Spectrum 012. Two Wellington childhoods
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Spectrum was a long-running weekly radio documentary series which captured the essence of New Zealand from 1972 to 2016. Alwyn Owen and Jack Perkins produced the series for many years, creating a valuable library of New Zealand oral history.
Marjorie Lees and George Davies grew up in Edwardian Wellington and whilst living only three miles apart grew up in vastly different social worlds. Marjorie came from a background of wealth, her father being a Doctor of Law and her uncle the Chief Justice, whilst George grew up in desperate poverty with his solo mother and four brothers and sisters.
Joan Faulkner Blake interviews Marjorie, and Laurie Swindell interviews George. They discuss the times from 1900-1920 and in particular the 1913 Watersiders strike, when they were on opposing sides, the outbreak of World War I and how it affected their families and the 1918 influenza epidemic.
Part 1: Marjorie Lees: Describes her privileged but isolated childhood, living in a mansion in Bolton Street. Her father was violently opposed to the 1913 strike and she recalls serving teas to the farmers who came into town as "Massey's constables". She fell in love with one of them who was Tiny (Bernard) Freyberg.
World War I started while she was at boarding school in Hawkes Bay. They weren't allowed to have newspapers so they got very little news about the war apart from the Auckland Weekly News. The girls cut their butter ration and sent the money saved to the Red Cross and held concerts. When she went home for the holidays she saw lots of entertainment and balls being put on for soldiers and she used to help her aunt give them suppers. She fell in love with a soldier who was later killed. There was very little to do for girls of her position and she got married partly because of the boredom. Her husband taught her to drive and when he went away to war she was able to drive and became more independent.
When the influenza epidemic began at the end of the war, soup kitchens were set up and she volunteered with the car to go and visit boarding houses to see if people were ill or take food and doctors to them. She found the work thrilling as she was finally useful. She describes how quiet Wellington streets were apart from hearses and all businesses and shops were shut.
Part 2: George Davies: Describes his impoverished childhood with his mother having to find enough food each day to feed the family on virtually no income. He remembers taking part in throwing rocks at the constables during the 1913 strike. He recalls war being declared and a procession of men four-abreast marching down to Parliament to offer their services. His four uncles all volunteered and the Christmas before they left they were all in uniform and provided Christmas dinner for his family. His Uncle Bert was killed and George inherited his old dog.
He recalls going to town during the influenza epidemic and the streets were deserted. The only sound you could hear at night was the lorries used to cart the dead bodies away. He helped with the Free Ambulance and took patients to St Pat's School by the Basin Reserve. Some people would be almost unconscious while others would be raving and delirious. People would die very suddenly. A creche was set up in the Town Hall for the orphaned infant and at one time there were 24 children there. George explains that though they were poor his family was close knit so didn't really feel deprived.
Reference number 15569
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Documentary radio programs
Nonfiction radio programs
Blake, Joan Faulkner, Interviewer
Lees, Marjorie Prendergast, 1897-, Interviewee
Swindell, Laurie (b.1914?, d.2009), Interviewer
Davies, George, Interviewee
Owen, Alwyn (b.1926), Producer
Radio New Zealand. National Programme (estab. 1964, closed 1986), Broadcaster
Date 09 Jul 1972