Geek girls unite!

I am something of a fangirl about a variety of things but my main obsessions at this point in time are Star Wars and anything Joss Whedon has ever done, said, or breathed on.

Some people will never understand the levels of devotion and excitement I experience when trawling the action figures aisle at K-Mart, or researching Star Wars cosplay on the Internet…and that’s perfectly okay. I cannot for the life of me understand the appeal of motorsport, and scrapbooking leaves me cold. Each to their own.

Cover of The fangirls' guide to the galaxyThis idea of respecting each others fandoms is a big one in Sam Maggs’ brilliant how-to The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Geek Girls. This book is the self-affirming “I’m okay, you’re okay” tome that geek ladies everywhere have been waiting for. I wasn’t very far into the book before I found myself wondering why on earth noone had written it before. It very obviously needed to exist and Sam Maggs’, fangirl extraodinaire (her cosplay game is on point) and associate editor of geek girl culture site The Mary Sue, is just the woman for the job.

The book celebrates the variety of fandoms that we lady-folk enjoy and it’s actually quite educational. There’s some fangirl terminology explained, (I have an additional use for the word “shipping” now), as well as providing the basics on a range of fandoms, some of which I’m not personally that familiar with, like gaming and anime. The book includes short interviews with some successful fangirl actors, writers, and artists, a rundown on the best “cons” aka fan conventions (sadly all North American though SDCC is on my bucket list) and con etiquette, and a really useful primer on feminism. What exactly is “intersectional feminism” and where do I sign up? This book has got you sorted.

Cover of Ms Marvel 3My favourite chapter is “Your new faves: Kick-ass female characters you need to know” as it’s basically a recommended reading (and watching) list. It’s what turned me on to Ms Marvel, has me adding the movie Haywire to my For Later shelf, and casting my gaze towards Tamora Pierce’s Immortal series. Yes sirree, we librarians like a good book recommendation more than most.

Speaking of which, I’d also highly recommend Felicia Day’s You’re never weird on the Internet (almost). Day swims in much the same sea that The Fangirl’s Guide does. She’s well known as an actor in genre shows like Supernatural, Eureka, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and has always been a nerd and fangirl herself, particularly in the area of MMORPG.

Cover of You're never weird on the internet (almost)Just to give you a notion of Felicia Day’s cultural caché – Joss Whedon wrote the foreword to the book and the back cover features a glowing endorsement from… George R. R. Martin.

So yeah, lady is connected.

But it wasn’t always so. The funniest parts in the book are where Day documents her offbeat childhood of being homeschooled and rather isolated from her peers. In such conditions her weirdness was able to fully ripen (to the benefit of us all). As an awkward oddball, she sought out belonging and community via the only means available to her… the Internet. And she’s been hanging out there, making awesome things happen ever since.

The book is heavy on self-deprecating humour and tells the tale of an awkward child who turned into… an awkward woman. But one who has learned to back herself, make stuff she loves and push on through the bad (addiction, anxiety issues, gamer-gate etc) with humour and whatever the dork equivalent of “grace” is.

Do you have any recommendations for great geek girl reads (or viewing for that matter)?

A small piece of Christchurch’s Antarctic heritage

Christchurch has many links with Antarctica, both modern and historic. This November sees the 105th anniversary of the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition sailing from Lyttelton. Led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and officially known as the British Antarctic Expedition, the expedition ended in disaster when the polar party perished on their way back from the South Pole, having discovered that Roald Amundsen‘s Norwegian party had made it there before them.

Scott and his men had spent some time in Lyttelton and Christchurch before setting sail on the last leg of their sea voyage from the UK. Scott first came to the region in 1901 when he also used Lyttelton as last port of call on his way to Antarctica. This was the British National Antarctic Expedition, also known as the Discovery expedition.

