-2
After the Gallipoli landings, thousands of wounded soldiers were taken to Egypt. Grace’s nurses and premises were commandeered as buildings were turned into hospitals and every available woman was working in them.

Grace asked the military authorities for a role, and wrote to family members saying they were not giving her one because she was a woman. But the crisis was so huge that when she went to see the head of the British military medical operation, he sent her to the Egyptian Army Hospital, which had been lent to New Zealanders but was still run by Royal Army Medical Corps doctors.

She was given the infectious diseases ward – and was thrilled to be joined there by Dr Agnes Bennett, whom she had met in Wellington. Agnes is written up in British and Australian books as the first woman doctor in any British army unit, though she was not actually commissioned. Grace was there first – but she was a civilian being paid by the Egyptian government, and was soon reassigned.

Kate works in Sir George Grey Special Collections at Auckland Libraries and also alerted me to photographs that arrived there as a result of David Hastings’ research for The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie. (Auckland University Press, 2015).

Three of Mary Dobie’s nieces were volunteer nurses during the war. Beatrix, an artist, and Agatha, a music student, were on their OE in England in 1914. In August, when war broke out, they were in the Bay of Biscay. They stayed on for nine weeks, and the pair made a dozen shirts in two days – because the French wanted 2000 shirts for their soldiers and German prisoners.
Agatha Mary Dobie, 1915. Sir George Grey Special Collections, 1342-Album-244-100-1.
Beatrix, Agatha and Ellen all became British Red Cross VADs – volunteer nurse aides who did an increasing amount of actual nursing work as the war progressed because of a shortage of trained nurses. Ellen was in New Zealand when war began and saved hard from her job with a shipping company to be able to join her sisters.
Ellen Locker Dobie in nurse's uniform. Sir George Grey Special Collections, 1342-Album-244-136-3.

In August 1915, Beatrix sailed with two New Zealand friends and about 200 British VADs to Malta where she helped nurse sick and wounded soldiers from the Gallipoli campaign, including New Zealanders.

In 1916, Beatrix worked at a canteen near the No. 3 New Zealand General Hospital at Codford, England – again with her artist friends, Kitty Mair and Esther Barker.

Beatrix Dobie (left) and friend Esther Barker at Codford, England. Private Collection. 

Kitty Mair, Beatrix Dobie, Esther Barker, an unknown woman, and Maud Wilder at Codford. Private Collection.
Ellen and Beatrix returned home at the beginning of 1918 while Agatha worked for two years in France and returned in 1920 - like many of our soldiers.
Agatha Dobie in nurse's uniform at Rouen. 1917. Sir George Grey Special Collections, 1342-Album-244-148-3.
How many Auckland women worked in the war effort overseas is unknown – and can never be known for sure. But one thing is abundantly clear: their role has been massively under-reported in our history. Institutions such as Auckland Libraries and relatives of those who served, like Kate de Courcy, are playing a role in resurrecting the stories of these women.

Author: Jane Tolerton

Jane Tolerton is the author of Make Her Praises Heard Afar: New Zealand women overseas in World War One, published by Booklovers Books, available from Potton & Burton. $59.99.


Thursday, 2 November 2017

Auckland’s Jazzy nightlife

Whenever I tell people what I research - the history of jazz in New Zealand - the first response I get is: ‘there was jazz in New Zealand?’ The second response is usually something along the lines of: ‘but we didn’t really have any nightlife…did we?’ The answer to both is emphatically yes! New Zealand, and in particular Auckland, certainly had a nightlife, and jazz invaded New Zealand about mid-1917. Auckland percussionist and saxophonist Bob Adams created New Zealand’s first jazz band in about 1918, and there were already plenty of dance halls, cabarets, and theatres ready and willing to get in on the new craze that soldiers brought back from the First World War.

As the 2016-2017 Auckland Library Heritage Trust Scholarship winner my project was to investigate the Jazz Age in Auckland (1918-1930). Yes, Auckland, and more broadly New Zealand, did have a Jazz Age commensurate with other Western nations. When we think of the Jazz Age what comes to mind are images that could be out of a Miss Fisher mystery or an F. Scott Fitzgerald story like The Great Gatsby: fast-paced music, dancing, drinking, debauchery, daring fashions, new technologies, and entertainments. In other words, the Jazz Age is more than just jazz as music. And this was at the heart of my project - what, asides from jazz music, went into making the Jazz Age in Auckland?

To start: New Zealand did not ‘close at 5’. Yes, shops closed at 5pm (and, infamously for much of the twentieth century, pubs at 6), but as I discovered when looking at advertising ephemera held in the Sir George Grey Special Collections, restaurants began dinner service at 5pm. Additionally, beauty parlours were open until 8 or 9pm for that essential hair styling (for women and men) or a last minute manicure before heading off to the theatre or cabaret at 8pm, and cafes, grills, and confectionery stores remained open for post cabaret, dance hall, or theatre supper and dessert - frequently until 1 or 2am.

Ref: Advertisement. From: Rio Rita Programme 1929. John Fuller Theatre Ephemera, Sir George Grey Special Collections.
Ref: Advertisement. From: Gold Diggers Film Programme, 1929. Ephemera Collection, Sir George Grey Special Collections. 
But how was jazz defined in Auckland’s Jazz Age? In the 1920s the term jazz was used to mean a variety of things to people: music, dance (both a specific dance and a general style), and it denoted bright colours, or combinations of colours (such as green-black-gold) and abstract geometric patterns in fashion. It was also a fashionable buzzword in advertising - to describe an item as jazz was to imply that it was the latest, best, and brightest. The term jazz was also used to confer the idea of fun and excitement to items or activities.

