Author: Whanganui Regional Museum

Celebrating Boys in Japan

After the Nagaizumi-Whanganui Sister City Friendship Centre closed in 2015, the Whanganui Regional Museum received a donation of many of the objects it had housed. Cataloguing these objects required some research into Japanese culture and traditions.

1. Lacquered box

The lacquered box. Ref: 2015.32.51g

One of the most intriguing is a beautiful black lacquered box which has a fitted removable lid and six legs with five sides. Each leg has a brass cap engraved with leaves on four outer edges. All corners have etched brass corner protectors. The inside of the box is lined with patterned white paper. It contains a Gogatsu Ningyo, a samurai warrior doll complete with an elaborately decorated tachi (sword), a yumi (bow and arrow) and two folding lacquered screens, also with decorative corners. There was also a wooden plaque with Japanese characters and a length of green cotton felt with a flowered silk brocade border.

2. Samurai doll

The Gogatsu Ningyo, Samurai doll. Ref: 2015.32.51a

Putting the doll together was a little complicated as he came in many pieces. A head is covered by an ornamented helmet, shoulder plates, shin guards, upper leg plates and fur boots. He sits on a lacquered pedestal.

In Japan, Gogatsu Ningyo are used on 5 May every year at the Tango-no-Sekku festival, to wish for the healthy growth of boys. The armour, helmet, sword and bow and arrows were once worn by brave warriors and hence the desire for strength and good health. This tradition originated in a ritual using sweet calamus (a plant used both medicinally and to make fragrances), held at the Japanese Imperial Court more than 1,200 years ago to ward off evil spirits. It was believed that sweet calamus had strong power because it was among the first plants to sprout in early spring. Later in the feudal era, this ritual evolved into a ceremony to pray for good fortune for boys and success in wars, and then gradually spread among the common people as a festival for children.

Families with sons also celebrate this day by flying carp-shaped streamers called koinobori. In Japan, carp are known to be strong fish that can leap up waterfalls. The koinobori symbolise parents’ wishes for their sons to be as strong as carp. The Museum also received two windsocks as part of the donation. They are each three metres long and painted in shades of blue and pink. In Japan today, koinobori are commonly flown above the roofs of houses where children live, along with the biggest black koinobori, coloured black, for the father, the next biggest, in red or pink for the mother and an additional smaller carp of a different colour for each child in decreasing order by age.


Kathy Greensides is a Collection Assistant at the Whanganui Regional Museum.


Margaret Bullock – Whanganui Suffragist

The Women’s Franchise League (later renamed the Wanganui Women’s Political League) led the campaign in Whanganui for votes for women. Margaret Bullock was the Wanganui League founder, vice president, president and committee member until 1900. Born in Auckland, Bullock moved to Whanganui in 1877.

Widowed with five sons, she worked as a reporter and assistant editor on the Wanganui Chronicle, owned by her brother Gilbert Carson. She also worked as a special parliamentary correspondent for several colonial newspapers. In later life she supported herself by writing a novel, short stories and government tourist guides. As a journalist and parliamentary correspondent, however, she gained a credible place within a predominantly male profession. She also played a pivotal role in the nineteenth century women’s movement at both local and national levels.

Margaret Bullock believed women had the same mental ability as men, but lacked men’s knowledge of methods, public affairs, political questions and the world’s needs. Her particular passions were removing what she termed “women’s disabilities” and promoting economic independence for women.

Through her work as a parliamentary journalist, she acquired knowledge of the parliamentary system. With this knowledge she was able to help the passing of the Electoral Act 1893 when she warned leading New Zealand suffragist Kate Sheppard of possible obstruction. Bullock sent Sheppard a telegram that read, “Electoral Bill returned House for strangulation ostensibly amendment wire Parliament instantly.”

1. Telegram to Sheppard

 Facsimile of a telegraph from Margaret Bullock to Suffragist Kate Sheppard. Ref: 1805.417

The Act specified that every person aged 21 years and over (who qualified and was registered) was entitled to vote. The Act declared that the definition of the word “person” included women. After the 1893 election Margaret Bullock visited every household in Whanganui, signing up hundreds of women on the electoral roll.