A typescript letter signed by Robert Scott, thanking the City for the gift, from Mr. H. Greenbank, of a mounted horseshoe.
Letter, 15 Nov. 1910, from Robert Falcon Scott, CCL-Archive18-003

Our digital collection includes a couple of nice mementos of these two expeditions, which highlight the Christchurch connection. On both occasions the people of Christchurch gave a gift to the expedition – firstly some sheep and secondly a mounted horseshoe. Scott wrote thank you letters to the town clerk and these are now part of the library’s archives collection and have been digitised.

  • For everything you could ever want to know about Antarctica, take a look at the extensive links on our Antarctica web page.
  • Find out about the Antarctic Heritage Trust‘s quest to restore the historic Ross Island huts of Scott, Shackleton and others

29 days till Christmas…

Cover of The Christmas countdown… yep, that freaked me out too! But in my house, we have the Energizer Bunny version of the Festive Season: with all four of our birthdays falling like dominoes each month from October to January, and our Wedding Anniversary on Christmas Eve (not to mention a dozen or so birthdays in the extended family) the festivities just keep on going and going and going.

The best (and worst!) thing about this crazy time of year is planning the kid’s birthday parties. I love the baking and cake decorating, the planning and searching of the interwebs for party ideas. But I don’t do anything by halves! On party-eve, I’m always up at some ungodly hour of the morning, still working my magic on the sugar-and-food-colouring on chocolate-cake masterpiece that will become the birthday cake. Sometimes the magic is less than forth coming. Stressful? You bet! Rewarding? Absolutely!

cover of Step by step Kids' birthday cakesWith a just-turned-six-year-old, and a nearly-thirteen-year-old, I’ve had plenty of birthday parties to plan and pull off. But last year, for some reason, with the momentous occasion of the Young Lad’s 5th birthday looming (which was to be his first “proper” party, with friends from preschool and all the hoopla) I felt at a complete loss as to what to do. I’d never planned a party for little boys before. What do they do at a party?? I took home book after book on party games, party foodparty themes, and of course party cakes. But the clock was ticking, and I still hadn’t figured out what to do-oo when (miracle of miracles) Step-by-step Kids’ Birthday Cakes fell into my hands.

I showed the Young Lad the Pirate Cake, and everything finally fell into place. Funnily enough, after all my angst, we ended up with pretty traditional games like pass the parcel, pin-the-tale (or in this case the treasure chest), and a treasure hunt (with actual pirate treasure – well, OK, cardboard pirate chests full of chocolate coins). The cake turned out pretty good, I reckon.

pirate cake

I’ve certainly come a long way since Miss Missy’s third birthday, when she requested a Peppa Pig cake. I looked in horror at the amazing creations on the interwebs, and decided that I could probably pull off a picture of Peppa piped atop the cake. The midnight drama that year was the red icing for Peppa’s dress. I added more and more red colouring, the icing turned pinker and pinker, stubbornly refusing to turn red! Then I had an a-ha moment, added some chocolate icing, and came up with perfect Peppa red.

Cover of 50 easy party cakesSince then, I’ve turned more to the library for inspiration, and have created my own versions of cakes from several of the books in the catalogue.

I love Debbie Brown’s books, the instructions are really easy to follow, and I’ve used quite a few of her designs now. I found the perfect cake for Missy Missy’s pony party in  Debbie Brown’s 50 Easy Party Cakes. It really was easy! Honest! And it survived the near disaster of having the oven door slammed, which jarred the mane off one of the ponies (and I’d put it in the oven FOR SAFE KEEPING!)

pony cake

The kids and I drooled over More Cakes for Kids and the Young Lad chose the fire engine cake. It turned out almost too good, because he was desperately upset when we cut it up and ate it!

