Auckland Women’s Community Video
A Lost Archive?
Auckland Women’s Community Video (AWCV, 1976-about 1986) has become a kind of ghost in the herstorical archive, far too soon. I hate it, that their work has almost disappeared.
Take Slipping Away (1985) for instance, a video about The Freudian Slips, a feminist band Jenny Renalls formed in 1981. It’s possible that Slipping Away, or the raw footage it was made from, is this item in Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision. But I’m not sure. So I’m asking around, hoping to learn more. And there’s another short Freudian Slips item in the Ngā Taonga collection, too, Deviance.
The Freudian Slips’ membership varied, including between five and nine women and sometimes all-lesbian and sometimes a mixture of lesbian and straight women. The band released two EP records, in On the Line in 1983 and Are You Laughing in1985, covering topics that included periods, women and Catholicism, how super-heroes are always men, the right of women not to have orgasms, and police harassment. And yes, there are some entries in the National Library catalogue that refer to sound tapes. But no film.
According to Doreen Agassiz Suddens’ Lesbian Music of New Zealand, AWCV completed Slipping Away in the band’s last three weeks and Hilary Haines’ description of the video published in Broadsheet, is intriguing–
‘…imaginatively filmed and set against a soundtrack of Freudian Slips music. Members of the band [do a bit of talking here and there, but mostly it’s music all the way and it sounds great. What a shame they’ve disbanded — I’ve just become a fan’.
Or, consider AWCV’s Single Mothers Speak Out, a 50 minute tape for Council for the Single Mother and her Child, commissioned by the medical school for its community health lectures, as material on how single mothers felt about their treatment from doctors. Is there a copy anywhere in the world? A playable copy, that has been conserved, or even digitised? Haven’t found one so far.
And there were lots more tapes, including a collection from the Opening Show at the Women’s Gallery in Wellington (1980), now deteriorating in the National Library, uncatalogued and unviewed for 35 years or so; a few interviews with women like writer Jacquie Sturm have somehow survived and been digistised.
I’m looking for more, to screen in association with This Joyous, Chaotic Place, an exhibition at Mokopōpaki in Auckland opening 1 March 2018, about poet and activist Heather McPherson and her peers in feminist art and publishing groups, especially the Christchurch Women Artists’ Group, The Women’s Gallery and the publishing collective she founded, Spiral. The exhibition, a Women’s Suffrage 125th Anniversary project partially funded by Creative New Zealand, will open 1 March and run for six weeks.
Although I’m deeply disappointed so much has been lost, thanks to some Fiona Clark images taken for the Women’s Gallery and held at the Alexander Turnbull Library, I was thrilled to see the two AWCV women who taped us all — individually and in a group — at the Women’s Gallery Opening Show, in Wellington in January 1980. A research snap of one of these women, of Kanya (then Carole) Stewart and Nancy Peterson heads this post. Here’s another, of Nancy.
So what’s the story of the AWCV? I know only a little bit, thanks to what I’ve been told and to the ever-trusty Broadsheet.
Back in 1975, a group of women in Auckland took part in a video workshop advertised outside the cinema where an International Women’s Film Festival was screening. After that the group used borrowed and rented equipment to cover conferences, hold workshops and make tapes. That group became the Auckland Women’s Community Video Incorporated (AWCV) in 1976.
This is how Liz Eastmond became involved — ‘After attending and helping with the posters etc for the International Womens Year Film Festival 1975, I remember seeing a notice at the cinema (Lido, Epsom, from memory) for a ‘start-up’ womens video group, with the aim of covering mainly women’s isssues from a feminist (prob ‘Women’s Lib’ at the time) perspective. We were initially I think supported — or maybe it was advertised by — Robin Scholes, who then, like me, was a lecturer at the University of Auckland’s Art History Department. She then became a lecturer in the Film and Media Studies Dept and one of New Zealand’s major film/documentary makers.’
