For Silent Sunday
When New Zealanders speak proudly of being the first country in the world in which women were able to vote (in 1893), we tend to think in terms of national politics — electing the Members of Parliament who (supposedly) represent us.
But in reality, women had been able to vote in local council elections since 1876 — as long as they owned property and were thus ratepayers. This requirement definitely excluded most women, just not solely on the basis of gender.
And while — until a law change in 1919 — MPs could only be men; there was no such barrier to women candidates at the local level.
And so, one day after the historic general election of 28 November 1893, voters in the Auckland borough of Onehunga elected Elizabeth Yates as their mayor– making her not only the first woman mayor in New Zealand, but in the whole British Empire.
Elizabeth Yates was the wife of Onehunga’s incumbent mayor, Captain Michael Yates, and widely regarded as the power behind that throne. Michael retired from the mayoralty due to ill-health, and apparently wasn’t keen on Elizabeth standing for election to replace him. But she was an articulate, forthright woman, with a high profile in the suffrage movement and strong debating experience. In the absence of a viable (male) alternative, she was put forward as a candidate and beat her only opponent by 13 votes.
Elizabeth’s mayoralty only lasted one year (elections were held annually at that time), despite her success implementing some important policies. She was responsible for liquidating the borough debt, upgrading roads, footpaths and sanitation, and reorganising the fire brigade. Not bad for a twelve month period in office.
But she was an unpopular leader; considered “tactless, (with a) dictatorial manner and lack of regard for established rules of procedure.”
I can’t help wondering though, if a man displaying the same attributes might have been lauded as “direct, decisive and great at cutting through red tape.”
Elizabeth Yates née Oman was born in Caithness, Scotland c. 1845. She arrived in New Zealand as a child, and spent most of her life in Onehunga. She married Michael Yates in 1875. The couple had no children.
She was a passionate and vocal advocate for women’s suffrage, but unlike many suffragettes, was not involved in the temperance movement and did not support prohibition. She is reported as saying “it would be a burning shame to rob the working man of his beer.“
Although her mayoralty was brief, Elizabeth was elected back onto the Onehunga Borough Council between 1899 and 1901. Her husband died in 1902 and her life seems to have disintegrated somewhat after that. She suffered from alcoholism and dementia and spent the last nine years of her life in the Auckland Mental Hospital, dying on 6 September 1918.
I first learned about Elizabeth Yates when I began researching memorials to notable New Zealand women, inspired by Anabel at The Glasgow Gallivanter who regularly writes about women in Scotland’s history.
At the time, I could find nothing — no statue, street name or banknote portrait commemorating Elizabeth. So you’ll understand that I was quite delighted to find this mural in Onehunga. It is tucked away down a narrow side street, and I had to make several visits to get a shot of it without cars parked in the way, but at least it is some acknowledgement of a woman who was, I suspect, well ahead of her time.
If you would like to see Elizabeth Yates in action, here is a link to the NZ Film Archive Nga Taonga Sound & Vision which has a clip of her addressing a meeting. It’s the oldest complete piece of footage in NZ and the earliest that records a political event. Unfortunately, I can’t embed the footage but it’s a short clip and worth the click.
Once again, I’m grateful to Anabel for inspiring me to find out more about the women who have shaped history in my country as she does in hers. You might want to check out her post Women Make History if you haven’t already.
I’ve taken fewer photos this month than in any other since my days of film-camera ownership.
Basically, I haven’t been out all that much, and there are only so many photos I can take of the few remaining flowers in my garden.
Covid 19 restrictions have largely been removed in New Zealand and we are being bombarded with media messages to travel; see the country, spend whatever income we’re still earning on hotel nights and boutique pinot noir; go bungy-jumping, horse-trekking, white water rafting — whatever’s on offer in a country that has steadily replaced productive industries with tourism. Now the overseas visitors are absent, we’re practically being told that it’s our patriotic duty to replace their greenbacks, sterling and yuan with our own dollars.
Not only that, if we don’t do it NOW — the visitors will soon come back and the country’s beauty spots will once again be overcrowded and over-priced.
So far, I’ve resisted.
It’s not that I don’t want to support small businesses and their minimum wage staff. I do.
But I also want the people of this tiny, achingly beautiful country at the arse-end of the world to pause, and ask ourselves if we really want to instantly undo the little bit of good that a human lock-down has done for our environment. Do we really want to throw ourselves into budget-price camper vans and burn as much fossil fuel as possible in the time we have? Do we want to trample barely-recovered walking tracks in fragile eco-systems? Pollute the waterways? Buy stuff we don’t need and generate rubbish we can’t actually get rid of?
New Zealand is a wonderful country. We do a lot of things well, but I fear that we’re squandering the opportunity to build on our success in fighting off (at least the first wave) of a pandemic. In our rush to “rebuild” our economy, we’re wrapping ourselves in all the old assumptions and ideologies that were steadily, gradually destroying not only the natural environment, but also our society.
This is not the post I set out to write. And I suppose it’s not even particularly appropriate under “The Changing Seasons” headline.
But it’s the post I need to write; because my fear is that we’re not changing. We’re allowing ourselves to be sucked back into old ways and old thinking. We’re grounded; upturned dinghies dragged out of the water and going nowhere.
