Teaching Module

New Zealand Childhoods (18th–20th c.)


Source 1: The Ancient History of the Maori

Although an aged Horeta Te Taniwha recounted his boyhood experience several times for different Pakeha researchers, there was little inconsistency in his accounts. This excerpt can therefore be explored for the ways in which a child responded to a people whose arrival was completely unexpected and whose appearance was different from anything in his life experience so far. The story unfolds as a narrative of the event, with the commentary on each phase reflecting the means by which god-like figures were revealed to be human.

The points of comparison provide evidence of what was "normal" in an indigenous context. Maori used waka (canoes) constantly: the paddlers always looked to the front. All manner of rituals surrounded the partaking of food, which would not be touched personally by a person of high rank. The response of the "strange beings" when offered kumara, fish, and shellfish was not consistent with tribal notions of how an atua (god) would behave. The physical features of the strangers, with their skin and eye color, indicates that brown was the norm in Te Taniwha's world. His was also a society in which there were clear differences of rank, such as rangatira (chief) and tohunga (skilled person, often in spiritual matters). Hence Te Taniwha recognised Captain Cook's standing amongst his men and found it remarkable that Cook should pay attention to youngsters. His gentle touch was significant, given the tapu (sacred) nature of the adult male head in Maori custom, that of a chief or tribal leader especially. Children could be so caressed without causing offence: Te Taniwha and his companions may well have felt honoured by the gesture of this leader of strange men. Sensory perceptions, sound particularly, feature in this account. (In a section not included here but available electronically, Te Taniwha also refers to a dislike of the salted meat which he was given to taste.) The strangers' curiosity about objects of material culture as well as local flora and rocks also made a lasting impression on the indigenous youngster.

Discussion Questions

  • What understanding of the lifestyle of an indigenous child can be gleaned from this extract?

    A discussion could note the roles played by various groups—elders, warriors, women and children—within this extended family community (hapu). The sequence by which the strangers were deemed to be human, not supernatural, also reflects traditional beliefs. Thirdly, there is information concerning food, adornment and clothing.
  • What questions might arise concerning the authenticity of this account, and how might those issues be addressed?

    Questions raised might involve discussion of the reliability of memory, amongst older informants especially, and particularly when the stories are repeated frequently. Cross referencing with the published journal entries and artist images from the Endeavour voyage would provide a European perspective on the same encounter, and verify some of the recollections. Comparisons can also be made between the various printed versions of Te Taniwha's account: these show remarkable consistency. It would be important to emphasise the lack of literacy within Maori society at that time. Knowledge was transmitted through song, chant and oratory. Accuracy was essential and mistakes would be challenged in public.

Source 2: Adventure in New Zealand, from 1839 to 1844

Early cultural encounters in New Zealand's history are a story of active engagement by coastal tribes with the practices, foods, belief structures, and material culture of Europeans. Disease excepted, the interaction was selective, with muskets proving to be one of the more disruptive of the new acquisitions, and literacy, disseminated mostly by missionaries, a more beneficial adaptation.

Imbued as they were with their own sense of superiority, European arrivals did not always recognize their dependence upon Maori goodwill, generosity, and assistance. Shore-based whalers, however, were generally aware of the importance of developing good relationships with local iwi (sub-tribes). Moreover, to have a "resident" European was also a status symbol in a highly competitive tribal society. Hence a settlement such as Te Awaiti represented a situation of mutual advantage, and, with the presence of the children, the beginnings of mixed-race founding families.

Discussion of this extract might develop beyond exploring the social attitudes expressed here concerning the "improved" lifestyle of the Maori women and their children. The references to Barrett and Love indicate a ready acceptance of their progeny by Maori relatives: what difficulties might arise later if such children sought a future in a Pakeha-dominated world? Such youngsters could be cultural intermediaries if they were fluent in both languages, yet not all fathers encouraged this, as was the case with trader John Lees Faulkner who objected to his children observing their mother's customs and speaking her language. Essays in the freely accessible online Dictionary of New Zealand Biography provide additional case studies. Students might also consider what particular blend of circumstances ensured that there has never been legislative discrimination against mixed-race relationships (though the personal case studies cited in Carol Archie's work certainly show episodes of intolerance and hostility expressed towards children).

Discussion Questions

  • Did children serve as the vanguard of biculturalism?

