Gaylene Preston working class hero

I am currently reading Her Life's Work: Conversations with five New Zealand Women by Deborah Shepherd. It is a totally wonderful book and I am loving every page of it. Thank you Grey District Library. This morning I read the section on Gaylene Preston, a woman who before I only knew a little bit about. I loved her film on Hone Tuwhare and her War Stories. I have lots more of her to see yet.

Anyway Gaylene comes from Greymouth. She is born in the same year as my mother and took a different path. She is in many ways like other women who strode out in that era whose lives inspired me as a young feminist. What I took as inspiration when I chose very willingly to stay home almost all the time with my kids is another matter. Back to Gaylene.

Hard to choose which bits to quote. You really should read the book. All of it. All of you. Here's one bit:

By 1947, when I'm born, this little country was beginning to fast track a
middle class, an educated middle class, and the standard of living is
rising. I was put into a primary school system that was forward
thinking. It was a child-based system designed by the progressive Dr
Clarence Beeby (1902-1998) who was our director of education from
1940. Big paint brushes were thrust into our chubby fingers
and we were educated for free to the end of our university.

No wonder we had a generation gap. We were the luckiest generation
you could possibly imagine. My mother left school at 13, my father at
10. My mother walked from Blaketown to Cobden, which is a long way to go
in the cold if you've got bare feet, to help her mother clean Cobden
School. The work they did, the physical work, was never-ending and then
they educated their children way beyond their own capacity. And that's how
it was for an entire generation. p. 210-11

Walking from Blaketown to Cobden in bare feet. This is my town. The one I live in now anyway. I cried reading bits of this just from the emotion of seeing these stories in print and seeing what Gaylene Preston has done to get the stories of ordinary people on screen. I remember reading one of Maurice Gee's novels where he describes an area on the way to Richmond. It is actually a section of land which looks radically different now with the new motorway but which was once owned by my maternal forbears many generations back where they made cider so I presume they also grew apples. I had a similar very emotive response to seeing a small part of my world in a book and a really good book at that then.

Gaylene Preston has done about a million wonderful things and links in to some other heroes of mine like Sonja Davies with her film Bread and Roses. I need to get hold of that film - I certainly loved the book. The book Her Life's work is having the effect of me wanting to get out and read lots more by these women - I can't believe I haven't read any of Anne Salmond's work before and fingers crossed our local library has at least some of her books. Here's another quote from the Gaylene Preston interview. Deborah Shepard's question is the part in bold.

Do you think women are in a better place today? Is it a
better world for young women?

I actually feel that our young women have been rendered unconscious because
they haven't had to fight for equality. They haven't had to fight for
equal pay and equal opportunity. They didn't have to fight for the right
to be free of sexual role definition. They haven't had to struggle with
the narrow range of job options for women - the teaching, nursing and
secretarial jobs. The possibilities have been truly, radically
broadened. Young women today grow up knowing that 'women can do

But they've been able to have it all without thinking and are living in a
world that is full of celebrity-focused media slush, their headds full of
romantic notions about lurve and shopping. This generation knows how
to shop. They've been born into an era that assumes the fight has been won
although it is actually only partly won. So it's much harder for them in
some ways.

Oh golly you wonderful woman Gaylene Preston, articulating all this for me. Because I have been feeling it, and frustrated by it, and watching the gains I saw in the staunchly feminist women who taught me at high school gliding around like an oil spill which is shortly to be eradicated when I look at the scene in our high schools, here and overseas.

I should go back to my physical world, where I can hear Brighid complaining and the others are fixing the plastic shelter for the poultry palace and I'm still in my pyjamas and the washing machine isn't on yet ... But I am so much the richer for reading this book, for the strength of what women can do with families and their passions rather than one excluding the other. It is the reminder of a world of possibilities that I needed right now. Not because life is bad, quite the contrary, but because sometimes I lose sight of the view beyond the fence and it it is good to open my eyes a little wider.


Mary said…
Great quotes. One to put On the to-read list!
joanne said…
Hmm I do understand the 'this generation have got it all' theory - I feel it about young voters' choices, the lack of workers' solidarity and complacency about policies disadvantaging the disadvantaged. But I do think that 3rd wave feminism is not recognised or acknowledged by older feminists and I think that that is short sighted. No movement is going to look the same forever; the way women approach the world needs to change as the world around them changes.

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