Acknowledgement at last

elizabeth yates mural1016

Recently completed street art commemorating Elizabeth Yates (1945-1918), the first female mayor elected in any country of the (then) British Empire. Located in Onehunga, Auckland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2019

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.







The Changing Seasons, July 2019

Photo 30-07-19, 3 53 18 PM Tongiriro River, Turangi, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2019

My July began and ended with travel, leaving the in-between bit less than memorable.

Work took the Big T to Melbourne, and I joined him for a long, sunny weekend. Melbourne is a city I know well, so seldom do touristy things there. Instead I’m happy to walk the different neighbourhoods, visit galleries, drink far too much coffee, and enjoy the vibe.

Last week I drove to Whanganui to see my father, tacking on a side trip to Palmerston North and an overnight stay in Turangi on the way home.

Whanganui’s an attractive city with a thriving arts scene (definitely a bonus), but what makes the trip even better is that it takes me through some of the North Island’s most rugged and beautiful scenery.

Looking at the photos I’ve taken this month, street art and stunning sunsets seem to predominate. I was about to sigh wistfully and say it would be wonderful if every month offered up such treasures — but I suspect I really just need to look harder.

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.

Please check out the Changing Seasons — July 2019 for these awesome bloggers:

Ruth at Ruth’s Arc

Joanne at My Life Lived Full

Sarah at Art Expedition

Pauline at Living in Paradise

Tish at Writer on the Edge

Little Pieces of Me

Jude at Life at the Edge

Marilyn at Serendipity — Seeking intelligent life on Earth

Brian at Bushboys World

Mick at Mick’s Cogs

Tracy at Reflections of an Untidy Mind

Lani at Life, the Universe and Lani

DJ Ranch

A Wonderful Sheep

Ju Lyn at All things bright and beautiful

Gill at Talking Thailand

Walkabout whimsy

Silence is a war crime

Street art, Whangarei, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2019

On a recent weekend in Whangarei I was really impressed by the amount and quality of the street art that has been installed around the city. It seems that street art has moved from an underground, rebel act to one approved, organised and funded by local authorities.

Not that I’m complaining.

This was my favourite work. I wish I could find out more about it.

Detail; street art, Whangarei, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2019

Posted to Lens Artists Photo Challenge | street art

“Maybe this good thing’s gonna happen today ..”


Shoppers at Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed.

Last week in Melbourne I was very aware of how being on holiday sets one apart from other people. While I was free from the constraints and rhythms of my normal life, others were going about the everyday business of living; shopping, learning, going to work, attending appointments.


Shoppers in Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed.

On the trams and in the market, I found myself wondering about the lives of my unknown, transitory companions. Are they in work they love? Is there constant anxiety about paying the bills? A sick child? A relationship that exhausts rather than nurtures?


Waiting for a tram, corner Burke and Spencer Streets, Melbourne. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed.

It made me think of Thoreau’s line …

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.” — Henry David Thoreau

Which made me think about the artists I know, and how the need to release “their song” is such an imperative. It also got me thinking about public art and how much it enriches us; artists, listeners and viewers, and indeed communities.


Busker, Bourke Street, Melbourne. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed.


Street art, Melbourne. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed.



“Just want to know ya. Just want to talk to ya. I want to hear about your day.”

The opening lines of Bic Runga‘s song Something Good seem particularly appropriate to this post, which has been written for Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge at Lens and Pens by Sally.


Imagining what lies behind

Although I seldom write fiction, I am a story-teller. Or maybe more accurately – as story-maker. I think it’s combination of curiosity and an obsession with narrative form, but I find myself looking at everyday things and wondering what lies behind the things I can see?

Behind glass.; office workers still at their desks late on a Friday night. Were they behind in their work? Or doing something behind others' backs?

Behind glass. Photo Su Leslie 2010

Office workers still at their desks late on a Friday night. Were they behind in their work? Or doing something behind others’ backs?

Behind the building.

Behind the shops. Photo Su Leslie 2013

Erving Goffman (The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life) wrote about front and back-stage behaviours; about the way we present ourselves to others and the things we prefer kept private. We think about and use physical space in the same way. The front of the shop is open, welcoming designed to attract and invite. But out the back it’s a different story. In this photo of a back alley behind some designer clothing stores, the expectation of the building’s owner is  probably “out of sight, out of mind”. However, in amongst the neglect, a street artist has has chosen to tell his or her own story behind the “official” facade.

Standing behind the man waiting. Photo Su Leslie 2012.

Standing behind the man waiting. Photo Su Leslie 2012.

I’m always slightly nervous about taking photos of strangers, and often end up with shots of their backs. In this case I suppose it’s appropriate. What is this man’s story? For whom was he waiting? What would their meeting be like? What lies behind the myriad little actions and decisions that got him to that place at that time?

This post was written as part of Sue’s Word a Week challenge at A Word in Your Ear. You can see Sue’s post here. And here are some other posts on the theme I liked:

A Word A Week Challenge: Behind

A Word A Week Challenge: Behind