    This question encourages students to think of the ways in which children are often the intermediaries in situations of cultural adjustment (as in cases of migration, for instance). New Zealand's compulsory schooling system taught Maori children English but it did not provide an opportunity for Pakeha children to learn Maori. Colonial assumptions and policies therefore tended to inhibit the development of biculturalism among both populations. Students may wish to clarify what they mean by the terms, vanguard and biculturalism, and to consider whether there are particular "windows of opportunity" in a colony's history when such a concept might apply.
  • How might issues of identity have affected 'half-caste' children throughout the colonial era?

    This question is prompted in part by the recollections of Mihi Edwards, whose autobiography, Mihipeka: Early Years (Auckland, Penguin, 1990) relates the extent to which she endeavored to disguise and deny her Maori ancestry when she moved, as a young woman, to seek employment in a Pakeha-dominated environment – at a time when eminent Maori politician and scholar, Sir Apirana Ngata (whose mother had a Scottish father), was widely respected in both societies. Students might like to consider the range of circumstances that can influence a sense of identity. The American civil rights movements of the 1960s, for example, had a profound impact in New Zealand, coinciding as it did with the advent of television, the massive migration of Maori to the cities, and the emergence of a significant group of university-educated young urban Maori leaders.

Source 3: Annual report on Native Affairs, 1874

This regional overview formed part of the annual Department of Native Affairs reporting to Parliament. The various Officers in Native Districts (of whom Locke was one) addressed their reports to the Native Minister since he was the politician who had responsibility for that Department. All government department annual reports were tabled in the Lower House of Parliament and "ordered to be printed," which is how they end up in the Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives each year. The overall heading for the collected entries under G-2 would be "Reports from Officers in Native Districts."

This extract could be used for emphasizing the importance of historical context when considering the situation of indigenous children in a colonial environment. There might also be discussion of the extent to which children have agency.

In this particular East Coast region, one well suited to the sheep-rearing which was already a mainstay of the colonial economy, there were also intra- and inter-tribal divisions as a consequence of some involvement alongside government troops during the armed conflicts of the 1860s. The comments by Samuel Locke, a Crown Land Purchase Officer on the East Coast of the North Island, suggest a clear distinction in his mind between those who are proving to be cooperative and those who are not: the future prospects for the children of the two groups are similarly distinguished. According to Locke, Maori youth will not play a dominant role in the developing economy, though. Just as the first group of adults must "turn again to labour," so the best-educated of the younger generation will be encouraged to take up trades. There is no suggestion that young Maori might aspire to academic careers or to be the employers of Pakeha labourers. Yet, as the outstanding achievements of a local boy, the later Sir Apirana Ngata 1 would demonstrate, such a future was possible.

In compiling his regional overview for the annual report on "Native Affairs," subsequently tabled in the lower house of the colonial parliament, Locke identifies some negative consequences of colonial legislation to change the nature of tribal land tenure, but never questions the validity of the measures. Yet, notwithstanding the impact of conflict and confiscation on tribes affected by the events of the previous decade, government land policies were already proving to be the single most disruptive and divisive influence on indigenous communities. Children growing up in these environments lost an entire cultural heritage, not just a pecuniary asset, when their tribal lands were sold into European ownership. A tribe's history was known and named in relation to territory. Why were colonial authorities so oblivious to this?

Discussion Questions

  • Although formal schooling provided indigenous children with access to the values and language of the colonial regime, what factors might affect their educational prowess?

    This question aims to encourage students to think about the home environment of Maori pupils, not just what was happening in the classroom and school playground. Circumstances could vary from one village to another, even within the same tribal rohe (territory). Maori as a language was not to be used at school: this prohibition, and the corporal punishment usually associated with flouting it, could make adjustment to the classroom very difficult. Loss of land also meant loss of traditional food resources. In the later decades of the 19th century, for instance, many tribal communities were affected by the mobility of those whanau (family) groups. Seasonal employment in the sheep-shearing or gum-digging industries, for example, generally affected the school attendance pattern of the children who moved with their whanau. There could also be intergenerational tensions as elders feared a loss of contact with their mokopuna (grandchildren) who became reluctant to speak Maori at home, given the harsh strictures against doing so when at school.
  • How did government policies to promote the individualization of Maori land tenure reflect Colonialism?