In December 1899 local printer and publisher A D Willis began his second term as the Member to the House of Representatives for Wanganui; he held the seat until 1905. He had previously been elected for a term in 1893 following the death of his friend, the previous MHR John Ballance, but was defeated in 1896. Bullock was Chairwoman of the Ladies Committee that helped return Willis to Parliament, ironically, as her brother Gilbert Carson lost in his attempt to enter Parliament.

2. Election memento 1899

 Memento of the Wanganui Election 1899. Ref: 1932.6.4

She was prominent in the National Council of Women executive, appointed to the Standing Orders Committee in 1897 and elected vice-president in 1900. She was appointed an official visitor to the female department of Wanganui Prison in 1896. Margaret also worked on behalf of the elderly residents of the Jubilee Home in Whanganui, publicising their poor living conditions.

Margaret Bullock had a strong political and social justice impetus. But she also had many other talents. She wrote short stories for British and New Zealand magazines, often signing herself as “Madge”. She wrote her only novel Utu: a story of love, hate, and revenge under the name Tua-o-rangi. She wrote stories for children, which were printed and published by the firm of A D Willis, her old political friend. She was also an accomplished artist and exhibited her paintings at the Auckland Art Society under the name Maggie Bullock, often using Māori sitters as subjects.

3. Book of Wanganui River

 The Wanganui River – Sketch and Story by Margaret Bullock, late 19th century.  Ref: 1953.108.2

Margaret Bullock was plagued with continual ill-health after she settled in Whanganui. She was diagnosed with cancer and died on 17 June 1903 soon after an operation.


Libby Sharpe is Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum

Spectacular Longhorns

If people are asked to think of “an animal”, they almost always name a mammal, sometimes a bird or a fish, maybe a reptile. But all of these animals are vertebrates, with backbones, and most animals, by far, are not vertebrates. There are nearly 400,000 species of beetles alone, five times as many as all the vertebrates put together.

Part of the Museum’s redeveloped exhibitions will be a display of beetles of the Whanganui area, and one of the families of beetle we will be showcasing is the longhorns.

1. Variegated longhorn

One of New Zealand’s largest and most colourful longhorn beetles, the variegated longhorn (Coptomma variegatum) larva burrows into native trees like kōwhai and tawa. It is also known as the tawa beetle. Photo: Whanganui Regional Museum.

There are almost 200 species of longhorn beetles in New Zealand, many of them large and distinctive. They are generally unmistakable, having antennae that are almost as long as their narrow bodies. The larvae of longhorns feed on wood, dead or alive, which they can digest with the help of fungus that lives in their digestive system. Longhorn larvae live for years inside branches or logs before finally emerging as an adult beetle. The adult longhorn is usually short-lived. Its only job is to mate and lay eggs.

New Zealand’s largest beetle is a longhorn, the huhu (Prionoplus reticularis). At this time of year, these large clumsy beetles often fly inside, attracted or confused by artificial lights. Huhu can give a painful nip if handled, but surprisingly they don’t eat as adults, and only live for a couple of weeks, spending all their time looking for a mate.

2.Huhu grubs

Our largest beetle is the huhu (Prionoplus reticularis). Its finger-sized grubs live for years in rotting logs, and were a valuable food, raw or cooked, for Māori. Photo: Charlotte Simmonds CC-BY.

Some species of native longhorn beetles have become pests. The lemon tree borer attacks not just native trees but fruit trees, grapes, and ornamental deciduous trees. Its larva can ringbark and kill entire branches while burrowing. The two-toothed longhorn usually tunnels into fallen logs, but is happy to inhabit firewood or stacked drying timber. It can cause real structural damage, making tunnels much larger than the tiny holes associated with furniture borer (which is in an entirely different beetle family).

3. Blosyropus spinosus

The spiny longhorn (Blosyropus spinosus) is only slightly smaller than the huhu, but is much less common. This one was found at Bushy Park. You can see the paired spines on head and thorax from which this rare flightless beetle takes its name. Photo: Tom Miles / Zoomology.

Most of our native longhorns, however, are not pests; they concentrate on breaking down and recycling rotten wood in the bush. Many are large attractive beetles, and some can even hiss or squeak when disturbed. While on a Museum moth survey at Bushy Park, we came across the rare spiny longhorn (Blosyropus spinosus), New Zealand’s second largest longhorn species. A docile flightless beetle with paired spikes on its back, it is widespread but rarely seen. The National Arthropod Collection in Auckland, with 6.5 million specimens, contained only 22 spiny longhorns from the entire country, dating back to 1915. To know this species is surviving in Bushy Park is a testimony to the intensive rat and mouse control that’s been happening there. Conservation is about more than just vertebrates.