fire engine cake

Cover of Celebration CupcakesThis year’s wonderful discovery was Tamara Jane’s Celebration Cupcakes. I used her royal icing recipe to make Gingerbread Hulks, and her floodwork instructions to create superhero cupcake toppers. I had a lot of fun making them, but when the Young Lad saw the Hulks, he informed me “I can do it betterer than you, Mum!” and proceeded to amaze me with his piping skills. Our top tip from this year’s cakery is to use little zip-lock bags for piping the royal icing. That way, the icing stays where it should (inside the bag, not squirting out the back and all over your hands) and the icing stays nice and fresh, even while you wait for things to dry before adding more details. We just snipped the corner of the bags, but I imagine you could put a piping nozzle in it if you wanted to.

superhero cupcakes

OK, I’ll admit it – this blog post was mostly an excuse to show off, and redeem myself after sharing the story of my culinary failures. But a little bit of shameless self-promotion is alright now and then, right?

Bookish Books

Cover of The Truth According to UsI confess I picked The Truth According to Us based solely on the fact that Annie Barrows was involved in the writing of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which has been one of the few book club style books that I’ve really enjoyed — it’s light and funny in tone despite its occasionally grim subject (some World War Two anecdotes), and it includes my favourite trope: characters who love to read. Generally this will catapult it onto my list of comfort reads, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was no exception.

12 year old Willa Romeyn, one of the main characters in The Truth According to Us, is obviously a kindred spirit. Throughout the book she surreptitiously re-reads her aunt’s copy of Gone with the Wind several times, and she has to visit the library every day in order to replenish her reading material. Willa is also unspeakably nosy, a trait I’m afraid I share. Being on the cusp of adolescence she is starting to notice the half-truths and lies adults are telling, and she sets about finding out their secrets for herself. (This always ends well, right?)

In 1938 senator’s daughter Layla Beck arrives in the Romeyn household as a boarder, a new member of the Federal Writers’ Project, having been cut off from her allowance for not marrying her father’s choice of husband. Initially she sees her time in the town of Macedonia as an ordeal to be got through until her father relents and lets her come home; however, she is soon captivated by the town, the Romeyn family, and, to her own surprise, the history she is writing.

While it’s not a slim read and the point of view does jump around a bit, Jottie Romeyn (Willa’s aunt and caregiver) won me over. Witty and clever and betrayed by the past, she tries unsuccessfully to protect her family from the judgement of the town. I wish I could invite her over for a big jug of iced tea.

Cover of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Cover of The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry Cover of 84 Charing Cross Road Cover of The Uncommon Reader

I’m in the mood for another comfort read, so I’ve compiled a list of Bookish Books. Are there any I’ve missed that I should add? Or, if you’ve read The Truth According to Us, what did you think? It reminded me a lot in tone of Crooked Heart, so if you liked that (or vice versa) perhaps try the other.

Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the City of Light, 1939-45

Cover of LisbonThe great Italian poet Dante Alighieri once said, “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality”. I generally agree with that sentiment when I look back on history and the lamentable omissions of leaders.

However, I’m reminded from time to time that geopolitical life isn’t always as simple as it seems … especially after reading baffling books like Neill Lochery’s Lisbon: War in the Shadows of the city of Light, 1939-45.

Lisbon covers the history of Portugal during WW2 under the dictator General Salazar, as he navigates the seas of non-alignment – among other seemingly unethical things.
Make no mistake, Salazar was a shrewd economist and politician, but opposed liberalism, democracy, socialism and anarchism (there being a strong anarchist movement in Europe at the time). Basically it was a fascist, authoritarian regime which persecuted lots of people.

But, despite the fascism that Lochery describes, the Salazar regime achieved the seemingly impossible during WW2 – Portugal being one of the few windows of escape from German occupied Europe for tens of thousands of persecuted Jews. Who then made their way to America, South America, England and Palestine.

However, not only was Portugal an avenue for escape for Europe’s Jews, its neutrality meant it was a swirling frenzy of desperate humans, all trying to get theirs in an environment wracked with widespread espionage and a bountiful black market (other war refugees, human trafficking, bribery, commercial dealings). Strangely, despite the authoritarian Portuguese regime with its secret police, laissez-faire Lisbon was a city where foreign operatives could to what they wanted, as long as Portugal’s internal affairs where left alone.