Ref: Page 7 Advertisements Column 1, Auckland Star, Volume LI, Issue 255, 25 October 1920.
Ref: Page 20 Advertisements Column 7, Auckland Star, Volume LVII, Issue 194, 17 August 1926
It’s also worth noting that most of the slang involving the word ‘jazz’ originates in this period. To say that you were jazzed about something was to be excited, or the classic ‘and all that jazz’ for ‘and everything else’.

The connotations surrounding jazz were not always positive, however. ‘Jazzy nerves’ was considered to be a psychiatric disease, with descriptions ranging from what we would now describe as manic-depression or bipolar spectrum through to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is perhaps unsurprising in this post-war period with many people greatly affected physically, mentally, and emotionally by the war. A jazz person was someone who was untrustworthy, or outright criminal, with a sub-category of flappers for untrustworthy young women. Finally, in the early years of the 1920s, jazz was inextricably linked to the influenza pandemic as they both arrived at the same time, and jazz ‘encouraged’ people to go out at night, in the cold and catch the ‘flu.

Ref: Page 7 Advertisements Column 5, Auckland Star, Volume LII, Issue 223, 19 September 1921.

Ref: Page 2 Advertisements Column 3, Pukekohe & Waiuku Times, Volume 11, Issue 839, 7 September 1923.
Ref: Page 12 Advertisements Column 2, Auckland Star, Volume LV, Issue 214, 9 September 1924.

Cabarets, dance halls, theatres, and cinemas formed the backbone of Auckland’s nightlife and jazz scene in the 1920s. The Opera House (and later the St James) was the home base of Fullers’ theatrical operations, while His Majesty’s was J.C. Williamson’s.

Ref: A montage of interior views of St James Theatre. From: The New Zealand Sporting and Dramatic Review, July 1928. Sir George Grey Special Collections, 7-A1180.

Ref: James Richardson. Looking north east from the corner of Bledisloe Street, later Elliott Street (left) and Wellesley Street West towards Fullers Opera House, destroyed by fire 3 December 1926. Sir George Grey Special Collections, 4-4785.

Ref: Auckland City Council. Showing a full view of the stage (curtains closed) at His Majesty's Theatre, with the painted monogram J C W (relating to J C Williamson Theatres Limited) above. 1987/1988. Sir George Grey Special Collections, 994-80
These two companies were responsible for most of the professional theatre in Auckland in the 1920s, with vaudeville, revues, musical comedies, and dramatics. They were also responsible for bringing many jazz bands from overseas to Auckland on their vaudeville circuits. Through vaudeville people could hear and see bands such as Linn Smith’s Royal Jazz Band from Australia, Bert Ralton and his World Famous Savoy Havana Band (from the Savoy Hotel in London- favourite band of the Prince of Wales), the Tully Sisters Jazz Band - one of the first ‘all-girl’ jazz bands from the United States, and many others who influenced how local musicians played jazz, and how the audience, perceived jazz. 

Ref: J.C Williamson Programme for Bert Ralton's Havana Band. Ephemera Collection, Sir George Grey Special Collections. 
Ref: Page 16 Advertisements Column 8, Auckland Star, Volume LV, Issue 288, 4 December 1924.

In the cabarets and dance halls we heard local iterations of jazz. One of the first sophisticated dance venues of the 1920s was Rush-Munro’s (of ice cream fame) Conservatoire de Danse on K’ Road, an extension of his tearooms, cafeteria, and ice cream parlour operations.

Ref: Page 10 Advertisements Column 8, New Zealand Herald, Volume LVIII, Issue 17869, 25 August 1921.

The Conservatoire was one of the first venues in the city to have jazz bands playing on a regular basis. By 1922 the city was jazzing, and was ready for its first dedicated jazz venue: The Dixieland Cabaret.


Page 12 Advertisements Column 2, Auckland Star, Volume LIII, Issue 83, 7 April 1922.
The Dixieland was the brainchild of Canadian heiress Ethel Rayner and her husband, dentist and entrepreneur Dr Frederick Rayner, who wanted to bring to Auckland the sophisticated entertainment they saw in New York, London, and Paris. It quickly became the place to go for the young sophisticate crowd, and was considered the best place to go to dance to jazz. I’ve written extensively about the Dixieland over at audioculture.co.nz if you want to read more about the venue, the music and its scandals.

This is just the briefest of overviews of Auckland’s Jazz Age. While the concept of jazz in advertising died out by the end of the decade, jazz music and dance increased in popularity. As the 1920s continued the number of venues for entertainment increased in both the suburbs and in the central city, with new theatres, dance venues and other entertainments such as roller-skating rinks (which usually had live jazz bands playing) opening frequently. Despite increasing economic worries, and the impending global economic depression, 1920s Auckland continued to have something of an entertainment boom that centred on jazz. Until 1931 it seemed that nothing would get in the way of Aucklanders desiring new entertainment venues - as witnessed by the opening of both the Crystal Palace and Civic Theatre in 1929, and the Peter Pan Cabaret in mid-1930. All these venues became noted jazz hubs in the 1930s and beyond.

As a final note on how much Aucklanders liked going out in the evening - even at the height of the Great Depression, most theatres, cabarets, dance halls and other entertainment venues didn’t close down entirely, rather they reduced their operating hours so there was still something to do after 5pm on any night of the week.

Author: Dr Aleisha Ward, 2016-17 Auckland Library Heritage Trust Researcher in Residence