Dr Mike Dickison is Curator of Natural History at the Whanganui Regional Museum.


Totarapuka dolls’ house

Collecting miniature objects, and dolls’ houses to put them in, has long been a favourite hobby of young and old alike. They have not, however, always been seen as just a humble toy.

Appearing in 17th century Europe, the earliest dolls’ houses were important showcases of wealth and status. Later, they were used to teach daughters how to run and manage a home and, of course, servants. Queen Mary’s dolls’ house at Windsor Castle is one of the most luxurious examples of a miniature home, featuring functional examples of everything a modern house of 1924 might have, including a tiny working gramophone and even a flushing lavatory!

Although dolls’ houses did eventually become toys, they remained expensive until the 20th century when mass-production allowed many families to buy one. Because their contents were so small and fragile, houses and furniture were easily broken by the children playing with them. This means that the old dolls’ houses that can still be found today are rarely in good condition.

Totarapuka dolls' house

Totarapuka dolls’ house. Ref: 1959.180.35

One of the Whanganui Regional Museum’s best loved objects – by staff and public alike – is the Totarapuka dolls’ house. A few scuffs and scrapes show that it was well used for many decades. It belonged to a prominent local family, the Duncans. Built for their children in the late 19th century, the dolls’ house was modelled on part of their 24 room homestead and given the same name, Totarapuka. Part of the real Totarapuka still stands today on Anzac Parade; a fire destroyed one wing in 1925. Before the dolls’ house entered the Museum collection in 1959, it had already been enjoyed by generations of Duncan children, including those of Isabel Duncan who married Mayor Charles MacKay.

Very large in size and inset with stained glass, it is a high quality hand-built toy. Breaking dolls’ house conventions, the house does not open at the back and the windows, which open on hinges, are deliberately large enough for human hands to go through. It has four rooms, two verandahs, and is wallpapered inside. At some point it was wired for electricity.

Totarapuka painting

The real Totarapuka homestead on Anzac Parade from the Whanganui River by artist “S R” in 1917. Ref: 2008.60.348

When the Museum reopens in Watt Street later in 2018 after many months of earthquake strengthening and building repairs and improvements, the dolls’ house will again be visible to the public. This time the interior will be more prominent, and we hope to see it decorated with household objects and furniture appropriate for a late nineteenth-century home. The Museum is searching for dolls’ house furniture to display in the Totarapuka dolls’ house as part of the exhibition because there is next to none in the collection that is congruent with the scale of the Totarapuka doll’s house, which has large high rooms.


Scott Flutey is a student of Museum and Heritage Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. He is working as a summer intern at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Trench Watches

In 1914, soldiers marching off to war were issued with a kitbag holding essential clothing and equipment such as wire cutters, waterproof map holders, field glasses and a fob watch, amongst many other things.

A watch was an indispensible part of military kit because, before modern radio systems came into play during war, operations across vast battlefields were synchronised by time. “The attack will begin at 0600 hours”. Fob watches issued by the Army proved to be impractical in the trenches; to see the face, a soldier would have to put down his gun and use both hands to retrieve it, leaving him unarmed. Fob watches were not waterproof and had glass faces that shattered easily, sometimes causing injury. They could not be seen in the dark, and soldiers would have to strike a match to see the time, dangerous because of the ever present risk of a sniper’s bullet. (This gave rise to the habit among cigarette smoking infantry of never lighting three cigarettes from one match because it gave time for a sniper to focus on the light and pick off the third man.)

3. Advert

This 1916 advertisement is from Thresher and Glenny, British gentlemen’s outfitters specialising in officers’ uniforms and military accessories. It shows an officer of the 1914-1918 period, showing off a wristwatch.


For these reasons, soldiers often purchased their own wrist watches which provided the much needed resilience, legibility, luminosity and accuracy, and came to be known as trench watches.