According to a Broadsheet report (Jul 1978; n.61:p.13–14) uncredited, but apparently provided by the group, many of the twenty or so members were feminists and saw video as a way to disseminate feminist views. Others were more interested in the technical side. Some were interested in video’s artistic potential.
Some of them were more deeply involved in filmmaking than others. Kanya Stewart began work as a filmmaker at the National Film Unit [sold in 1990] where she ‘worked as one of the first women editors in the 1970s, and then worked as documentary editor in television. The Street, Some of My Best Friends Are Women and the Women(1) series were some of the films I worked on during those years, all ground-breaking films which were controversial in their time. The Women series was commissioned by TV One, and for the first time ever was made by an all-women crew at a time when it was still rare for women to work as directors, and on camera and sound’.
Kanya also produced Even Dogs Are Given Bones, with Huia Lambie and Mary Hancock, about the women workers at the Rixen clothing factory in Levin, who had occupied the factory in protest. Huia liaised with the women who were occupying the factory and did the interviewing: ‘racism was very much an issue…Huia was the perfect choice for the role and she was also involved in decisions around editing’ says Kanya.
Even Dogs Are Given Bones includes a classic Mereana Pitman song and Kanya ‘has a feeling’ that Mereana was invited to write the song as well as to sing it.
At the time, the focus on audience and distribution was crucial. For Even Dogs Are Given Bones, trade unions and women’s groups throughout New Zealand were key, with Australian distribution via ‘a women’s group in Sydney’. Kanya made contact with TVNZ sometime after Even Dogs Are Given Bones was completed, to discuss the possibility of having it screened on national TV. ‘They were keen to show it’, she says, but told her that the quality of the medium wasn’t up to broadcast standard, very disappointing for the group.
Among the known members, in alphabetical order, are —
Briar (Miller/Millar?) ‘who was a very talented camera woman’, according to Mary Debrett.
Elizabeth (Liz) Eastmond, an art history academic at University of Auckland was also a member and is the woman featured in the [Broadsheet] article.
Jessica Skippon who was responsible for organising the group’s incorporation Mary Debrett — ‘Jessica was married to Tom Cook who was the head of Via Com, then the premier commercial video production facility in Auckland–later changed hands and became Communicado I believe…Jessica brought some professional TV know how to the group…She now lives in London’.
Kanya (Carole) Stewart 1979–1982. ‘At some point in the late ’80s someone asked about what to do with the tapes. I was by that stage in no position to do anything.’
Lee Lee Heah
Mary Debrett — ‘I probably left the group around 1980 when I went to work for TVNZ as a videotape editor. I made my documentary Land Girls in 1981 and it screened in a Country Calendar slot in January 1982 I believe. It is recorded in the Ngā Taonga catalogue [and in the National Library catalogue]. I must have given the off-cuts to WCV — sorry long time ago so I don’t recall the details. There are a few other credits for me on Ngā Taonga, and one on NZ Screen — edited a Koha doco [viewable at the link] on Ramai Hayward, directed by Chas Toogood. I left NZ in 1997 and enrolled in a PhD at La Trobe where I taught Media Studies until retiring in 2015.
Mary During/Miriam Kauders, who saw When The Party’s Over on the Ngā Taonga catalogue list below and told me that it is a fiction about a young woman getting pregnant and was written by Ana Harrison. Clare O’Leary and Louise Rafkin were both involved and Louise took the primary director role.
Nancy Peterson — ‘I had tapes at Keppell St but ran out of energy to do anything with them. Lele had gone home and come back and was pretty disappointed the group had collapsed. I can’t remember when that was, my involvement was about 1977 to 1982 or so.’
Pauline Buchannan (McGregor) who introduced Mary Debrett to the group in 1975- 76 ‘but dropped out soon after I recall’, writes Mary.
Wendy Vaigro, an art history academic and enthusiast of the avant garde — now living in or near Napier, Mary Debrett thinks.
