Unearthed treasures

Hidden away in Tauranga Library’s archives are some interesting items that tell stories about early Tauranga.

Some of these relate to the women who have lived in Tauranga since the Suffrage petition was signed 125 years ago. Librarian Stephanie Smith has brought out these relics of yesteryear to display in the cabinets on level two of the city library.

I went to meet Stephanie, and found her dressed in period costume as an early Tauranga lady, Miss Margaret Galbraith.

“Two women in Tauranga signed the petition in 1893,” says Stephanie. “One was Alice Maxwell of The Elms, and the other was Margaret Galbraith.

Margaret was born in 1846, came to Tauranga in 1880 and lived in a house on Sixth Ave.

“The family was well-to-do. Margaret lived quietly, didn’t work outside the home, played the organ in the Presbyterian Church and was musical.

“Her brother, Robert Galbraith, died as mayor of Tauranga aged 32, and her sister was sick too. Margaret was called upon to care for her sick family. It’s extraordinary that she lived a circumscribed life and yet she signed this petition.

“We don’t know a lot about her, but we know she was a Presbyterian lady, so she was likely to be negative about drinking, and would have had a strong sense of truth and justice.”

Stephanie has been telling the story about Women’s Suffrage in Tauranga through inventing the character of Margaret.

“It was a way of telling the story about Women’s Suffrage by telling the story of a woman who lived in Tauranga, without boring my audience,” she explains. “I haven’t been able to find a photo of Margaret, and would love to know if any of her family have one.”

The display Stephanie has set out in the library actually has nothing to do with Margaret Galbraith. The exhibition is called Women’s Lives Matter, and runs until December.

It highlights the lives of individual women, such as Joy Drayton - who was principal of Tauranga Girls’ College for 22 years - and groups, such as the Tauranga Bowling Club.

A small lady-shaped bell was once used by the Women’s Institute of Tauranga South to call their meetings to order. Another display tells part of the story of the women’s emergency corps of World War Two.

“They were so keen and mobilised themselves into a series of committees even before war was declared,” explains Stephanie.

There’s a letter sent from Madame Chiang Kai-shek of China in 1947 to the Tauranga Federation of Women’s Institute, thanking them for looking after Chinese war orphans.

There’s badges, pins, a flag, scrapbooks and an excellent tapestry of the Tauranga Women’s Bowling Club, plus memorabilia from the 1993 Suffrage centenary celebration.

In another 25 years, perhaps a photo of Stephanie dressed as Margaret may appear in the 150th Suffrage celebration display case.