    Discussion might also draw on comparisons with other colonial regimes run by other European powers. The Treaty of Waitangi accorded Maori the status of British subjects. With the passing of the New Zealand Constitution Act in 1852, male suffrage was linked with property ownership. (Universal suffrage by 1893 was not.) Viewpoints vary as to whether the individualization of Maori land tenure represented a genuine effort to expand eligibility for the franchise amongst Maori men; or a desire to overturn the land purchase policies that prevailed prior to the 1860s, in which the right of the chief to speak on behalf of his people was widely recognized. Individualization of title led to increased fragmentation of land, which in turn came to mean multiple ownership of small blocks that were uneconomic to farm and almost impossible to administer productively. (See the online Treaty of Waitangi booklets).

Source 4: "Shocking Disaster at Cambridge" [1884]

The report highlights a key difference between Maori and Pakeha childhoods, in the nineteenth century especially: the availability of whanau (family) support. "No other family members and no neighbours"—the difficulties confronting Mrs. Osborne were not ones that a Maori mother would have shared. Ironically, Maori parents would experience a similar isolation in the middle of the 20th century, when urban migration caused many indigenous children to grow up in nuclear families, away from their traditional extended networks of relatives.

The 1880s was a decade of widespread depression in the colonial economy. Falling prices for export staples, such as wool and wheat, had serious consequences for those who had bought land on capital borrowed during the speculative boom of the 1870s. For small-scale farmers, endeavoring to establish a viable unit with very limited financial resources, older children could be advantageous as a labor force. A young family was quite the reverse. The relative isolation noted by the juryman could be set alongside Mrs. Osborne's comment that she was normally absent for one to two hours when she went to town. Students could estimate average walking speed to ascertain the likely distances involved.

Some indication of the living space and conditions in the house can also be gleaned from the report. Only one bedroom is mentioned, along with the kitchen. Washing facilities were usually in a lean-to at the back of such dwellings; the toilet would be a long-drop at some distance from the house. The house would have been built of timber, with the paper lining on the interior walls adding to the flammable nature of the dwelling. An analysis of settler housing images available through the Alexander Turnbull Library Timeframes website would enable students to gain an impression of the range of living conditions at this time. Comparable investigations could be undertaken for other regions and years, using the online newspapers collection.

Discussion Questions

  • How can reports of accidents provide insight into the nature of late-19th-century colonial children's lives?

    Discussion might focus on the close relationship between children and their physical environment, since playing outdoors was the norm. Such play was often supervised by older siblings, particularly when child-bearing spread over two decades and mothers had little paid assistance with domestic tasks. Although the New Zealand environment contained no snakes or poisonous insects, trees, rivers, creeks, and horses were generally present in country children's lives, while urban youngsters had street traffic to contend with, usually in the form of tramcars and horse-drawn drays and carts. Comparisons between the activities of children in New Zealand with the lifestyles of youngsters in other colonies or "frontier" communities might also be pursued.
  • How do the types of accidents reported here differ from the risks confronting children throughout the 20th century?

    This invites consideration of changing technology – from carts to cars, bicycles rather than horses, household bleach or dishwasher chemicals instead of phosphorus heads on matches, for instance. There is also the wider context of the increased supervision of children's lives and the reduction in family size that affects the influence of siblings. Household tasks have also changed. Youngsters used to chop wood and kindling for the kitchen stove or the weekday boiling of water in the copper: few 21st-century children would have occasion to use a tomahawk or axe. The advent of electricity has reduced the risks associated with fire, but introduced the risk of electrocution. The likelihood of drowning in a well has diminished only to be replaced by the incidence of childhood deaths in domestic swimming pools. Safety measures have increased, as with artificial surfaces at public playgrounds, for example, yet obesity is now a major lifestyle risk for children and youth, suggesting that a lack of physical activity may be a greater problem than sports-related injuries. Ipod users face hearing loss; constant text messaging and computer use can result in tendonitis. The relationship between child lifestyles and risks can be explored in a variety of contexts.

Source 5: Juvenile Depravity Suppression Bill [1896]

Using this 1896 statement as the starting point, students could explore the changing relationship between children and the state through use of resources on the Ministry of Youth Development website and that of the Commissioner for Children. The emphasis on children's rights that has characterized policy and discussion in recent decades reflects support for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), which New Zealand ratified in 1993.