By 1914 wrist watches specifically made for soldiers had a sub-dial for greater accuracy, a plastic lens and large luminous numbers. The paint used on the dials and numerals of the luminous watches was powered by radium salts so that it glowed strongly all the time and didn’t rely on being exposed to sunlight to charge it up. Watch manufacturers also began producing shrapnel guards, metal grills partially covering the watch face and providing further protection.

2. Shrapnel guards

Shrapnel guards used to protect trench watches. Information/Image from ©David Boettcher

The Whanganui Regional Museum has two trench watches in its collection. One was made by Rolex from sterling silver, the hallmarks inside the case dating it to 1915. The strap is a silver expandable triple rail band, which, although impervious to water and wear, was considered effeminate and proved unpopular with soldiers.

1. Trench watches

W M Millar’s trench watch (ref: TH.3044) and a Rolex trench watch (ref: 1978.71.11)

The other is stamped inside the case with three bears, the hallmark for Swiss silver from 1893-1934, but it has no maker’s mark. The back of the case has been inscribed with the following ‘’W. M. MILLAR / FROM HIS MOTHER / SISTERS AND BROTHE R / 6.10.16 / MIZPAH”. Mizpah is Hebrew for “Lord Watch over me” and biblically, it marks an agreement between two people, with God as their witness. The Museum has no record of the donor of this watch. We do not know if W M Millar survived the Great War and returned to his loving family, or if the watch was returned to them among his personal effects after the conflict was over. This man might have been Sergeant William Merrilees Millar of the Wellington Infantry Battalion B Company, whose next of kin, his mother, was Mrs Agnes Millar of 3 William Street, Hataitai, Wellington. This information was gleaned from Cenotaph, the Auckland War Memorial Museum on-line compilation of records of New Zealanders who served in wars. Our W M Millar, however, may also have been any one of a number of William Millars who served in the New Zealand Army during World War I.


Kathy Greensides is a collection assistant at the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Seaside Scenes: Postcards of Castlecliff Beach

Summer holidays. These two words evoke many happy memories for young and old alike. During January when the sun shines, hundreds of holiday-makers can been seen at beaches all around New Zealand, playing on the sand, frolicking in the waves or relaxing in the shade with a book, a picnic and a friend or two. Whanganui Regional Museum archives reveal that summer excursions to our local beaches have been a very popular summer pastime since the early 1900s. Photographs in the Museum collection show large crowds, with well-dressed men and women strolling along the sand, enjoying a paddle with long skirts lifted up and using umbrellas or parasols and large-brimmed hats to protect their faces from the sun.

A hundred years ago picture postcards were a popular way of keeping in touch with friends and relatives when telephones were expensive and not widely used. Illustrated postcards of people enjoying the beach were very popular. Thousands of different seaside postcard designs, many of them humorous, were produced in Britain, with millions of copies printed, sold and sent.

1. Castlecliff is a most (em)bracing place

Ref: 1802.7714

Two illustrated seaside postcards in the Whanganui Regional Museum collection provide a gently humorous picture of leisure at the local beach around 100 years ago. One captioned “Castlecliff is a most (em)bracing place” shows a man relaxing in the sand-dunes with his arms around two young ladies. The other, captioned “On the sands at Wanganui. It’s a lot better than being at school”, shows a smiling child wearing a frilly white apron and cloth hat with her dress tucked into her underclothes. These images may have been designed as general seaside souvenirs that could be printed with captions to suit a range of locations, rather than specifically depicting Castlecliff or Whanganui scenes.

2. On the sands

Ref: 1802.4634

Another postcard is made from a black and white photographic reproduction of a crowd of people paddling and sitting on the sand and enjoying a stroll at Castlecliff Beach. This early image of the river mouth is by well-known Whanganui photographer Frank Denton. The beach stretches around a natural curve at the river mouth and the sea-swell washes into the river. Ladies lift the hems of their long dresses over the wet sand while children play and paddle in the shallows at the edge of the river. In the far distance a line of surf marks the edge of the sea.

3. Castlecliff River Mouth

Ref: 1802.1016

This summer at Castlecliff Beach we are unlikely to see many fully suited gentlemen and ladies in high heeled shoes relaxing in the sand-dunes. The children playing on Whanganui beaches will be wearing swimming togs or shorts, rather than dresses with frilly aprons over the top, but their enjoyment of the beach will be just the same as it was 100 years ago.

