Book Review: Scarfie Flats Of Dunedin, by Sarah Gallagher with Ian Chapman

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_scarfie_flats_of_dunedinJust mention the words ‘Toad hall, ‘The Dog Box’, Footrot Flats’ or ‘Shrieking Shack’ to anyone who has studied at Otago University and these legendary flats will trigger a hilarious yarn or two of escapades during their scarfie days.

In 2000, while studying at the University, Sarah Gallagher was preparing a presentation on the theme of ephemera, and felt the signs on flats she walked among everyday were just what she was looking for. Scarfie Flats of Dunedin is a result of the eighteen year research project, ‘into the flats, their tenants and their tales’. Gallagher collected more than 600 names, the earliest dating back to the 1930’s , and these have been recorded in the rear of the book, as well as a map of the area noting the locality of all the featured flats.

Having been a student in Dunedin in the mid 1960’s I was intrigued by this title and keen to delve into the student sector of the city again. Many flats seem to be the same as when I left. Of course I have continued my connection with having two daughters study there and now my first granddaughter has recently graduated as a doctor, so we have seen some changes, but more likely just a coat of paint.

This hardback book has sat on my coffee table for a month and I have enjoyed the nostalgic journey with Sarah Gallagher as she learned how the flats got their names and who might have lived in them.

Interesting to see the TV Ones Seven Sharp programme visit one such flat recently, 660 Castle street, where the band Six60 had its beginnings in 2006. The boys had spent time jamming in their rooms at UniCol and ‘thought it would be good to flat together and get a band going’.

Other contributors have also added their point of view along with Dr Ian Chapman and the photographs brought it all together for me. Our family has pored over these with many a laugh and story.

Scarfie Flats will be enjoyed by many ages, as it is an engaging read, and well researched, a valuable record for Otago University but would sit well on everyone’s coffee table.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Scarfie Flats Of Dunedin
by Sarah Gallagher with Ian Chapman
Published by Imagination Press
ISBN 9780995110441

Book Review: Drivers of Urban Change, edited by Philippa Howden-Chapman

Available now at selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_drivers_of_urban_changeThis book is a product of an ongoing research project by Otago University’s Centre for Sustainable Cities, based in Wellington. It is part of a series of research findings on urban change in New Zealand, which appear to be in equally attractive books. This seems to be a rare example of applied social science research, which has depth and accessibility for the non-fiction reader. It is also a very topical project, given the challenges facing all the major cities, but particularly Auckland and Christchurch.

The main text of the book is based on interviews with experts, local government planners and politicians, and some involved in the policy-making process for central government agencies. There are also 18 case studies within the book, which involve a page or two on a particular urban topic, and reflect some new research undertaken by post-graduate students. Besides chapters on the main cities, there is an extra chapter called ‘sentiments about cities’, which is based on an on-line opinion poll. And, of course, there are a number of figures and tables that provide a lot of statistics as well.

There is something in Drivers of Urban Change for anyone living in the main urban centres, who is interested in policy issues. I think that the main text reflects the particular political context of the time that it was written, and most chapters refer to government Ministers frequently. Perhaps this is a strength and weakness. I seems to suggest that central government could and should be the key driver of urban change. Then again, there is certainly critical reflection on the current government’s attitude, which seems to favour urban property developers, or ‘the market’. As a social scientist I would have liked to see a bit more on the role of public housing, with a comparative aspect. In terms of publishing, some of the figures appear a bit fuzzy, and there is no index.