Students might also seek to define anti-social behavior and aim to set their definition within the wider context of social changes in the 20th century. Youths loitering on street corners in the 1890s were unlikely to be armed (the ubiquitous pocket knife and shanghai were not normally viewed as weapons for use against other people). Late 20th-century youth, "hanging out" on the streets, are more likely to possess a knife or other weapon, and have their outlook impaired by alcohol, drug use, peer pressure, or gang membership, actual or in prospect. Students could explore the two websites above for analyses of the social changes that have contributed to a significant level of gang affiliation amongst Maori and Pacific Islanders. Comparisons between the New Zealand situation and that of "delinquent" youth in other western societies could highlight similarities, for indigenous people especially.

Underpinning the ongoing concerns about child and youth well-being has been a gradual shift in the relationship between families and the state. In the founding decades of the colony, only criminal, neglected, and destitute children were committed to government care, mostly in industrial schools and orphanages. Such interventions were very unlikely to affect Maori children, whose extended family networks provided support and sustenance. The geographical distribution of the two populations, predominantly rural Maori and urban Pakeha, meant that relatively few politicians were aware of the difficult socio-economic circumstances of many Maori communities. By the late 19th century, however, government policies in New Zealand began to reflect trends elsewhere, in Britain and the United States, for instance, concerning the need for state investment in children. As the future income-earners of the country, youth represented a substantial social capital. The Infant Life Protection Act (1896), the Juvenile Smoking Suppression Act (1903), and the 1925 Child Welfare Act all reflect this increased level of state intervention. Late 20th-century interventions are more explicit in acknowledging the citizenship rights of young New Zealanders – as epitomized with the establishment of the Office of the Commissioner for Children in 1989.

Discussion Questions

  • How does the work of the New Zealand Commissioner for Children and the Ministry for Youth Development reflect a serious official commitment to the principle of children's rights?

    The answer will involve exploration of the Commission and Ministry websites, including the many links to similar agencies elsewhere. The UN Convention is available through the Ministry website. A recent publication by John Barrington, A Voice for Children: The Office of the Commissioner for Children in New Zealand, 1989 -2003 (Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 2004) contains a useful summary overview of achievements during that period (pp. 117-20).
  • What arguments can be advanced for and against the proposition that a sense of social alienation is the principal cause of youth offending?

    This question aims to encourage students to take an international perspective, rather than a narrowly local or national one. Just as the issue of street larrikins was being debated in Britain, the United States, the Australian colonies and New Zealand in the 1890s, so the problems associated with youth offending, criminal and petty, may well be found in much of the developed world. Students should be able to contest the basic proposition by reference to all the other contributory factors that they can identify. They might also consider what influences or encourages the majority of young people to stay out of trouble with the law.

Source 6: Taranaki Education Office Report [1898]

Some students may find themselves surprised by the child-friendly nature of this official report. It could therefore be used in a context of exploring the assumptions that readers can bring to a document, and how preconceptions can affect the reading of text or image.

The connection between child experience and family circumstance is obvious here. In new farming areas (and there are ready parallels with North American examples), younger siblings had a very different educational path than their older brothers and sisters whose labor was often crucial in the establishment years. Parents could find this situation difficult because they also wanted the best for their children. There might be significant parental differences, with (usually) mothers endeavoring to find a balance between the demands of education and income. Older children, too, might have mixed feelings about the divergent home/school workloads. A sense of pride or achievement could be greater out of the classroom than within it.

Regional and cultural differences might be explored. The national curriculum was mandatory: access to resources varied enormously. A universal school system could not guarantee a universal standard of education, no matter how diligent the teachers or the inspectors. Students might expand on Spencer's analysis to consider a wider range of factors that could affect student attendance and learning – such as urban and rural differences, religion, housing, and gender. The importance placed upon compulsory schooling at this time also merits close analysis. By the late 1930s, all New Zealand children were required to have at least two years of secondary education and the leaving age was raised to 15. Yet the numbers of teachers in training had been reduced during major periods of economic recessions (1880s and 1930s) and men were lost to the profession during and after World War I. Adult recollections of schooling in the first half of the 20th century frequently refer to corporal punishment, authoritarianism, and feelings of fear. Spencer's vision emphasizes enjoyment. How might the different perspectives been reconciled? And can children's voices be heard?