Many of us will be taking holiday snapshots to remember happy times at the beach and these will most likely be shared with family and friends digitally through Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook, rather than as printed photographs or postcards. In 100 years from now I wonder if there will be any physical record of our fun at beach, or will all those digital memories have disappeared?

Margie Beautrais is the educator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Marjorie H Mills, needlewoman and artist

A recipe book, recently discovered in an obscure box in the Museum, was given to “Win” by Marjorie H Mills in 1935. This information is inscribed on the flyleaf. The book itself is titled The Red Recipe Book and is a commercially produced indexed book for recording recipes and household hints. Bound in bright red buckram, the index titles are printed in red or blue ink: Small Cakes, Pastry, Baked Puddings, Jams and Preserves, and so on.

3. Nurse

Glamorous nurse in Invalid Dishes

What is fascinating about this quite ordinary mass-produced recipe book is that each index page has been individually and appropriately illustrated in sophisticated watercolours and inks by the giver, Marjorie Mills. The Queen of Hearts sweeps haughtily past a minion in the Pastry section (remember those tarts). A very glamorous nurse is the subject of the Medical Hints; design and palette is distinctively art deco, giving a clue as to when it was created, further ratified by the date on the flyleaf. A wan creature in a purple robe trimmed with swansdown languishes in a luxuriously appointed bed in Invalid Dishes. In Jams and Preserves a beautiful young woman, dressed in a large flowery apron and incongruous red high heels, carries a basketful of newly harvested fruit across the grass; she is encircled by small dancing plums, apples and peaches.

4. Jam maker

 The jam maker is surrounded by dancing fruit in Jams and Preserves

In addition, this lovely little book has a home-made fawn linen cover with a hand-made applique design of a blue vase holding a spray of red berries with a sun behind it. No recipes have been written into the book.

1. Recipe book with hand-made cover

 Recipe book with cover hand-made by Marjorie Mills (ref: 1986.74.1)

Why was this book so beautifully and lavishly illustrated? A clue is in a small hand-painted card found tucked inside the recipe book which depicts a bride dressed in white holding a bouquet of pink roses, with the words, “With best Wishes / for Future / Happiness / from / Marjorie. H. Mills”. This personalised wedding gift, to a friend or a relative, epitomises the talent of Marjorie Mills.

Marjorie Hinemoa Mills, it turns out, was a deeply respected artist, embroiderer and business woman. Born in 1896 in Wellington, she moved as a teenager, with her family, to Feilding and went to Feilding District High School. Marjorie was taught embroidery by her mother, and later attended Saturday art classes where she learned drawing and painting. Her talents in embroidery were extended and enriched, and after leaving school, she started working for the Alcorn sisters in Wellington, designing embroidery patterns. The Depression meant an end to her employment in 1930, but Marjorie bounced back to open a needlework shop in Palmerston North in 1934 with a business partner, Irene Esau. They called the business Millesa, a combination of part of their surnames. By 1938 she had moved back to Wellington to open her own needlework business which became immediately popular.

2. Woman baking

 The first page shows a woman busy baking in Block Cake, plus the title of the index; take note of the currants with legs, running around the kitchen floor

In the 1950s Marjorie sold her business and went abroad, attending a two-year course at St Martin’s School of Art and travelling extensively to see the art of Europe. Returning to Wellington, she opened another needlework business which proved just as successful as her others.

All this time, she was designing, painting, drawing and embroidering, frequently exhibiting her works in shows run by the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. She moved to Blenheim in the 1970s and taught art, later moving to be nearer her family in Dannevirke, where she passed away in 1987.


Libby Sharpe is Senior Curator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Through the Wringer

One bonus of the recent warm weather is that the washing gets dried quickly. As we set our automatic spin-cycle machines with the touch of a button it is easy to forget that doing the laundry wasn’t always so straight forward.

The Museum collection houses an array of paraphernalia related to laundry duties. As a compilation of objects they have a story all their own. There are coppers, boilers, vessels, washboards, sticks, laundry weights, a plethora of tubs, soaps, machines, mangles and wringers of all shapes, sizes and materials.