I believe that I actually took part in the Horizon online poll that forms the basis of chapter 7 in Drivers of Urban Change. This was particularly interesting, especially to see the results of other people’s views on social inequality. But there were also some specific questions on housing density and cities, and this is a critical issue now. As someone who does live in an apartment (for at least part of the week), I don’t recommend it for most people, and it is certainly not a panacea for urban issues, but a partial solution at best. Including the views of people on the ground, as opposed to policy-makers, is always a challenge, but this book is a very useful starting point.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

Drivers of Urban Change
Edited by  Philippa Howden-Chapman
Published by Steele Roberts
ISBN 9780947493042

 

Book Review: A History of New Zealand Women, by Barbara Brookes

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_history_of_nz_womenIn the 1860s, Rose Hall wrote to her sister-in-law from Christchurch, comparing her life in all its loneliness ‘to that of a cat with its back constantly stroked backwards’. In 1893, Meri Te Tai Mangakahia of Te Rarawa argued for the right to be able to stand for Maori parliament as a Maori landowner. In the 1950s Women’s Weekly was on the rise, and its readers ‘were expected to know the bargain that marriage entailed for most families: men worked to become homeowners and married women maintained the domestic side of life’. By 1977, Therese O’Connell had left home and gone off to university, where she learned that male friends earned more over one summer break than she had in her four previous years of part-time jobs (she went on to found the Women’s Liberation Front).

Today, as Barbara Brookes observes in her vast and engaging A History of New Zealand Women, ‘Few people now imagine their daughters will be depending on a man for their financial well-being’. Women are in the corridors of power and enjoy public profiles in a range of disciplines. This dramatic change in circumstances for half the population deserves attention.

Exploring the overlooked and underreported role of women in nation-building, Brookes traces the move from a largely similar set of experiences in domestic roles through to the complex multiplicity of women’s lives today. In the rich illustrative material, we see women’s vastly different current circumstances encapsulated in a few pages: Chelsea Winter and Nadia Lim on the cover of cookbooks; a few pages later women are packing mallowpuffs at a factory, another is living in a caravan post-quake. Some women are in the corridors of power, but others continue to experience poverty and pay inequity.

Brookes takes us behind the scenes of the dominant narratives, through the spheres of health, education, franchise, representation, culture, sports, property rights – all illuminated through the lives of individuals.

It is the vast cast of women from particular times and places – the noises of the day as it were – which gives texture: small, intimate reflections of larger movements provide an accumulative sense of history. The big events loom in the background – colonisation, the Land Wars, WWI, the Depression – and we understand that women’s rights have not enjoyed a simple linear progression. It didn’t just take time but required shifting social and political climates to intersect with the efforts of individuals.

Brookes carefully examines Maori and Pakeha experiences – the vicissitudes of life provide different opportunities and hindrances for women from these backgrounds. New settlement and new land opens up new roles and expectations. Mary Taylor found freedom from the rigid English social structures upon moving to New Zealand in 1845: ‘She taught, she bought land, built a house and dealt in cattle’. Yet colonisation and its patriarchal family structures were disruptive for Maori – particularly in terms of land ownership for women. Pakeha women’s lives were dominated by the household, yet their education and ‘skills in literacy and numeracy would enhance opportunities in the changing world’, while Maori women were ‘participating in warfare, acting as eloquent advocates in court, and exercising unquestioned rights with regard to property’.

Handsomely produced, A History of New Zealand Women includes wonderful illustrative material that provides insight at a glance. The striking portrait of Heni Te Kiri Karamu, a warrior woman who famously risked her own life to give water to the enemy stares out from the page resplendent, with huia feathers in her hair. The examples of weaving, clothing, artworks, photos and advertisements highlight the complexity of the women’s sphere, including a confused ad for ‘freedom lover’ pantyhose – part liberation (women no longer required garter belts), part leggy glamour shot.

This layering of stories and experiences leads the reader to where New Zealand women are today. ‘The aspirations of the feminists of the 1890s appeared to be fulfilled when, in December 1993, almost precisely a century after women’s suffrage, Helen Clark became the first woman to lead a major political party’. We have a deeper understanding of this progression thanks to A History of New Zealand Women and a reminder that many young women, benefiting from the fruits of their ancestors’ efforts, still need to advocate.

Reviewed by Emma Johnson

A History of New Zealand Women
by Barbara Brookes
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN  9780908321452