Discussion Questions

  • Why did formal schooling become such an integral part of New Zealand (and other Western European) children's lives by the end of the 19th century?

    Discussion should encourage students to think about international trends in the spread of elementary education. Within the British Empire, for example, similar curricula and resources could be found throughout all the settler colonies. There are also parallels between North American and British systems at this time. Industrialization and child labor form part of the background, while notions of children as "social capital" are also influential. The broad trends can be sketched from essays in the three-volume Children and Childhood in History and Society. 2
  • What perspectives need consideration when trying to ascertain the nature of childhood experiences of schooling?

    Much of the published material on childhood experience draws upon adult recollections, written or oral. Students might be invited to write and then analyze their own memories of elementary school before being challenged to identify a range of other factors which may have affected the nature of their school experience. (Examples might include the physical environment of the school; its financial resources; the age, ethnicity, and gender range of the staff; prevailing philosophies of education and of the particular school itself; levels of parental and community support; levels of student representation in school affairs.) Comparisons across culture and time could be developed.

Source 7: Children's letters, Otago Witness [1918]

Children's own voices might be described as an elusive and problematic resource in childhood history. Taking these letters as an example, do the sentences and ideas reflect childhood priorities or can adult influence be detected? Most letters are likely to have been written at the family table, with some degree of supervision or checking of spelling and grammar. Both "Dot" and "Uncle Ned" insisted on high levels of presentation. Formulaic aspects can also observed, particularly in the endings of all three letters given here. (Additional examples from the Otago Witness up to 1909 available here.)

Age, gender, and language differences can be explored in some detail if students access full pages from the digitized collection. Generally, correspondents were under the age of 18, with the majority under 14. A regular Older Writers Week was always well subscribed and younger writers would sometimes refer to the style or content of those letters or try to emulate them. Occasionally, "Dot" would set a topic for correspondence but the general guidelines can be discerned since children were encouraged to write about animals, events of interest in their local area, holidays, school, and home life. The DLF motto was always printed: "We write for the benefit of others, not ourselves."

Analysis of the pseudonyms as well as the letter content gives some insight into the impact of World War I on these children's lives.

Discussion Questions

  • How useful are these letters as a source for accessing children's own voices?

    This invites consideration of the various filters that may affect the content and style of these letters. The 350-word limit was rarely a problem (save for some of the older writers). Knowing that parents and peers would be reading the published letter could be a constraint on spontaneity. Social conventions, such as not discussing family affairs outside of the home, would also have been observed. There could also have been some apprehension about editorial feedback. Noted children's author, Ruth Park, for example, long remembered a critical response by the editor of the New Zealand Herald's children's page. 3
  • What do Children's Pages reveal about the daily lives of youthful correspondents?

    Students might consider the extent to which children wrote about normal routines or focused on exceptional happenings. Since approximately 50 DLF letters on average were reproduced with each issue of the Otago Witness, general impressions concerning school, modes of transport, health issues, and contemporary events can usually be discerned - and consistencies or inconsistencies noted.

Source 8: Oral history, Colonial Childhoods Oral History Project

Changing contexts could be explored, using sexuality as the focus. Contemporary students might consider the range of ways in which knowledge of human reproduction, puberty, and homosexuality is disseminated before contrasting the present-day position with the dearth of printed or visual information suitable for children at the beginning of the 20th century. Social conventions also need investigation. Many of the interviewees in the CCOHP gleaned a basic understanding from an older sibling; others gathered a great deal of misinformation from the school playground. What were the dominant constraints affecting public school education on the subject; or parent/child frankness? Was ignorance regarded as a form of protection or were there underlying moral codes that emphasized innocence? Some basic assumptions might also be discussed. Was sexuality a topic that aroused childhood curiosity to any great extent at this time? Analysis of all of the CCOHP comments suggests that, for those under 15, it was not important – yet could this impression result from interviewees making instinctive comparisons with the present as they commented on the past?

The use of oral histories as a source in childhood history might also be investigated, with particular reference to any issues (such as deafness, fatigue, memory loss) associated with interviewing the elderly (defined as over 80 years). How much reliance can be placed upon such recollections? Without necessarily delving into debates over the nature of memory, students could be encouraged to reflect on their own childhoods. Are their memories predominantly of factual detail or of episodes to which they had some degree of emotional reaction, be that fear, curiosity, anger, pleasure, or pain? Questions about the "construction of the past" in an oral interview could also be raised, especially when comparing the relatively unstructured "life narrative" approach with that of the more structured questionnaire style of interviewing.