Therefore, Lisbon became a hive of WW2 undercover operations as German, English and American agents attempted to buy people, information and documentation in order to sabotage the other teams interests. One noteworthy individual in the midst of it all was Ian Fleming, who conceived his James Bond stories as a result of his experiences as an agent frequenting bars and gambling in Lisbon (think Casino Royale).

So, with all this carry-on comes intimate stories of individual brilliance and blundering as various agents, politicians, public servants and officials cleverly secured passage for escaping Jews and other scared peoples. The story of actor Leslie Howard’s (Gone With The Wind) death is relayed to us, as he and several other Jewish and English persons of interest are shot down in a plane leaving Lisbon. German counter-intelligence hoping Churchill was in there too. All rather thrilling!

Salazar’s economic dealings were a tightrope walk. He needed to keep his economy afloat, all the while keeping the Allies and Germans happy with critical exports for their own war efforts – export too much and one side gets angry at you, export too little and Hitler might get suspicious and invade you like he did the rest of mainland Europe. The pressure really must have been unbearable at times for Salazar, who was surrounded in Europe by Fascist Spain and Italy in the South, and Fascist Germany controlling much of Europe – any solid evidence of collaborating with the English and Portugal would have been pincered.

The author does well to convey the tension and apprehension of the people on the streets and in political office – as if time was running out to move the tide of refugees and information on to safer shores, before Hitler rumbles into town. In this respect this work reminds me of the film Casablanca. If you like that, then you will like this.

It leaves me a bit perplexed in terms of my own ethical principles, because Salazar was in many ways a tyrant. But that’s the thing I like about this book – it gives you insights into the decision making processes of those in leadership, without whom, many more lives would have been ruined.

Despite developing an appreciation for Salazar’s war time leadership, he was still a fascist. Give me liberal democracy any day.

Oh, and i’ts a beautiful book cover too.


Last Friday I was invited to the Aranui High School Music Block as the “library representative” to BRAVE- Daisy Poetry Promenade and her very special guests. Being the uncultured and not very creative heathen that I am, I wasn’t in the slightest prepared for this mind-blowing space collaboration of Samoan heritage, arts, music, and the poetry of Daisy herself. Just to put things into perspective, I know Daisy in a rugby-sense, that power that she exudes so effortlessly on the rugby field is ever present in her art, music, and this poetry promenade.

Daisy - Photo Credit: Joseph O'Sullivan Photography
Daisy. Photo Credit: Joseph O’Sullivan Photography

There were six stages in the promenade, our group of 60-odd was split into two groups and as we passed each other from stage to stage you could sense both the anticipation of the next space and excitement fizzing over from the last visited space.

In the first space: Vasa (vasa is the Samoan word for sea or open ocean) – Daisy’s family took centre stage with husband Seta Timo picking a traditional Samoan hymn on the double bass, followed by daughter Hadassah – all of seven years old – relating her experience as a second-generation NZ born Samoan in the poem “I am a teine Samoa.” Daisy and Hadassah spoke of the fibres of their lives being interwoven like a fine mat, this for me, was the perfect analogy of the richness and beauty of the whole performance.

The different stages wove the strands of Daisy and her life thus far, showcasing the musical Pasifika talents of Christchurch including DJ Infared – fresh off an international DJ tour, Christchurch’s premier session band – The Judah Band, Nathan Phillips, Zion Tauamiti, and some massive gospel talent with Lady Julz representing South Auckland. Each stage was threaded together by Daisy’s poetry, and there was also an emergence of new poetic talent incorporated in Annabel Ariki and Maddie Mills of Cashmere High School.