1. Washrite instruction manual

 Washrite Wringer Washing Machine instruction manual. Ref: 2001.14.5

Amongst the washing machines there are variations of hand-crafted wooden tubs with legs; some with cast iron side wheels, bung holes and wooden stays for drainage; varying levers, cogs, handles and pump action pedals to mechanise the agitation process. There are slat boards, corrugated wood and assorted interior barrels. Many earlier varieties were hand-operated and as technology advanced along came a sundry of metal models, with accompanying cantankerous motors. As electricity became more prevalent in New Zealand households the early model electric machines with electric powered motors appeared, along with their electrical cords and rubber hoses, tin sieve-like cylinders, lids and exterior barrel drums.

Prior to the invention of the automatic spin-cycle machines, one of the most significant washing accoutrements was the fearsome wringer, or mangle. While these were used in very early mechanised washing procedures, the powered wringer seemed to have a life of its own. Injury by wringer became a common report, usually involving women and children.  With two rolls pressed tightly together continuously turning with enough pressure to wring clothes dry, doing the weekly washing was a hazardous event! Wringers were dangerous to use and traps for the inattentive and unwary.

2. Agitator washing machine

 Agitator Washing Machine with wringer. Ref: TH.065

There are numerous documented reports of accidents and injuries including squashed fingers, hands, arms and elbows. Even breast injuries were sustained. In 1903 the Wanganui Chronicle reported a “shocking accident” with a wringer after which an arm needed amputating. In 1941 a death occurred when a woman’s scarf was caught in the rollers, causing her to be strangled. The New Zealand Medical Journal 1966 specifically reported on accidents and injuries sustained from wringer washing machines; they were seen as a “continuous threat”. So prevalent was that threat that manufacturing designs saw the development of trigger mechanisms to automatically disengage the pressure of the rollers if something bulky, such as a limb, began to enter.

Medical reports aside, one doesn’t need to ask afar to find somebody with a vivid recollection of an encounter with the infamous wringer rollers. Children were inherently warned and afraid of “the mangler”. There are many stories of not heeding caution which resulted in near misses, jamming, bruising, squashed fingers or the breaking of bones.  Hands drawn in, rollers that would not stop turning, arms caught, cries for help, shrieking grandparents. Long hair caught and wound round the rollers making it impossible to untangle, which meant an ensuing bad haircut in order for the sufferer to be released.


Rachael Garland is the Events Coordinator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Olympics – Track and Film

The Whanganui Regional Museum’s temporary site at 62 Ridgway Street is currently featuring a pop-up exhibition, largely sourced from Te Papa, which celebrates the gold medal feats of Olympic champion Sir Peter Snell. It also reflects on our town’s part in the Snell legend, his world-record run on the grass track of Cooks Gardens in 1962.

2. Peter Snell photo

Peter Snell breaks the tape at the end of the World Record Mile, completed in 3 minutes and 54.40 seconds at Cooks Gardens, Whanganui, on 27 January 1962.  Ref: Sp-Ath-017

A feature of the exhibition is a video screen showing footage from both the Rome and Tokyo Games. Like all film from past Olympics, these images are provided under strict license from the International Olympics Committee, a body famous these days as much for its politicking as for its sport. Governance issues aside, the modern IOC has turned itself into a financial juggernaut, with fees for hosting rights only part of a complex and lucrative portfolio of licensing and merchandising deals.

A significant part of that revenue comes from its virtual monopoly over the film and video record of the Olympics extending back to the beginning of the 20th century. The last major move in its campaign to acquire those films came less than 20 years ago and, surprisingly, from a New Zealand source.

The Melbourne Olympic Games of 1956 are remembered for a number of things, perhaps most infamously, the blood-tinted water polo pool when Hungary and the USSR re-enacted the battle which had taken place just days before in the streets of Budapest. A less often remembered aspect was the boycott by international television companies in protest over being required to pay a broadcasting fee, which resulted in very little footage being shot of the events. One company, however, did get cameras into the stadium.

1. Peter Snell trophy

This silver trophy sports the figure of New Zealand’s most famous runner, Peter Snell, depicted at his World Record run. The silver figure is set on a square silver base alongside the brass shell casing from the starting gun that began his world record run. Ref: 2017.27.1

Wellington-based Pacific Films was started in the late 1940s by John O’Shea and Roger Mirams, ambitious and frustrated staff members of the National Film Unit. By the mid-1950s they had managed to establish a sustainable business, largely built on the production of newsreels financed by oil company Caltex. In 1952 the partners decided that there were opportunities for expansion across the ditch and Mirams relocated to Melbourne in pursuit of documentary and drama opportunities. In practice this often meant providing local items for international newsreel companies. Shooting for cinema rather than television (which didn’t start broadcasting in New Zealand for another five years), Mirams and a small Pacific Films crew gained entry to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and other venues to capture many of the important moments, including the gold medal won by New Zealander Norman Read in the 50km road walk.