For Kanya, ‘becoming involved with Women’s Community Video in the late 1970s was a way of working at grass roots level, teaching and working with women who wanted an accessible vehicle of expression for their own reality at a time when the media reflected primarily male, heterosexual views and values. Film can be a powerful means for positive change. That was my motivation for becoming involved, to present a view point which was not mainstream, one that I always hoped would make people think and see things in a different way’.
For Mary Debrett — ‘All of the members of the group were feminists when I was a member. That was the point of it. We wanted to empower women and to promote women’s rights and aimed to do this by producing tapes that could be used to facilitate discussion within other community groups and to produce tapes that would assist with consciousness raising.’
Liz Eastmond has a similar view — ‘I see the group as a part of the then wider ‘consciousness-raising’ movement women were involved in in mainly western countries in the late sixties and early seventies. Meetings, discussion, research and the topics covered inevitably ‘empowered’ us as a group, with the screenings informing others and generating debate and, critically, we hoped, social change.
Basically taking our own experience and histories into our own hands was, at the time, a genuinely exciting experience, with the acquiring of technical skills necessary also giving us a liberating sense of agency in the context of a wider society still very much male-dominated and in charge of the media.’
‘The most attractive thing about video is its simplicity’, wrote the group, in Broadsheet. The members used a portapak, something like ‘an ordinary tape deck’, with a camera plugged in for taping and with a monitor: ‘apart from the special care with which everything is handled operating is very straightforward’.
All tapes (at the time of the Broadsheet article) were 1/2" black and white and some could be played on a ‘cartridge machine’ as well as a portapak. But, as the Even Dogs Are Given Bones experience showed, quality was a problem; and changing technology affected the work’s longevity.
According to Liz Eastmond — ‘We acquired (a grant? I can’t remember) a Portapak open reel film system (not correct description) — a revolutionary new (ish) development in film technology (from around late 60s early 70s, America) which immediately made film-making accessible to ordinary people/community groups because it was cheap, portable and easy to learn to use. It was seen as enabling major social change in keeping with counter-cultural and left politics of the day.
Mary Debrett explains further — ‘I am afraid there will not be much left of the work of WCV — a problem of the rapidly evolving analogue video formats of the time. The group mostly shot on the half inch open reel using the first video portapaks, the first truly democratic video format. This would need to have been transferred to another format to have been playable on a cassette machine. The open reel half inch format was quite rapidly replaced by the U-matic cartridge which was 3/4 inch at first then became the half inch home video format that proliferated across homes until the DVD displaced them — but of course there were also I/4 inch Hi 8 as well in there somewhere before the digital revolution…basically that’s why nothing much remains of the work. It rapidly became an orphan format and nobody much outside AV centres ever had the portapaks.’
Sue Fitchett remembers — that ‘the University of Auckland Video studio was helpful to us but I have forgotten the names who helped us with equipment; editing etc. and then there was the school out in South Auckland and their video suite — where I filmed some of the ECT tape — was it Otahuhu College? Memories of our showings at e.g. Auckland Women’s Health Centre include the fears and actualities of equipment breaking down — the vagaries of reel to reel.’
Sound was an issue, too, according to Nancy Peterson– ‘We had a tape of Charlotte Bunch speaking at the 1979 Women’s Convention in Hamilton but the sound quality was awful, some kind of interference in the auditorium at Waikato University. Sound was always the most difficult part of taping’.
Liz Eastmond remembers — ‘As a group of women — I remember now mainly Pauline McGregor, Nancy Peterson, Dianne Percy, Sue Fitchett — we met regularly and covered a number of feminist and other related events, including women’s experience of the health service, on abortion, on ECT therapy, solo mums, on Ivan Illich’s lecture(s) at Auckland University, on Shere Hite’s, various women’s conventions, a trade union meeting at Eden park(?), and produced a series of screenplays! which we performed and filmed at Vidcom studios. (The latter made possible by one of the group’s husband being employed there. We had never used this type of equipment before, but nevertheless launched into it with the result one days use of this studio!) This included a mock newscast, a rape trial and other sequences I can’t remember now. I do remember the screening of this took place at the University’s Maidment Theatre.’