The integration of the Samoan culture was something to behold, captured by Joseph O’Sullivan and John Ross. O’Sullivan and Ross emboldened some of Christchurch’s pe’a, malofie (pe’a or malofie is the Samoan tatau – tattoo –  for men) and malu (Samoan tatau for women wearers – including Daisy) to tell the tales of their tatau through videography and photography. The moving full-length contents of these interviews and some of the images will eventually be gifted to high schools in Christchurch to include in their Samoan Language curriculum.

In parallel to Daisy’s oratory capabilities, the last stage was a re-enactment of a si’i alofa, which is a gift giving ritual that takes place at a wedding or funeral. The si’i alofa is usually a place where the chiefly Samoan language is spoken, they speak poetically and in metaphors and make reference to history, myths and legends, and the natural world. Like the si’i alofa, in the words of Daisy herself, at the centre of it all is love.

This collaborative space project was enabled largely through the love of many people; people that share a love for the arts, Samoan culture and ultimately the drive, vision and love of one woman, Daisy Lavea-Timo who is well beyond Brave. This show is one that will no doubt be shared on all creative platforms and stages not just here in Christchurch but further afield.

Read more

Cover of The Elocutionist Cover of Ua tālā le ta'ui

November 17th was World Premature Birth Day and I missed it…

Cover of Just A Moment Too SoonThank goodness though I can scrape into World Prematurity Awareness Week, well, I could if I lived in Australia. My awareness is only due to my thoughtful library colleagues alerting me. You see, they have lived vicariously through the birth of my little grandson at 24 weeks and 5 days gestation. Also through the trials and tribulations he and his loving parents are still experiencing, so you understand why I am writing this blog late rather than never.

The Empire State Building was lit purple for World Prematurity Day. I think that gives you an idea of how big an issue “early birth” is and how the numbers are increasing worldwide. 15 million babies are born early every year. Some very early; some just a few weeks early.

The stress for them and their families is unimaginable. They are so very tiny and apart from the fight for survival they could potentially suffer brain bleeds, necrotising enterocolitis, heart malformations, bowel malformations, visual and hearing impairment, lung disease or learning disabilities. They also grow considerably more slowly outside the uterus and frequently take some years to achieve the growth rate of their peers.

Cover of Coming Home from the NICUMy grandson Ari, classed as “just viable”, was born weighing 700gms which is one and a half pounds of butter to those who struggle with baby weights in metric as I do. He was also born in the U.K. and we live in Christchurch, New Zealand, adding to our stress time and again over the following tense months. Waiting for communications from our daughter’s partner; trying to find out how he was… What happens now apart from the obvious breathing tube down his throat, wires attached to him all over (there wasn’t a lot of all over to attach them to either), incubator, etc?

For the mother there is also the sense of loss of pregnancy. She may grieve for what should have been a time of blooming and pleasure. No more sickness, just a blossoming baby. When the due date of baby arrives it is frequently a day of tears.

Cover of Ready for AirFortunately for all of us Ari is a wee fighter which is as well as he has chronic lung disease. This means he is still on oxygen and still in hospital at 5 months old – his actual age – but if you consider he was due in mid-September and it’s now mid-November, he is 2 months old.

The library was a good source of information, both in terms of what to expect and of the biographical aspects of premature birth.  It was good to be able to read heart warming stories of babies who survive their traumatic starts, grow into stroppy teens and healthy adults.

Were you a premmy?  I have met so many adults who were born early, but you would never have guessed it.  Have you been down this road within your family?

Around the Book Groups: October

The All Girl Filling Stations Last ReunionIf September was a Goldilocks and the Three Bears reading month, October veered more towards Little Red Riding Hood. The Innocent Reader and the lurking Big Bad Wolf both played their part this month.

It all started innocently enough with Fannie Flagg’s The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion. Set in Alabama, Southern Belle Sookie (and her equally weirdly named daughters), seems set for a peaceful retirement. Then, out of the blue, she is hit by a life crisis of epic proportions. It’s not scary, more Sookie skipping through the forest with a basket of sweet nothings while WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) planes pirouette overhead. If you are after a happy-ending holiday read, this may be the tickety-boo (as Sookie might say).