Roger Mirams’ footage was flown back to New Zealand for Pacific Magazine newsreels and remained in demand internationally for many years because of the shortage of other archival material from Melbourne 1956. Increasingly frustrated by this last hold-out, the International Olympic Committee swooped and purchased the whole collection from John O’Shea following his retirement in 1999, pretty much completing their full house of Olympics films and ending New Zealand’s direct connection with a slice of sporting history.


Frank Stark is the director of the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Local women were pioneering wartime auxiliaries

When the South African (Boer) War was declared in 1899 between Britain and the Boer-ruled republics, colonies from across the British Empire rushed to participate in a wave of excitement; it went without saying that New Zealand would be contributing soldiers. New Zealand differed from its allies in that it had its own semi-official female troops. With Government approval, well-connected girls and women put on uniforms, held military titles and were trained by soldiers.

These female troops indicated relatively high gender equality in comparison with other parts of the world, and patrolled, wielding real weapons, just like their male compatriots. They did not, however, serve at the front like other New Zealand women who taught and nursed. Instead, they served as a singing, fundraising public face of support for the upholding of Empire, and to demonstrate a newly emergent New Zealand identity.

2. Wanganui Ladies' Contingent

An article from December 1900 shows “the latest and loveliest thing in khaki: the Wanganui Ladies’ Contingent”
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19001207-9-4

Different regions had their own groups, grabbing media attention due to their unusual attire. For a short time “khaki girls” could be found all over New Zealand, appearing in overseas newspapers and books. One of the largest groups was formed in Whanganui in around June 1900. The Wanganui Amazon Carbineers were initially created to perform as characters in a fundraising pageant titled The Birth of the Empire.

Following the trend set by Wellington’s Young Ladies Contingent, local women created their own group. For months they rehearsed every Thursday afternoon into the evening under the training of a male drill instructor, Sergeant-Major Anderson. He appointed “most popular lady in the corps” Captain Manson as commanding officer. Members bought uniforms from local retailer J Paul and Co for 17s 6d (around $163) each. The high cost ensured that members came from comfortable and socially aspiring backgrounds.

3. Wellington Amazons

 Sister group to the Amazon Carbineers were the Wellington Amazons, seen here at Government House
Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 31 Mar 1900, via

The Birth of the Empire was a great success, running for eight consecutive nights in September 1900, and as the Wanganui Chronicle reported, “the severe tax on the performers is beginning to tell its tale”. The Amazon Carbineers became the stars of the show, performing military manoeuvres and demonstrating their bayonet skills. Their advertised “weird war cry” was a “haka, which had to be twice repeated in response to vociferous encores”.

1. Wanganui Amazon Carbineers

 The Amazon Carbineers posing on Drews Ave for a group portrait c.1900
Whanganui Regional Museum Collection Ref: 2002.64.48

The Amazon Carbineers kept up their drills after the pageant ended and became a regular feature of the community. In the subsequent media frenzy there were only limited spaces for new applicants. Recruits were elected in a popularity contest by existing members. They became, however, too popular for their own good. After offering to hold a garden party for the 1901 New Zealand Band Contest they were ordered by the Contest committee not to appear in uniform at any of the associated events in fear that they would outshine the bandsmen. While frustrated and disappointed, members agreed to wear mufti instead.

By the end of the war in 1902, uniformed women had disappeared from New Zealand streets as the conflict had grown unpopular. Only one khaki uniform is known to have survived, in the Te Papa collection. The uniforms were probably recycled for other uses including later conflicts. The women’s groups of the South African War are now largely forgotten. Nevertheless, New Zealand’s ladies-at-arms were well ahead of their time and may have inspired future auxiliary women’s groups during the wars to come.


Scott Flutey is a student of Museum and Heritage Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. He is working as a summer intern at Whanganui Regional Museum.