Discussion Questions

  • Why might parents choose not to tell their children about a mother's pregnancy?

    Discussion could include some reference to the incidence of maternal mortality, since the risks associated with child-bearing and childbirth, among working class families particularly, were considerable. The registration of midwives (1904) and the establishment of free maternity care for women (1905) made a significant impact in lowering those rates. Concealment was also a way of avoiding awkward questions about reproduction and sex. Moreover, pregnancy was a private, not a public, matter which might be mentioned in a school playground, for example. Women's dress styles assisted with the strategy, as did the usual convention that children did not enter their parents' bedroom spontaneously. Maori children were less likely to be in ignorance than Pakeha, since sleeping and living arrangements were generally more communal.
  • Evidence gathered during the CCOHP suggested that there was relatively little openness in dealing with other facets of Pakeha children's lives, especially where alcoholism, violence, or death were concerned. Does such adult reticence reflect contemporary views on child-rearing?

    Several of the CCOHP interviewees lost a sibling, friend, or parent during childhood. Generally, though, Pakeha youngsters did not attend funerals, whereas Maori children were present, and older ones involved with food preparation, during any tangihanga (a farewell that was held over several days) in their community. Cultural experiences also differed in terms of remembrance of the dead, with Pakeha generally choosing silence. Maori did not. Alcoholism was a source of shame within a family, quite apart from its disruptive and damaging effects on relationships and children's well-being. Concealment tended to be the preferred option. Essentially, child rearing was seen as a domestic and private matter, and the family was not a realm in which the state should interfere. Gradually, schools became agencies whereby some level of protection for children could be initiated, if necessary.

Source 9: Code of Honour [1936]

After some initial—probably adverse—reactions to the language and content of the Code, students might be encouraged to work in groups, to analyze a selection of the objectives much more closely. Culture and context could be stressed. The Dominion was slowly beginning to emerge from the Great Depression, the impact of which had been severe on a people who had lost so many young men during World War I. The notion of service for Empire had been well instilled prior to 1914, and a heavy price had been paid. It is noticeable that the emphasis within the Code is much more on a sense of identity as a New Zealand citizen, rather than as the citizen of Empire that had been so prominent a theme in School Journal poems, stories, and articles earlier in previous decades. Yet fundamental values persist - of fair play, honesty, integrity, respect for authority, for instance. Students may benefit from some discussion about English public schools, the class background from which pupils were generally drawn, and the ethos that imbued such institutions. They might also be prompted to consider how and why these values became disseminated so widely during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Responses to these questions could include reference to some of the Empire-wide organizations for young people, the Boy Scout and the Girl Guide movements, for instance.

Further analysis of the Code suggests that its focus was on encouraging youth to develop a sense of civic and community responsibility. Improvement of self is vital, but the individual's growth in principle and awareness is intended to enhance social interaction, not individualism.

Lively debates should develop if students are challenged to consider whether there is anything inherently wrong with such a set of personal values. Do these ideals pertain to any one social class or culture? Within the New Zealand context, Maori children growing up in closely-knit rural communities would have had an additional set of guiding principles, those pertaining to their own cultural beliefs and practices (tikanga).

Discussion Questions

  • How do these behavioral objectives for young New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha, reflect social values of the 1930s?

    Discussion would draw on student analysis of the key values identified in the Code. They might also note the order in which points are made. The reference to care of property, for instance, comes some way down the list and alludes more to public, than private, property. Students could be invited to consider other "Codes" that would have been well known at the time, such as the Ten Commandments.
  • Develop a 21st-century "Code of Honour" that would be relevant for children growing up in contemporary society.

    This would involve some preliminary discussions about relating the Code to any particular group of children. Group work would be valuable here, particularly if students were encouraged to identify specific clubs or societies which aim to instill some common principles amongst their members. New Codes could be analyzed to see if they reflect any contemporary attitudes concerning child rearing.