Black Rabbit HallBlack Rabbit Hall, on the other hand, is all about the setting. Not a forest in this case, but a building. The story starts ominously and just ratchets the tension up from there on in. Could a building possess a more dysfunctional presence is the big question? And why would anyone want to get married there? But Lorna does. And she wasn’t the only one to be lured in by this brooding ruin. Tragedy, ghosts, hidden secrets and an ominous atmosphere ticked all the boxes for one of my book groups this month.

Colorless Tsukuru TazakiBut my best book group read of the month – in fact now one of my best books of the year – is Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. If you have so far run screaming through the woods away from  Murakami, this book (along with his novel Norwegian Wood) makes for a very accessible starting point. Imagine this – your four best friends suddenly dump you with no explanation when you are in your early twenties. Eventually, in order to save your sanity,  you decide to track them down to find out why this happened. It is a subtly tense read – absolutely gripping.

It was a month in which false identities “What big eyes you have grandma”, dark foreboding surroundings and lurking unease made up a terrific trio of book group reads. Whatever will November bring?

Geraldine Brooks and the Pulitzer Surprise!

The Secret ChordWhen Geraldine Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for her first novel March in 2006, she had no idea that her book was even up for consideration. At home with her eight year old son, painting figurines, she did not even believe the first caller. Her little boy answered the door when a florist delivery came and said: “Mummy can’t come now, she is having a Pulitzer Surprise!”

And last night in Christchurch at a WORD Christchurch event, The People of the Book were out in full force to hear Pulitzer prizewinning author Geraldine Brooks chat about writing and her most recent novel The Secret Chord. There – in Rangi Ruru’s beautiful new theatre – sat a petite, young Geraldine Brooks and her interviewer, Morrin Rout (wearing it must be said, distractingly eye-catching brick pattern tights). Let the excitement begin!

MarchGeraldine was originally a journalist who worked in the Australasian Bureau of The Wall Street Journal – a job which taught her that you can’t write around what you don’t know. She admitted to a New Zealand connection for her front page story on our research into Climate Change and Methane Gases – with its catchy title: The Farting Sheep Story.

When she talks about writing, Brooks several times made mention of finding the void in a theme and filling it:

Historical fiction works best when you have some blanks to fill. The trick is to let the story tell you what you need to know.

people of the BookThe viewpoints of different women is often the way for Brooks to get a fresh view on an old story that we think we know. It is still so true that you can get to powerful men through the women in their lives and she ranks an afternoon tea with Ayatollah Khomeini’s wife Khadijeh as one of the most remarkable afternoons of her life.

On her latest book The Secret Chord, she said her interest became piqued when her son asked for classical harp lessons (she’d been hoping for the recorder) and that David appealed to her as a character because every single thing that life can fling at you seemed to happen to him. She was particularly interested in how women affected David and how they wielded power in subtle ways.

Best of all Geraldine Brooks would slot right into any one of my book groups, her reading tastes are so similar. She is currently enjoying The Chimes by Anna Smaill (2015 Man Booker Prize longlist); thinks that the best book she has ever read is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (who won the Pulitzer Prize the year before her in 2005); is a big admirer of Hilary Mantel and can’t wait for her next book and (Geraldine was born in Sydney) she admires Tim Winton‘s writing as well.

I’d had an evening of minor mishaps prior to this event: a near miss at the restaurant where I was to meet my colleague (we sat waiting for one another in different parts of the venue). Then we held up the signing queue trying to get my photograph taken with this wonderful author – in the end the photo was out of focus. In the confusion, Geraldine misheard and signed the wrong name in the book. It took time for her to draw flowers over the mistake and insert the correct name (that copy is now valuable!). Finally I lost my car keys and had what felt like the entire theatre in an upheaval helping me look for them. You’d be forgiven for thinking “I wish I’d also gone to hear Geraldine Brooks – just not with them!”

