Spectrum 510 and Spectrum 511. Views from under the parasol
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Ena Ryan was born in Edwardian Wellington almost eighty years ago. She developed a sharp eye for the quaintness and absurdities of the thriving social class system, and the restricted life led by middle and upper class women.
Part one - Spectrum 510.
Ena Ryan was born in 1908. She recalls Kelburn as a hotbed of snobbery with a rigorous class system. There was an outcry when workers' dwellings were built near Moana Road. She recalls what Wellington stores were like at the time; travelling hawkers selling rabbits, crayfish, and whitebait; and fruit barrows along Lambton Quay. Bakers and other tradespeople would call at the house to sell goods. Roles for women in the workplace were very limited.
She recalls being at dancing class in Mulgrave Street, and then going with her mother to the steps of the General Assembly Library to hear the declaration of war being read. It was a lovely sunny afternoon. The worry was how to get to war in time, as it was only expected to last a few months. Young farmers rode to the recruiting office and enlisted as quickly as they could. She recalls the frenzy of patriotic excitement at the start of the war. Little girls were taught to knit for the soldiers.
She remembers watching recruits marching off from Kelburn, sometimes with fixed bayonets. She describes the crowd pressing close to slip presents of tobacco, chocolate, or fruit to soldiers. She remembers one with a kitten buttoned into his tunic and bands playing 'Tipperary' and other popular songs. Next of kin were allowed on board to say goodbye, and from Kelburn they could watch the troop ships slipping out of the harbour.
Part two - Spectrum 511.
Ena Ryan recalls a Red Cross cookbook brought out to raise money for the war effort during World War I. An advertisement in it from a Wellington florist promotes 'wedding bouquets made on shortest notice' as soldiers and their sweethearts got married quickly before the men went overseas. She reads a recipe for invalids made from egg shells, lemon juice, and rum, and is scathing about a woman who named her recipe 'Verdun Buns'.
She recalls knowing the war was going badly because her father was depressed. She remembers the false Armistice Day when they got a holiday, and then the real Armistice Day. There were even more holidays every time one of Germany's allies surrendered.
She recalls her schooling at Kelburn School which was considered very modern, with a lot of art and literature at the expense of times tables. Her father then moved to Invercargill and she went to Southland Girls' High School. Life was very isolated there - even getting to Dunedin was quite a journey, but people were very warm and friendly. She found it hard to keep up with the other girls who had good Scottish primary educations. She recalls some of her teachers, and receiving sex education from a woman doctor.
She came back to Wellington and went to Victoria University in the late 1920s. She recalls the social divide with private school girls forming a clique. Male students were not used to seeing women at university, and the women students were excluded from social functions. She joined the tramping club, which was greatly despised by the rest of the university, but she enjoyed it and it widened her horizons.
She remembers the snobbery that existed when a woman who was a dance teacher, and therefore considered unsuitable, was brought by a student to a party.
She caught diphtheria while teaching in the slums of Wellington and was very ill for several months. Many of her friends lost touch with her.
People were still very concerned with social status, and there was a vogue for hyphenating surnames. She compares the young women of her youth with the women of today, and says the cigarette advertising slogan "You've come a long way baby" seems apt.
Reference number 18285
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Documentary radio programs
Nonfiction radio programs
Perkins, Jack (b.1940), Producer
Ryan, Ena, 1908-2005, Interviewee
Radio New Zealand. National Programme (estab. 1964, closed 1986), Broadcaster
Date 27 Aug 1985