I don’t exempt myself from this. And it’s evident in the (few) photos I have taken. The subject matter, the point of view — even the editing — all reflect a sensibility that I have been holding onto for perhaps too long.
About The Changing Seasons
The Changing Seasons is a monthly challenge where bloggers around the world share what’s been happening in their month.
If you would like to join in, here are the guidelines:
The Changing Seasons Version One (photographic):
Each month, post 5-20 photos in a gallery that you feel represent your month
Don’t use photos from your archive. Only new shots.
Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so that others can find them.
The Changing Seasons Version Two (you choose the format):
Each month, post a photo, recipe, painting, drawing, video, whatever that you feel says something about your month
Don’t use archive stuff. Only new material!
Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so others can find them.
If you do a ping-back to this post, I can update it with links to all of yours.
Pauline at Living in Paradise
Ruth at Ruth’s Arc
Lani at Life, the Universe and Lani
Tish at Writer on the Edge
Sarah at Art Expedition
Darren at The Arty Plantsman
Ju-Lyn at All Things Bright and Beautiful
Dawn at A Shared Space
Suzanne at Life at No. 22
Tracy at Reflections of an Untidy Mind
Another trip to the archives for my Friday flowers.
A while ago, T and I decided to explore the less well-known parks around Auckland and about this time last year, we discovered Scandrett Regional Park, on the Mahurangi Peninsula.
Formerly a farm owned by the Scandrett family, the park still contains the old homestead, and remnants of a once beautiful cottage garden.
Old roses growing along a fence drew my attention.
As did the Japanese Maple in all its autumnal glory.
And these pretty little wild flowers growing along the shore — that I feel I should be able to name but can’t.
Of course we needed explore the beach too.
Regional parks are currently closed due to Covid 19, so it may be a little while before we can revisit Scandrett — perhaps on a sunny day?
I’m learning how much I’ve taken for granted in life, and how easy it used to be to follow a whim.
A couple of nights ago I craved fish and chips, but as all our takeaways are closed, I cooked dinner instead. It was tasty, but contained neither fish nor chips.
This morning I woke up and thought how very much I would like to visit the Auckland Wintergardens.
The two glasshouses and surrounding formal gardens opened in 1913 and have provided generations of visitors with a chance to enjoy rare plants, spectacular floral displays and most importantly a calm, beautiful sanctuary in the middle of the city.
In recent years they have also given me a chance to practice my photographic skills and learn about plant care from the incredibly friendly and dedicated staff.
But since there is no indication that the Wintergardens will be open in the near future, I’m going to take a virtual stroll through some of my old photos.
I apologise in advance for the lack of species labelling; most of these were taken back in the days when my personal flower taxonomy went something like “roses, orchids, daffodils and tulips, daisy-like things and weird stuff.”
I love cinema, so how could I not join in?
Mr Wrong is the film that I’ve seen more times than any other — by quite a large margin.
The reason is that it’s one of two New Zealand films about which I wrote my Masters’ thesis. The other was Trial Run, and while I’ve clocked up the hours watching that as well, I confess I never enjoyed it as much.
It’s March 1986, and I’ve already wasted a year of my enrollment in a MA (not to mention a year’s worth of bursary) trying to find something (anything) interesting in the research topic I’ve somehow landed myself with.
To help pay the bills, I’ve managed to create a nice little gig writing and producing a training film for my department. I also enrol in a Film Studies paper taught by the pioneer of academic film study in New Zealand — Professor Roger Horrocks.
As it becomes increasingly clear that I won’t ever complete the planned research into The World’s Most Boring Thesis Topic Ever — friends rally to help me cobble together a new research proposal. We go back to the beginning. What am interested in? Duh: film!
Conveniently for me, two New Zealand made films offer up a perfect topic. Or as I wrote in my thesis introduction:
In 1984, the final year of the current New Zealand film boom, two unusual films were completed. MR WRONG, directed by Gaylene Preston … and TRIAL RUN, directed by Melanie Read have the triple distinction of being New Zealand films made by and about women, and of declaring themselves feminist films. Further, both operate within, and on, the thriller genre.
Mr Wrong was adapted from a short story by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It is about Meg, a young woman who buys a MK II Jaguar car only to discover it is haunted. Without resorting to depictions of violence and gore, the film contains several scenes that are truly terrifying. Indeed, over thirty years after I first saw it, I still get goose pimples remembering the scene where Meg thinks she’s escaped from the bad guy only to find …
I guess there’s no need to spell it out.
But what I do want to emphasize is that while Meg and another female character are victims of male aggression, the audience is never invited to revel in their fear. And in the end, the women triumph — which doesn’t happen in the original short story.
When I interviewed her for my thesis, director Gaylene Preston acknowledged the influence of Alfred Hitchcock in the way she shot several scenes to increase their dramatic tension — mentioning Hitchcock’s line that “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
In the process of writing the thesis, I watched Mr Wrong over 20 times. Afterwards, I did wonder if I’d ever be able to sit through it again.
I have. It’s that good.
You can watch the NZ Film Commission’s trailer here.
Or the trailer for the film’s American release (as Dark of the Night), on Gaylene Preston’s website here.