Source 10: School photographs [1950, 1964]

Class photographs are so common in personal collections that they merit analysis to see how useful they may be as a source for childhood history. At one level, they can be explored for evidence of material culture, in terms of clothing, footwear, and hairstyles, for example. There is no sign of "brand" or "label" clothing in the 1950 image, save for the six gymslips that provide some impression of uniformity. Fabric, style, pattern, and color vary considerably. Cardigans and jerseys are hand-knitted; and the varying shapes of the girls' collars reflect the prevalence of home-sewn garments. In both photographs, the girls are all wearing skirts or dresses: only the boys wore shorts. It was still not "proper" for females to wear trousers (though wartime exigencies had made it acceptable then for women in the workforce to do so).

The ethnic composition of both classroom groups reflect population movements of the post-war period and suggest something of the relative isolation which young Maori – and their parents – could feel within the urban school environment. From a roughly equal mix of Maori and Pakeha in the small rural town environment of Kaitaia (15 Pakeha/13 Maori), Maori children in the suburban Auckland classroom were in the minority (29 Pakeha/5 Maori). Discussion could focus on the impact of likely disparities. New urban migrants who came as family units tended to experience difficulties in meeting the costs of city living, so very different from the communal and subsistence patterns of the country. Overcrowded housing and low wages from unskilled work meant that children in these environments had little access to resources or space when doing homework, for instance. Students might also consider how school could also be the principal means by which young Maori could begin to develop networks in their new communities. Church and voluntary organizations, such as clubs for urban Maori, also helped. 4

Discussion Questions

  • How would the lives of urban migrant Maori children have differed from those of their peers growing up in rural areas?

    Discussion will be aided by a reading of the essays on Maori New Zealanders on the Te Ara website. While the urban-raised had better access to education and employment, many lost contact with their language and culture and were embarrassed to show their ignorance of customary practices. Rural youngsters generally retained much closer links with elders and took part in activities on the marae (meeting place). There was also far more opportunity for rural youngsters to develop traditional subsistence lifestyle skills (hunting, fishing, gardening). Yet these skills could not always be applied in the cities. Underpinning discussion of this question would be an awareness that urban migration was a necessity, given the steady growth of the Maori population and their very limited resource base in country areas.
  • How influential was technology in changing children's educational experience in the second half of the 20th century?

    Exploration of this question invites students to consider the importance of technology in their own education (within and outside of the classroom) as a preliminary to exploring such changes over the previous half century. Within the New Zealand context, public radio was widely used after WWII, with broadcasts to schools supplementing the universally distributed School Journal. Within vocational courses particular equipment would be used, such as manual typewriters and electric ovens for typing and home economics classes respectively. Going to the Saturday matinee was a popular leisure pastime: newsreels, played before the main feature, normally covered world events. Most families would also listen to the BBC World News, broadcast every evening through the national radio network. The educational impact of television from the 1960s was undermined by commercialization and largely surpassed by access to computers and the Internet.

Source 11: Advertisement

Outdoor activities have long been seen as an integral part of a Kiwi upbringing. The official website of SPARC, Sport and Recreation New Zealand, for instance, describes a (somewhat idyllic) pattern of being on the beach in the morning, the (sports) field after lunch, and on the hills in the evening. In terms of topography, such a routine would certainly be possible throughout much of the country. "Going bush," camping, tramping, mountain bike riding, kayaking: the notion of being close to nature in the "Great Outdoors" is an important element in discussions of national identity. Yet the demonstrable late 20th-century onset of child obesity and related health issues have prompted major government initiatives to encourage more Kiwis, of all ages and ethnicities, to live up to that vision and "get active." (See New Zealand Sport and Physical Activity Surveys and examples of the range of programmes.)

Organized sport in the New Zealand school curriculum stemmed mostly from Britain, as with cricket, rugby football, tennis and hockey. Athletics and swimming also involved large numbers of children, particularly on school sports days. During the 1960s and 1970s, for instance, thousands of children participated weekly in Saturday sporting fixtures, able to do so because of the commitment of teachers, parents, or caregivers, and volunteers. Family financial difficulties, changing workplace patterns, the advent of weekend shopping (and working), and increased workloads on teachers as a consequence of changes within school administration and curricula, are some of the factors affecting children's participation in organized sport outside of normal school hours. Students could be encouraged to consider the influences on their own youthful participation in sport and to consider how these may reflect social or economic patterns.