But, I drove home on a high – so happy to be in the car, moving through my mundane surroundings to my precious home, and all the time thinking: I have met a Pulitzer Prize winner. I am so fortunate.

We have Geraldine Brooks’ works in book, eBook, and eAudiobook format.

You can also listen to Geraldine talk about The Secret Chord on RadioNZ.

You are free and strong. Go forward and lead on.

You are in front! Behind you are all the women in the world and all the children! Keep moving forward. Do not stop to blame those who are behind. Remember that they are weighted with what remains of all the shackles of all the women of the past; they cannot step forth free. But you are free and strong. Go forward and lead on.

Elizabeth Reid McCombs, née Henderson (1873-1935) [between 1919 and 1925] Mrs McCombs became New Zealand's first woman MP, for the Lyttelton electorate in 1933.
Elizabeth Reid McCombs, née Henderson (1873-1935) [between 1919 and 1925] CCL PhotoCD 6, IMG0028
Mrs McCombs became New Zealand’s first woman MP, for the Lyttelton electorate in 1933.
Stirring words written in July 1914 by Elizabeth McCombs: her article “Women in politics” still has relevance today.

So who was New Zealand’s first woman Member of Parliament?

  • Elizabeth (Bessie) Reid Henderson was born at Kaiapoi on 19 November 1873. She was the eighth of nine children, and despite the death of her father when she was 13, she stayed at school until aged 16.
  • In 1899 she became a committee member of the Progressive Liberal Association, a group that had as one of its aims the removal of barriers to women’s participation in civil and political life.
  •  A prohibitionist, she was the first president of the Young People’s No License League (1902-1905) and was a prominent figure in the New Zealand Women’s Christian Temperance Union
  • In 1903 Elizabeth married draper James McCombs. They had two children, Terence and Alison. They also raised two orphans.
  • When the second NZ Labour Party was formed in 1916, Elizabeth was elected onto the executive and her husband was elected President. He had been elected the M.P for Lyttelton in 1913, and held the seat until his death in 1933
  • She served on the Christchurch City Council from 1921-1934, where she was very active on committees – being appointed to the electricity committee in 1925 and chaired the Electricity Committee in 1929, and 1931-1935. She fought to win ratepayers the lowest domestic electricity rates in the country.
  • From 1925-1934 Elizabeth was also a member of the North Canterbury Hospital Board, and served on the Board’s Benevolent Committee. She worked to improved the quality of meals for nurses and patients, nurses’ working conditions, and the situation of the unemployed – remembering that the Great Depression started in 1929.
  • In 1926 Elizabeth’s name was included in the first group of women to be made Justices of the Peace in New Zealand.
  • 1927  first woman representative on the Christchurch Tramway Board, and in 1933 was elected to the committee managing the mayor’s Relief of Distress Fund
  • Following the death of her husband in 1993, Elizabeth won the Lyttelton by-election with a huge majority – over 50% of the 10,347 votes cast were for her, recognition of her work over the previous ten years.
  • In 1935 she was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal

During her two year tenure as M.P. , Elizabeth proved herself a skilled and effective orator, advocating for women’s rights – attacking a government unemployment policy that gave little assistance to unemployed women, not even including them in statistics, yet working women paid unemployment tax. She advocated for women police officers, and equal pay for women, as well as for unemployed youth and the need for New Zealand industries to be established so as to reduce unemployment

The huge workload took its toll, and Elizabeth’s health suffered as a result. She died in Christchurch on 7 June 1935.  Her son Terence succeeded to her parliamentary seat. The McCombs Memorial Garden in Woolston Park commemorates the lives of Elizabeth and James McCombs.

  Cover of My Dear Girl: A Biography of Elizabeth McCombs Cover of Marching on  Cover of Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan  Cover of The Book of New Zealand Women = Ko Kui Ma Te Kaupapa

Further reading