As well as the tapes already mentioned, over about a decade, the group made many other tapes. In 1976, the group taped the Pacific Islands Women’s Conference and the Women’s Festival in Albert Park. It made a tape on Women and the Medical Profession for NOW (National Organisation for Women, founded 1972 and modelled on the United States NOW, with its last branch, in Christchurch closing in 2002).
AWCV collaborated with the Women’s Centre Drama Group for a Suffrage Day performance of Herstory, at the Maidment Theatre. For Herstory, it made The Game of Life about abortion, along TV gameshow lines (30 minutes) The Rape Trial (20 minutes) and The Committee (20 minutes), about how the story of Adam and Eve came into being. Members of the group filmed visiting feminists, too: Charlotte Bunch at the United Women’s Convention in Hamilton (held in Ngā Taonga); and interviewed Shere Hite. (‘We were amazed how how striking she was in real life’, says Sue Fitchett.)
‘There were some memorable interviews with rape survivors’, says Nancy Peterson, ‘but if those surface, can’t show them without permission of the survivor’.
In the mid 80s, AWCV interviewed women active in the campaign for homosexual law reform, including a Māori and Pacifica group; and filmed an associated concert, MCed by Jools Topp, and the rough footage is held by Ngā Taonga, thanks to the Auckland Women’s Centre. According to Sue Fitchett, here was one on the Auckland women’s refuge and a series of of the challenging writer Ivan Illich (amongst his books was Medical Nemesis — in which he wrote about the risks of things like antibiotic resistance). He gave several lectures in Auckland — Auckland University and AWCV filmed them all.
And there was one that Sue Fitchett made about ECT, with money from women psychologists. Mary Debrett remembers ‘…being involved with a production that was a discussion amongst women who had received shock treatment in Auckland having all been referred by the one doctor, a rather overly enthusiastic exponent of its use. Their testimony was truly shocking. Some would likely have been diagnosed as suffering postnatal depression today. One spoke of how as a newly arrived migrant, young wife and new mother she had been isolated; her doctor’s response to her understandable depression was electro convulsive therapy. It was very shocking testimony.
Giving voice to women who had suffered at the hands of overbearing male authority figures was pretty radical at that time.
It was also a time when we were fighting for the right to choose. I can remember going to an abortion speak-out at the then Jean Batten Women’s Centre in Auckland where women who had had backyard abortions spoke out. They were horrific stories. No men or media were allowed in and I can’t remember if WCV recorded anything. I suspect not but I mention it as context to the times.
I was part of the group when we recorded Single Mothers Speak Out About Their Lives. Joss Shawyer, who was the driving force behind the Auckland Single Mothers Support Centre at the time was part of that discussion. It is possible that she would have a copy of the tape. I was also part of the group when we recorded Shere Hite, which was extremely interesting particularly for the male responses, and also part of the group recording the United Women’s Convention at Christchurch [?Hamilton]. I was also a member of the Auckland Women’s Centre at the time and I recall we were all quite closely interconnected with feminist events and activities.’
The collective also purchased and screened and rented feminist videos made outside Aotearoa New Zealand.
Can You Help?
I’ve had some lovely help from women who were part of the AWCV, but some of them can’t (yet) be found. Nor can the tapes, though some may be among those uncatalogued at Ngā Taonga.(2)
Mary Debrett’s comment is typical — ‘I may have had a few copies of some of the items we made, but having moved countries and moved homes several times since then I don’t think I have them any more unfortunately’.
Do you know of tapes out there, or under your bed, or in your shed? If so, I’d love to hear from you.
I also have some screenshots of unidentified women in AWCV’s raw footage of the homosexual law reform interviews and a concert in the mid-80s. If you think you can help with identification, please don’t hesitate to let me know and I’ll link you to the images on Dropbox.
Finally, a recent Ministry of Culture & Heritage Suffrage125 post included these clips from Ngā Taonga’s Auckland Women’s Centre Anniversary Day 1976 (F59840). Do any of you recognise this as an AWCV production?
