Being Kiwi: 'Life' ends at marriage

After almost 150 years of reporting on New Zealand life, the Herald marks its rebirth in a compact format witha week-long series on the changing nature of what it means to be a New Zealander.

Sailing on the Spirit of NZ gave Margaret Mackay, 89, an idea of what her great-grandfather's arrival in this country must have been like. Photo / Alan Gibson
Sailing on the Spirit of NZ gave Margaret Mackay, 89, an idea of what her great-grandfather's arrival in this country must have been like. Photo / Alan Gibson

For 88-year-old Barbara Callaway, life ended 65 years ago when she got married.

The Christchurch girl, who grew up in an "affluent-plus" family, did well at school and went to Canterbury University for six months during the war at a time when higher education was still largely a male preserve.

"But at 18, all women were conscripted and first-year university students were not given any exemptions," she says.

"Being a bolshie little bugger, no one was going to tell me what to do. So I stomped down the road and joined the Land Girl Service."

The online New Zealand encyclopaedia Te Ara says the Women's Land Service, set up in 1941 to replace men who had gone to war, recruited nearly 3000 women before the war ended in 1945.

Barbara Callaway was posted to farms at Windwhistle, Fairlie, Darfield, and finally to one at Mt Thomas.

"It was entirely run by four girls," she says.

"I was the tractor driver and had 700 acres under plough. I flourished and it was a fantastic job."

After the war, she tried to get into Lincoln College but it refused to take women, so she worked as an agronomist in a laboratory comprising "27 men and one girl - me".

But it was not to last.

"I got married in 1947 and that was the end of my exciting, wonderful life," she says.

"I never worked again."

She says her husband, who died 10 years ago, "was brilliant with youngsters and looked after me".

They have two sons, three grandsons and one great-granddaughter.

Mrs Callaway, now in a retirement village, is "spoilt rotten" by her sons and is "the proud owner of a new iPad".

In another retirement village far to the north, at Cambridge, Margaret Mackay, who turns 90 on October 1, recalls leaving school at 15 in the Depression so that her younger sister could wear her uniform.

She was also a Land Girl in the war but injured her head in a farm accident and went nursing, which allowed her to go back to work as a practice nurse in Te Puke for 25 years when her four children were old enough.

Two weeks ago, she sailed on the Spirit of New Zealand at Tauranga to see what life must have been like for her great-grandfather Thomas Harrison, who swam ashore from the William Bryan to become the first English settler to set foot in New Plymouth in 1841.

She believes New Zealand has become a better place in her lifetime.

"Certainly the roads have improved," she says. "I like cars, I like speed.

"I often now look back and wonder what my grandmother would think of the things that people talk about - gay marriages and things that were never spoken of, incestuous relationships, all that stuff.

"I listen to talkback and they just talk about those things all the time."

THE QUESTION

Who are we: What does it mean to be a New Zealander in today's interconnected world?

The context: This week's changes in the New Zealand Herald are the biggest in our 149-year history and respond to equally momentous changes in our population and society that question our national identity.

The methods: A DigiPoll survey of 750 New Zealanders plus in-depth interviews with 91 people in New Zealand and 16 NZ-born people in Australia, including similar numbers in five 20-year age bands. The NZ interviews were arranged with the help of primary schools spanning the socio-economic decile range in north and west Auckland, Cambridge, Rotorua and Christchurch. In addition, historians at the online encyclopaedia Te Ara selected 30 key events that helped to shape our identity over the past 100 years.

The team: Greg Ansley, Kurt Bayer, Simon Collins, Yvonne Tahana, Lincoln Tan, Vaimoana Tapaleao.

KEY EVENTS 1912-32

1912 - William Massey becomes Prime Minister. Massey established our tradition of pragmatic conservative leaders, such as Holland, Holyoake, Bolger and Key, and was the great promoter of the quarter-acre suburban property as the essence of the New Zealand dream.

1913 - Wharf strike. The most disruptive, violent labour dispute in our history, it established a pattern of conflict between conservative governments and radical unionists.

1915 - Gallipoli. The first major engagement of New Zealand in World War I, the first time Maori fought overseas as a unit, and the start of our long-term relationship with Australia.

1919 - Prohibition is rejected. By a margin of 0.3 per cent, New Zealanders were able to keep drinking beer in their pubs. Bars now closed at 6 o'clock.

1922 - The Main Highways Act signalled the beginning of national highways and the first radio stations linked New Zealand to the world.

1925 - The Invincibles tour of the UK by the All Blacks established the central place of rugby in our national identity. 1932 On April 14, thousands of unemployed, hungry protesters ran down Queen St smashing windows and looting shops. It created a memory of the Depression and an image of what the country should avoid ever since.

Source: 30 key events 1912-2012, selected by Dr Jock Phillips and his team at the online encyclopaedia Te Ara. More online here.

THE SERIES

Today: Pioneer stock - Aged 80-plus
Tomorrow: War babies - Aged 60-79
Wednesday: Opening up - Aged 40-59
Thursday: Children of Rogernomics - Aged 20-39
Friday: Sport unites the nation - Aged under 20

Video: What is it to be a NZer?

- NZ Herald

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