Discussion Questions

  • Food and activity are normally two dominant preoccupations of childhood. What have been the major influences contributing to a reduction in the amount of physical activity undertaken by late 20th-century children and youth?

    Discussion could involve modes of transport to and from school and much greater reliance on cars generally; the reduction in childhood autonomy at play as a consequence of urbanization, for instance, more indoor living; and the influence of television and personal computers and other popular pursuits that involve hours of sitting rather than movement. Smaller families mean fewer siblings or relatives to play with, though Maori and Pacific Island youth are frequently active in team sports, such as rugby league, netball, and softball. Students might also consider the costs involved with purchasing equipment.
  • Myth or reality? Does sport really contribute to a sense of national identity?

    Students could be encouraged to distinguish between amateur and professional sport. The inclusiveness normally associated with the concept of national identity seems to be contrary to the exclusiveness of the professional player. In debating the cultural role of sport, students would need to be mindful of socio-economic differences, gender, and religious or other cultural constraints affecting participation or support. And what might the negative aspects be if sport and identity are closely aligned? What happens to the national psyche when a national team loses?

    The SPARC website could be helpful when answering either question.

Source 12: Statistical tables

Risk-taking behavior is a major factor affecting the health and well-being of young New Zealanders. Drug-taking, smoking, alcohol abuse, and unprotected sex are four obvious contributors to low self-esteem, and significant resources have been channeled into remedial and preventative programs for young people. Some focus specifically on Maori for, as the Ministry of Youth Development's 2003 survey, 12 -24: Young People in New Zealand notes, young Maori are more prone to smoke and drink heavily than non-Maori. Students could explore the reports available through this Ministry website and that of Statistics New Zealand with a view to comparing results from the 1996 and 2001 census data. The rate of youth suicide, for example, declined in that period.

Since motor vehicle accidents have consistently been the biggest cause of youth fatalities, students might compare the New Zealand rates with those in other western societies. The particular situation in New Zealand might also be discussed in the context of the age at which youth can drive; the nature of the existing fleet (since air bags are not found in the older cars that young people are more likely to be using); the rapid growth in the number of cars per head of population; the limited public transport systems which contribute to greater personal dependency on cars; the nature of most New Zealand roads (two-lane with barriers only on some motorways and expressways); and the high number of fatal accidents in which both speed and alcohol are factors despite major road safety campaigns against drunk driving. The wearing of seatbelts is compulsory as is using approved child restraints for children travelling in cars. The law is not always observed. The teaching objective would be one of setting the statistical evidence within a wider context to emphasize how external conditions can affect the consequences of personal choices.

Discussion Questions:

  • How have the hazards of life changed for young New Zealanders throughout the 20th century?

    Discussion would involve some definition and categorization, both of the types of hazards and the age groups involved. Since an earlier source focused on dangers for children earlier in the century, the intention here would be to concentrate on the 15+ group. The influence of consumer advertising, peer group pressure, and transport preferences (cars not bicycles) would be relevant. Socio-economic and family circumstances are important, given the prevalence of alcoholism and domestic violence in affecting young people's lives, with Maori over-represented in those statistics.
  • What are the major impediments affecting the employment of 15-19 year-olds and how might these be best addressed by young job seekers?

    This question might enable students to draw on their own experiences while also considering the situation facing young people in other countries. Different perspectives to consider include those of employers as well as prospective employees. Minimum wage rates, literacy levels, an increasingly casual youth workforce that encourages part-time employment as a cheaper option, lack of mentoring by older or experienced staff might all be relevant, as are questions of adequate guidance in the preparation of resumes, letters of application, or how to respond in an interview. The issues raised are unlikely to be peculiar to the New Zealand context.

1 Search "Apirana Turupa Ngata" on the "Find a biography" page.

2 Paula Fass, ed. Children and Childhood in History and Society (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004).

3 Ruth Park, Fence Around the Cuckoo (Australia: Penguin, 1992) 211–13.

4 For more information, see this excellent encyclopedia essay on urban Maori. The illustrated publication, Te Ao Hou, 1952-1975, printed many articles relating to urban migration and its consequences.

How to Cite This Source

"New Zealand Childhoods (18th–20th c.)," in Children and Youth in History, Item #93, https://cyh.rrchnm.org/items/show/93 (accessed August 10, 2021).