Getting a job in a clothing factory required a supreme act of courage for a young Christchurch woman 50 years ago.

Jeanette Taylor, 66, left school at 15 to help with the household chores.

"I came from a broken home and had to be housemaid for my father and two brothers," she says.

She met a Scots woman on a YWCA camp who suggested she should apply for a job in the cutting room at Lane Walker Rudkin. She applied and won the job.


"I went home and told Dad that I'd be leaving the house for work and he hit the roof, but I went with it anyway," she says.

"I finally got my independence, went boarding with friends, and that was fantastic. It meant everything to me."

Just a few years after the wartime "land girls" were shut out of paid work after the war, Mrs Taylor was part of the generation of women who finally began to break into the workforce.

As late as 1966 the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, now archived on the Te Ara website, noted that the proportion of married women in paid work had increased only from a 12th to an 8th in the previous 25 years.

Women were barred from jury service until 1942, and then only as volunteers rather than by call-up, and did not achieve full equality for jury duty until 1976.

North Shore woman Kylie Bell, 61, testifies to the continued power of many men even after their legal privileges ended.

She says her first husband "robbed me of my youth and confidence", and breaking free from that relationship was the most important thing she has done in her life.

Other contemporaries feel they have set an example for others. Gail Marten, executive officer at Rotorua's Westbrook School, still goes mountainbiking and runs marathons with her husband John.

"I have done 15 Rotorua marathons," she says. "I've done the bike ride from here to Whakatane, I've done Sarah Ulmer's bike course near Te Awamutu two or three times, I've cycled around the lake here many times."

She is glad that she and John took their three children with them when they ran marathons while the family was growing up.

"We've set a good example for them, keeping fit and healthy," she says.

"We are a lot more active, and a lot more involved with our family, than Mum and Dad ever were."

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.

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