(1) Women, as described by Deidre McCartin, (in Deborah Shepard’s Reframing Women: A History of New Zealand Film, 2000)
‘I went to the Department of Education and told them that Television One wanted to make a major series of documentaries on women but of course that was a very expensive operation and it clearly had a high educational component and we wondered whether the Department of Education would care to support it. They were wonderful … and came up with a figure of $15k to support it [$120k nowadays].
I hightailed it back to Television One and said “there’s a strong pressure growing in both the public and in government departments that we are not serving women’s needs in television adequately … The Department of Education feels so strongly about it that they would like to put $15k into it” which was a very exciting idea for poor old broadcasting controllers worrying about budgets.
… And then I told another lie and I don’t mind being quoted because if you live in a Machiavellian society you have to learn a few tricks. I said, “of course, the Department of Education have made it conditional on it being an all-female crew” which was my own notion of course. At first, I was told, “no way babe. There aren’t any sound people. There aren’t any camera people”. Then I lost my temper, “look, I’m tired of hearing this. I want an all female crew and I’m going to keep fighting until I get one” … Finally, they agreed.’
The series includes (and next year I hope to organise a screening of them)–
When the Honeymoon is Over (domestic violence)
When Did You Last See Yourself on TV?
Māori Women in a Pakeha World
Marriage: Is it a Health Hazard?
The Women in Your Life Is You (Women’s Sexuality)
Who Cares About Childcare?
According to the wonderful Louise Hutt (maker of Online Heroines), when the series screened in 1976, Helen Clark wrote into the Auckland Star newspaper to defend it after a bunch of letters to the editor were super critical of it: “Unfortunately, Garth Gilmour’s wounded pride prevents him from making a rational assessment of the merits of the programme”!
The Women episodes in the TVNZ Collection are on Digibeta and Beta SP. TVNZ transferred its archive to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage in 2014 . It is based in Avalon and Ngā Taonga runs it. TVNZ and Ngā Taonga are consulting about digitisation of Women. Sheilas: 28 Years On (2004), directed by Annie Goldson and Dawn Hutchinson, with Maire Gunn on camera, follows some of the women in Women.
(2) Ngā Taonga’s entries for ‘Auckland Women’s Community Video’
Original notes for Ngā Taonga Archive Box currently numbered 2003.7259 include ‘All tapes are unidentified, no titles or headings: some tapes have mould’. And then Ngā Taonga checked further and kindly provided more details…
‘8 x 1/2" Reels unlabelled
1 X1/2" Broken cassette unlabelled
2 x 30 minute Umatic unlabelled
1 x 10minute Umatic “ TITLES, Margaret Palmer?”
1/2 “ 18cm Reel — “Video Access Centres”
v79 1x 1/2" Reel Titled “Carole Stewart? Women’s Community Video — The Receiving of Simone
v87 “2/7 2nd Forum “Nick”
v93 “old low density 1/2” bad quality tape” “practice tape”
v95 “310 ATI TEP March 21/7/80 1/2 “ reel
V74 “tues Jan 29” Marian, Anna Disc 1 1/2"
So that’s all the info, I’m afraid. And because we can’t play 1/2" it is the only info we can provide.’
Ngā Taonga also has this entry for F59883, an uncatalogued item entitled United Women’s Convention (Hamilton NZ), which lists those involved as Lee Lee Heah, Mary Ellen Barker, Carole Stewart, Jennifer Wright, Briar Millar most of whom are known to have been involved in AWCV.
NB!!! Ngā Taonga gave excellent help in digitising Even Dogs Are Given Bones (coming soon in #directedbywomen #aotearoa) and some of the footage, for screening at This Joyous, Chaotic Place: He Waiata Tāngi-ā-Tahu, in the Shop Window Cinema at Mokopōpaki, March/April 2018. Some of the wild footage was ‘tidied up’ by Annie Mein. The Oral History section of the Alexander Turnbull Library did the same. Ngā mihi mahana to both institutions and their staff.